Passion in panels
Two artists come together for a pop art exhibition exploring love, commitment and social issues.
THE first thing you’d probably notice as you step into the art exhibition Narration, is how bright and lush everything appears. It’s a visual spectacle. Vividly detailed depictions of beautiful women stare at you at every turn, their supple forms brought to life in acrylic glory.
Another glance, however, reveals that not everything is idyllic here.
Several paintings show women discovering their man is cheating on them. One has a couple fearing their tryst has been found out. And many of the paintings feature women hand- in- hand with smartly- dressed monkeys: no, not metaphorical ones, but literal hairy, knuckle- dragging monkeys.
Welcome to Narration, a pop art exhibition at Nadine Fine Art in Petaling Jaya, featuring the works of noted artists Indonesian Bambang Toko Witjaksono and Malaysian Fawwaz Sukri. It’s a show which uses the whimsical, almost frivolous style of oldschool cartoons to underscore the darker aspects of love, commitment and relationships.
Their lush, cartoon- inspired art is effec- tively used to both parody and criticise social issues and contemporary lifestyles.
“That’s the appeal of working in pop art. I can freely describe a story with a bright atmosphere and bright colours, but still have a humorous, parodic or critical side to it,” Bambang said in an email interview.
Bambang, 43, is an established artist in his hometown of Yogyakarta and is one of the founders of both the ART JOG and Apotik Komik Group ( Yogyarta) art groups. His work has been displayed in many regional group and solo exhibitions ( with the most recent being 2014’ s Batikkomik in Singapore). He is currently a lecturer in the Printmaking department of the Faculty of Fine Art at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts.
Narration features nine of his works: six on batik and three on canvas. His choice of mediums explore the convergences and divergences between comic strip paintings and batik art, which are both commonly associated with “Western” and “Asian” styles respectively.
Works such as Dari Mata Turun Ke Hati and Forever And One feature couples in sweeping, overt displays of passion, their comic- book aesthetics emphasising the larg-
er than life nature of these gestures.
“The subjects in my paintings are mostly Western, and themes such as romance are openly portrayed. But as far as romance is concerned, the pattern of human emotions and the pattern of relationships are exactly the same, regardless of culture,” Bambang was quoted as saying by writer Shireen Naziree in the foreword of Narration’s catalogue.
Bambang’s interest in comic book art has been evident since his childhood, when comic books and pop culture acted as a lens for him to view the nature of contemporary society.
The artist also recently had his art featured in Love Me In My Batik: Modern Batik Art From Malaysia And Beyond, a batik exhibition currently showing in Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. His piece, Berbeda- beda Tetapi Putus Juga, Lamarlah Daku, Bukan
Ibuku, done in his signature style, depicts a couple’s suspenseful meeting.
“There is a relationship in terms of themes,” Bambang said, asked if the works in the two galleries were related. “The work in the Ilham Gallery is criticism of an affair because of religious backgrounds, which is a sensitive issue in Indonesia. In Nadine Fine Art, my works are about the patterns of relationships between one person and another. Not only in the matter of religion, but also in the matter of trust, process and understanding.”
While Bambang’s works strongly resemble panels out of a comic book, the works of Fawwaz Sukri, on the other hand, seem to draw inspiration from vintage pin- up girl posters and the covers of 1950s romance comics.
“Some people think that comic art is lowbrow. But I try to bring them up to the standards of high art,” said Fawwaz, 29.
The artist is an up- and- coming personality in the local arts scene, with his works collected by the Art Gallery of UITM Lendu, Malacca, and Galeri Malacca, among others. He has been featured in many group exhibitions; his first solo show, Saturday’s Matinee, took place in 2014.
Like his Indonesian counterpart, Fawwaz’s work also explores social issues. His work is rich in visual metaphor: the distinctive monkeys in his works, such as
Sugar Daddy and True Love, for example, are symbols of dominance, or the lengths one would go for love. The gaping mouth of a fish in Taboo Love is a reference to the Malay saying “seperti haruan makan anak sendiri”, an artistic representation of the incest taboo. Fawwaz’s favourite piece, however, is The
Sinner, which features a maiden atop a bed of damaged- looking toys. A symbol of lost innocence, perhaps?
“Even though the woman’s face in the painting looks very innocent, you never know what sins she may have committed. It’s not expressed on her face, appearances can deceive,” Fawwaz said.
If some of the meanings behind the art sound quite cynical, one can hardly blame him: a lot of his works were inspired by a breakup he had about a year ago. The girl in question was a nurse: this is why the main figure in his work Love Hurts is in a medical uniform!
“I hope my work can tell my stories. Some of my audience, when they came to this show and see my art; the first thing they ask is if I have gone through a lot of break- ups? I guess my narration is effective,” Fawwaz said with a laugh.
Fawwaz’s works in Narration are part of his Tragic Comedy series, which he hopes to exhibit as a solo show sometime next year. Is there anything he wants viewers to take back from his art?
The artist quipped: “I hope they will know the true meaning of love!”
Narration is showing at Nadine Fine Art, 64 Jalan Kemajuan, Petaling Jaya, Selangor until April 5. the gallery is open from Mondays to Saturdays from 11am- 6pm, and on Sundays by appointment. Admission is free. For more information please call 03- 7954 6069 or email contact@ nadinefineart. com.
1 Sugar Daddy ( 2016), by Fawwaz Sukri. The piece is part of the exhibition Narration, which is showing at nadine Fine Art.
5 Artist Fawwaz Sukri with two of his artworks, The
Sinner, and Taboo Love. — Photos: IBrAhIM MOhTAr/ The Star
3 Isteriku ( 2016), by Bambang Toko, acrylic on canvas.
2 Monkey Business ( 2016), by Fawwaz Sukri, acrylic on canvas.
4 Jomblo, ( 2016), by Bambang Toko.
Dari Mata Turun ke Hati ( 2016), by Bambang Toko, acrylic on canvas.