A sus­tained ar­gu­ment

The in­de­pen­dent con­tem­po­rary arts move­ment re­mains our most vi­tal cul­tural move­ment.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By J. KUGAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

ROGue Art con­tin­ues its se­ries of an­thol­o­gised over­views on con­tem­po­rary Malaysian art with its sec­ond vol­ume, Re­ac­tions – New Crit­i­cal Strate­gies on artis­tic re­sponses to broad themes of na­tion­al­ity and iden­tity pol­i­tics.

The in­fa­mous Redza Piyadasa in­ci­dent gets an early men­tion in the in­tro­duc­tion, in­vok­ing the some­times dra­matic re­sponses that Malaysian artists elicit from their peers, which ul­ti­mately de­scribes what this book is about the­mat­i­cally and ed­i­to­ri­ally.

(Piyadasa cre­ated a cof­fin wrapped in the Malaysian flag in 1970 in re­sponse to the May 13 ri­ots the year be­fore, and poet Salleh Ben Joned ex­pressed his opin­ion of the work rather ... graph­i­cally.)

As with the first vol­ume, Imag­in­ing Iden­ti­ties, Re­ac­tions was edited by Nur Hanim Khairud­din and Bev­erly Yong, with con­sult­ing ed­i­tor T.K. Saba­p­a­thy. The cu­rat­ing of con­trib­u­tors and sub­ject mat­ter is im­pres­sive for the arts com­mu­nity it rep­re­sents, chiefly drawn from and about the ta­lented seam of crit­i­cally cel­e­brated artists as­so­ci­ated with the Klang Val­ley’s in­de­pen­dent vis­ual arts scene, where much of avant-garde Malaysian art dis­courses and spec­ta­cles have been cen­tred since In­de­pen­dence. even when their works are play­ful, the Malaysian artists and their myr­iad art prac­tices doc­u­mented in Re­ac­tions of­fer truly provoca­tive re­sponses to what it means to live in this coun­try.

The ef­fort on the part of the ed­i­tors to fo­cus on ma­jor mile­stones and erup­tions in Malaysian art is com­mend­able. Works by artists such as Yee I-Lann that con­tin­u­ally ques­tions Malaysian his­tory, Wong Hoy Cheong’s in­stal­la­tions on Ops Lalang, Mark Teh’s mov­ing per­for­mance about Teoh Beng Hock (the po­lit­i­cal aide whose death was con­tro­ver­sial) and Anuren­dra Je­ga­nen­dran’s ex­plo­rations of In­dian iden­tity within the na­tion’s racial pol­i­tics are just a sam­ple of the di­verse range of works that get a look in.

It’s hard to fault the lan­guage and pre­sen­ta­tion of the book for be­ing so unas­sail­ably aca­demic; the grav­ity of the ven­ture de­mands it – this is a se­ri­ous, in­de­pen­dent doc­u­ment of lo­cal art that needs to be ac­knowl­edged and de­serves to be read.

Seen from another an­gle, how­ever, the book is like tour­ing the con­struc­tion site of a mon­u­ment ded­i­cated to it­self. It has an echo cham- ber kind of au­thor­ity, it­self a nar­ra­tive that de­scribes the in­creas­ingly in­su­lar world of Malaysian con­tem­po­rary arts. But no mat­ter.

Com­pared to the of­ten asi­nine and tour­pack­aged of­fi­cial ver­sion of art pro­vided by the state, the in­de­pen­dent con­tem­po­rary arts move­ment re­mains the most vi­tal cul­tural move­ment we have – for the re­sults have been in­con­tro­vert­ibly provoca­tive and their wider ef­fects on Malaysian so­ci­ety are still be­ing felt.

Here’s an A+ for the mav­er­icks who form the sub­ject mat­ter of this book and the ed­i­tors for pre­sent­ing a sus­tained ar­gu­ment in favour of their in­clu­sion in the writ­ing of the of­fi­cial nar­ra­tive of Malaysian art. Th­ese are the rebels and myth­mak­ers; th­ese are the ones who dared mark the tra­jec­to­ries of their artis­tic jour­neys with crit­i­cal bravado. The next chap­ter will be theirs.

Re­ac­tions – New Crit­i­cal Strate­gies is avail­able at MPH book­stores na­tion­wide as well as other out­lets; go to nar­ra­tivesin­malaysia­nart. blogspot.com for de­tails.

Pro­ceeds from sales of the book will be used to de­velop and pro­mote the Nar­ra­tives In Malaysian Art project.

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