Great Leap For­ward

Nir­mala Dutt Shan­mughalingam’s post­hu­mous show, Great Leap For­ward, il­lu­mi­nates her legacy and that of Tun Dr Ma­hathir.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Contents - Jan­uary – 2 017 By ELAINE LAU Photo VALEN­TINE WIL­LIE FINE ART

Nir­mala Dutt Shan­mughalingam’s post­hu­mous show ex­am­ines the com­pli­cated ta­pes­try of Malaysia through so­cial con­science.

One month be­fore Nir­mala Dutt Shan­mugha l ingam’s solo ex­hi­bi­tion, Great Leap For­ward, was sched­uled to open, the 75-year- old con­tem­po­rary artist passed away sud­denly, leav­ing the art com­mu­nity be­reaved. She was one of Malaysia’s fore­most pi­o­neer­ing artists cel­e­brated for us­ing art as a tool to awaken so­cial con­science.

Shan­mughalingam stud­ied paint­ing un­der master por­trait pain­ter Hoes­sein Enas and then went on to train in art schools in the US and the UK. Her art por­trayed in­stances of po­lit­i­cal and so­ci­etal in­jus­tice, as well as ex­ploita­tion per­pe­trated lo­cally and abroad. Il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion, the war in Bos­nia, en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion, the bomb­ing of Libya, and rape and child abuse in Malaysia were some of the is­sues that came un­der her sharp scru­tiny. Armed with a bold, dis­tinc­tive post­mod­ernist style in­spired by the work of Otto Dix and the war etch­ings of Jac­ques Cal­lot and Goya, Shan­mughalingam made her highly crit­i­cal views known in paint­ings and mixed-me­dia works that com­bined doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy and text such as news­pa­per clip­pings. Her last ma­jor body of work was a se­ries of un­set­tling paint­ings pro­duced in re­sponse to the 2004 tsunami in South-east Asia. Shan­mughalingam’s un­timely pass­ing makes it that much more im­por­tant that the solo show or­gan­ised by Our Art­pro­jects still go on – and thank­fully, it is. The art­works in this show serve as a timely re- ex­am­i­na­tion of the legacy of Malaysia’s long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter, Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, in light of his re­cent po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vrings.

Nir­mala Dutt Shan­mughalingam of­ten worked in a post-modernist style. Fac­ing page, clock­wise from above: Kam­pong Polo II, 1984; Great Leap For­ward VII, 199899; Mem­balak Jan­gan Se­barangan Nanti Ditimpa Balak – Rumbia, 1990.

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