Eye- catch­ing batik show at Il­ham gallery oozes style and sub­stance.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By SHEELa CHaN­DraN star2@ thes­tar. com. my

FOR cen­turies, peo­ple from all walks of life – rang­ing from kings to com­mon­ers to religious fig­ures – have worn batik. Though sim­ple in its lat­tice­work prints, the ma­te­rial holds an in­te­gral part of his­tory, with its ori­gins dat­ing back to the 13th cen­tury and sam­ples found in Egypt, In­dia, China and Ja­pan.

As one of the most widely- known tra­di­tional crafts in the Nu­san­tara ar­chi­pel­ago, the tex­tile has seen sev­eral trans­for­ma­tions in tech­niques ( wooden blocks to wax and cop­per blocks) and de­sign.

In pre- in­de­pen­dence Malaysia, the pop­u­lar­ity of the hum­ble tex­tile soared when Chin­aborn Pe­nang- based pi­o­neer artist Datuk Chuah Thean Teng ( 1912- 2008) took an in­ge­nious step for­ward by paint­ing us­ing batik- mak­ing tech­niques in 1953.

Chuah, who made his in­ter­na­tional mark with a Bri­tish govern­ment sup­ported ex­hi­bi­tion in Lon­don in 1959, ac­corded batik paint­ing the sta­tus of fine art, and most im­por­tantly, he added a Malayan iden­tity to his work.

To ex­pe­ri­ence the story of Chuah’s leg­endary ca­reer and the vis­ual sen­su­al­ity be­hind the di­ver­sity of batik ( in fine art), the stylish ex­hi­bi­tion Love Me In My Batik: Mod­ern Batik Art From Malaysia And Be­yond at Il­ham gallery, Il­ham Tower in Kuala Lumpur is a must visit.

Ra­hel Joseph, Il­ham gallery di­rec­tor, and Si­mon Soon, in­de­pen­dent writer, are the show’s cu­ra­tors.

Il­ham gallery, which opened its doors last Au­gust, is Kuala Lumpur’s new­est pub­lic gallery space. The Pic­tur­ing The Na­tion ex­hi­bi­tion, which fea­tured works from the es­tate of leg­endary por­trait painter Datuk Hoes­sein Enas ( 1924- 1995), was Il­ham’s first show.

As an­other im­mer­sive ex­hi­bi­tion merg­ing fine art and na­tional his­tory, Love Me In My Batik looks at how batik has been em­braced and rein­vented through the years.

The show – span­ning works from 1952 to 2016 – at­tempts to re­spond to dif­fer­ent na­tional im­ageries across suc­ces­sive pe­ri­ods in our post- war his­tory. It ex­am­ines how the emer­gence of batik paint­ing in the early 1950s was, in many ways, sup­ported by a sys­tem of colo­nial pa­tron­age.

In a re­cent in­ter­view at the gallery, Ra­hel says the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plores how the medium, with its sar­to­rial and crafts ori­gins, was taken up and rein­vented by suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of artists as a fine art form.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion fo­cuses on batik art from Malaysia with a small se­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art from In­done­sia,” ex­plains Ra­hel.

“We felt it was in­ter­est­ing to have an ex­hi­bi­tion that fo­cuses on batik art, the unique art form us­ing wax re­sist and dye which was el­e­vated from a craft tra­di­tion to a mod­ern fine art form,” she adds. The ex­hi­bi­tion ex­am­ines two in­ter­sect­ing sto­ries – the emer­gence of batik paint­ing in the 1950s and the pro­mo­tional push of batik by the state and how it be­came a pop­u­lar cul­tural phe­nom­e­non from the 1960s on­wards. The de­vel­op­ment of a batik craft in­dus­try fol­lowed suit.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, which oc­cu­pies Il­ham’s fifth floor, sur­veys this uniquely Malaysian story by con­sid­er­ing the broader en­tan­gle­ments among the search for a lo­calised artis­tic and cre­ative vi­sion, the de­sire for na­tional self­hood, and the trans­for­ma­tion of tra­di­tional art forms to re­flect mod­ern as­pi­ra­tions.

At the ex­hi­bi­tion, vis­i­tors can eas­ily iden­tify the evo­lu­tion in the batik art form. Pri­mar­ily, it show­cases works from the 1950s and 1960s and how the pi­o­neer artists tack­led the con­cept of na­tion- build­ing, each ex­press­ing their hopes for the fu­ture through batik paint­ing.

“Paint­ings from the 1950s and 1960s de­pict ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties such as kam­pung life, fish­er­men, rubber tap­pers and con­struc­tion work, all seen to rep­re­sent the spirit of the land and na­tion­hood,” says Ra­hel.

Apart from Chuah, the ex­hi­bi­tion also has works from early masters such as Tay Mo- Leong, Chuah Seow Keng and Khalil Ibrahim.

From the 1970s, batik paint­ings moved in a new di­rec­tion with artists push­ing their tech­niques to­wards ab­stract com­po­si­tions, inte- grat­ing lo­cal tra­di­tional dec­o­ra­tive and de­sign prin­ci­ples and mo­tifs from Is­lam and the re­gion.

“The 1970s saw the growth of two dif­fer­ent styles – ab­stract com­po­si­tions as well as works that dealt with iden­tity and com­mu­nity,” says Ra­hel.

Al­though the se­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art­work isn’t nec­es­sar­ily paint­ing- based, it fea­tures the use of batik as tech­nique, process or ma­te­rial. It also high­lights a hand­ful of con­tem­po­rary batik art­works from In­done­sia.

Con­tem­po­rary artists Liew Kung Yu and Yee I- Lann of­fer Love Me In My Batik a mod­ern day spin, with state of the na­tion com­men­taries.

The show’s 70 works were ob­tained from var­i­ous sources, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, Univer­siti Sains Malaysia’s Muz­ium Dan Ga­leri Tuanku Fauziah and through var­i­ous pri­vate col­lec­tions.

A spe­cial show­case of mod­ern batik de­signs from the 1960s to 1980s, do­nated by her­itage ad­vo­cate Raja Fuziah to the Depart­ment of Mu­se­ums Malaysia, is one of the ex­hi­bi­tion high­lights.

If you need a few gallery rec­om­men­da­tions, then look to­wards the key works by Chuah ( Perairan Pu­lau Pi­nang and Fes­ti­val Day), Tay’s Rubber Trees, Khalil’s Ko­laj, right to

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