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