art and stuff

July 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

I went out earlier today to meet someone at KLCC. The morning news had been too dispiriting. Ten-year-old girl raped by her school bus-driver in front of the other students in a place just minutes away from my home. Front-page news on a young millionaire who apparently made his money through investments, and spends his weekends partying it up with Paris Hilton, et al.

The pointlessness of it all can be entirely numbing. The ten year old girl who was raped vis-a-vis the young male millionaire. Once gets a tiny mention in the inner pages; the other is front-page news and has his picture featured. The outrage one feels goes nowhere. You can write to the paper. You can rail at the world. And matters will go on as usual; the hegemony of power/money and privilege remains in place with nary a crack in its foundation.

Because I was early, then, I had time. I didn’t want to think about hegemony. Wandering about the mall made me realise that people, including myself, are ugly. So I took a step into Galeri Petronas. They were having two exhibitions: Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) and Words + Pictures = Book. The former was a collection of young artists showing some dazzling glimpses of artistry, but who were hampered by the repetition of too-familiar themes: Capitalism is parasitic. Human beings are machines. People suffer. Art is meaningless in the capitalist scheme. Everyone dies. There’s nothing wrong with those themes; lord knows I talk about those same things all the time. Probably even on this blog. But their focus on those themes is what puts the “young” in the title – the approach is a tad myopic. But there’s time yet for them to allow these impressions to intensify, mature, take on different hues and shades. Right now it’s a little raw. Out of all the pieces, I particularly enjoyed Tan Nan See’s i wanna be a contemporary artist, a mixed-media installation showing the stages of an artist’s life, right up to the artist’s suicide and posthumous popularity and critical acclaim. Cynical, yes, but beautifully-executed, with so much exquisite attention to the little details. I also really appreciated the painting Drama King, by an artist whose name I can’t remember save for the first name, Meor. I took it for a scathing attack on American imperialism, with the Bush = monkey caricature nicely subverted to reveal its nefarious undertones.

The second exhibition was a joy to discover; tucked away as it was towards the end of the gallery. It featured ten different picture books done by mostly up-and-coming artists, excepting Yusof Gajah, who is a gajah on the art scene, for sure. Certain illustrations from the books were displayed in the gallery, fulfilling the exhibition’s premise to “elevate Malaysian children’s picture book illustrations to a recognised art form within the context of Malaysia’s art movement”. They had set up displays of the artists sketchbooks and drafts of the finished work, and I found that to be the most intriguing part of the exhibition. Having no artistic talent whatsoever, I take voracious, vicarous, and voyeuristic pleasure in seeing how other people make art. The sketchbooks and drafts were under glass cases, so one couldn’t get a good view of it beyond what they had artfully arranged for the viewer to see. But I loved the illustrations – although it did seem as though the women artists were committed to portraying a realistic depiction of the world, with painstaking detail and clarity, while the men did all sorts of interesting things with shapes and perspective and shades of colour. I was completely blown away by Khairul Azmir’s We Saved the Moon. Galeri Petronas published all ten of the picture books and had them available for display and reading. Khairul’s book was so accomplished in terms of art and story, and was the best of the lot. But while the story development still could have been just a wee bit better, his art was incredibly special, both Dave McKean-esque in technique and Edward Gorey-like in essence. I would have bought the book on its own if they were selling single copies; unfortunately, they were selling all ten for close to RM 100 and that just wasn’t possible as I was planning on spending about 3/4 of that amount on Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies! I am quite blown away and look forward to seeing more of his work; I would gladly buy more of his picture books (and art… someday). The other book that caught my eye was Kucing Borneo by Awang Fadilah Ali Hussein, who’s art was reminiscent of modernist collage with some elements of Cubism.

If anyone wants to talk about art being useless or of no particular value, go ahead. But nothing does a better job of making you forget hegemony and inequality and unfairness – or making it beautiful, at least for a little while.

* After some Googling I have found Khairul Azmir’s website here: Goblin Companion. Definitely go take a look.

** Apologies for the title of this post. I have trouble with blog post titles, especially when I’m tired.

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