Pointed and loaded

Si­apa Dia Tong Sam Pah? tack­les cur­rent is­sues with bit­ing wit and satire.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By TER­ENCE TOH star2@ thes­tar. com. my

THEY say a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words. A sin­gle im­age, af­ter all, if prop­erly used, can cre­ate a thou­sand feel­ings or sen­sa­tions more ef­fec­tively than any writ­ten de­scrip­tion could.

The works of lo­cal artist Liew Kwai Fei, how­ever, show us that the say­ing’s re­verse may also be true: some­times, a word can evoke a host of im­ages, ideas and con­cepts as well. Just take a look at his lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion, Si­apa Dia Tong Sam Pah?, which is show­ing now at Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur this month.

Most of his paint­ings there fea­ture words and phrases from var­i­ous lan­guages, which Liew uses to ex­plore cur­rent is­sues in an off­beat, of­ten highly satir­i­cal man­ner.

“It’s not like I love to play with words. Blame it on bro­ken lan­guage. My English is quite bro­ken, I don’t my Malay speak very well, and my Chi­nese also can be bet­ter. So I use this back­ground for my work,” says the artist can­didly in a re­cent in­ter­view at the gallery.

Si­apa Dia Tong Sam Pah? com­prises 20 paint­ings, many of them hu­mor­ous and crit­i­cal, thought- pro­vok­ing and strik­ing, all at once. Liew’s works are all brightly coloured, with a larger- than- life, al­most car­toon­ish style to them, and ex­plore var­i­ous forms of ide­ol­ogy and sym­bol­ism with ap­pro­pri­a­tion, de­ri­sion and wit. Many of them are even in­ter­ac­tive, with flaps or de­tach­able com­po­nents, al­low­ing view­ers to en­gage with his art­work.

Liew, 37, is a well- ex­hib­ited artist, who was trained at the Malaysian In­sti­tute of Art ( MIA), with a diploma in Chi­nese ink paint­ing. He has con­trib­uted works to many lo­cal ex­hi­bi­tions and par­tic­i­pated in var­i­ous resi- den­cies in Malaysia, Pak­istan, In­dia and Aus­tralia.

Si­apa Dia Tong Sam Pah? is the Kuan­tan­born artist’s sev­enth solo ex­hi­bi­tion ( his first, The Rhythm Of Do­ing, was shown at KL’s Valen­tine Wil­lie Fine Art in 2008). If you can re­call, Liew did fea­ture at the group ex­hi­bi­tion I Am Ten at Richard Koh Fine Art last year, while his con­tri­bu­tions to the Pu­lau Me­layu - Lost and Found group show at Lost­gens’ in 2014 proved rather pop­u­lar to col­lec­tors and art rebels.

His works, which in­clude paint­ings, draw­ings, mul­ti­me­dia pieces and sculp­tures, of­ten ex­plore the con­struc­tion of mean­ing through cul­tural sym­bols and mono or mul­tilin­gual tex­tual ref­er­ences, and are in­stantly recog­nis­able due to Liew’s sig­na­ture DIY aes­thetic.

The Ka­jang, Se­lan­gor- based artist is also part of the in­de­pen­dent art col­lec­tive called Run Amok in Pe­nang.

This KL ex­hi­bi­tion’s quirky ti­tle comes from Liew’s years in sec­ondary school, where he had a Malay teacher who had a quirky sense of hu­mour. Ac­cord­ing to the artist, this teacher had turned tong sam­pah ( the Malay word for dust­bin) into a Chi­nese name, and used it on his stu­dents.

“It was fun but as the years passed, I re­alised it was ac­tu­ally quite rude and racist, too. It made fun of Chi­nese names,” re­calls Liew.

The artist’s works in Si­apa Dia Tong Sam Pah? are heav­ily lay­ered and loaded. You can come away with sev­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

Word­play is com­mon: the min­i­mal­ist slo­gan “Less Is More” is twisted into “Rest Is Mall” in Shop­ping Class, which is Liew’s take on con­tem­po­rary mall cul­ture. In Lady F, the artist ex­plores sex­ism in so­ci­ety by mak­ing ref­er­ences to one of the rud­est words in the English lan­guage. The Malay words for dog and pig are com­bined in the pointed piece I’ve Hun­gered For Your Touch, which deals with cul­tural taboos.

“I’m in­spired by a lot of things ... our sur­round­ings, the peo­ple around me, cur­rent affairs, the things re­ported in news­pa­pers,” says Liew.

There are al­lu­sions and metaphors abound as you in­ves­ti­gate Liew’s art. Pop cul­ture ref­er­ences are also not for­got­ten.

Seni x Batang, for ex­am­ple, is drawn in a style pay­ing homage to clas­sic Dragonball comics, while Kisah Mis­teri Di Jalan Bukit Lima Bin­tang Episod 505: SOS Dari Lubang Ke Lubang is Liew’s re­ac­tion to the huge sink­hole that ap­peared along Jalan Bukit Bin­tang in KL last year.

The most riv­et­ing piece of work in his show, how­ever, is prob­a­bly the work Lu Si­apa Mana Kam­pung Mana Mau Pergi, which is sus­pended from the ceil­ing in a cra­dle- like man­ner. This, Liew said, is to repli­cate “the scaf­fold­ing and sup­port pil­lars in con­struc­tion works”.

“This work was in­spired by the MRT con­struc­tion projects in Ka­jang. The French words on the side are the name of the paint­ing, which is bor­rowed from the French artist Paul Gau­guin,” ex­plains Liew.

How­ever, does Liew see his works as be­ing political?

“Mak­ing art is pol­i­tics. Your life is sur­rounded by pol­i­tics. It’s not just about be­ing a politi­cian. Ev­ery choice you make is sort of a political ges­ture.”

For cer­tain, Liew wants vis­i­tors to look at his works, and per­haps, be able to laugh and un­der­stand them in the process.

“The paint­ings are like jokes. I hope they can en­joy them, first of all. Some of the is­sues in them are very se­ri­ous, but they are done here in a hu­mor­ous man­ner,” says Liew.

“A sense of hu­mour is very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially when we live in a world like this. It’s not about be­ing cyn­i­cal, or laugh­ing at ev­ery­thing. But when peo­ple laugh at some­thing, they can also think about it, and see how it af­fects their lives,” he main­tains.

is show­ing at Richard Koh Fine Art, Bangsar Vil­lage II, Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar Baru in Kuala Lumpur till March 31. Ad­mis­sion is free. Daily, 11am to 8pm. For more info, email info@ rk­fin­eart. com or call 03- 2283 3677. Visit: rk­fin­eart. com.

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