Vis­ual mem­o­ries

A time­line of Malaysia’s his­tory through the lens of graphic de­sign.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - Exhibition. By TERENCE TOH star2@thes­tar.com.my Haji’s Book Of Malayan Nurs­ery Rhymes

GOOD graphic de­sign is good sto­ry­telling. As We See It: His­tory Through Vis­ual De­sign ,an art exhibition, now show­ing at KL’s Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, is part his­tor­i­cal les­son, part eye candy. Through WWII pro­pa­ganda posters, Emer­gency-era pam­phlets, vin­tage book and mag­a­zine de­signs, na­tion­al­is­tic leaflets and hand-painted movie posters, this exhibition puts the spot­light on Malaysian graphic de­sign through the years.

“It’s the coun­try’s 60th Merdeka soon, and this exhibition aims to cre­ate a space for re­flec­tion and di­a­logue on where we have come from, to­wards where we would like to go, col­lec­tively, in all of our di­ver­sity,” says Ezrena Mar­wan, the show’s cu­ra­tor.

As We See It is pre­sented by the Malaysia De­sign Archive (MDA), an in­de­pen­dent project aimed at map­ping the devel­op­ment of graphic de­sign and vis­ual culture in Malaysia. Fel­low cu­ra­tors in­clude Jac sm Kee and Si­mon Soon, with exhibition de­sign by Our ArtPro­jects.

As We See It, de­spite its mod­est size as an exhibition, at­tempts to piece to­gether the evo­lu­tion of Malaysian vis­ual lan­guage.

The exhibition fea­tures four sec­tions, each de­voted to a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod in our coun­try’s his­tor­i­cal time­line: Colo­nial­ism (Bri­tish Malaya), the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion, the Emer­gency and In­de­pen­dence. Not to for­get the ty­pog­ra­phy, pho­tog­ra­phy and il­lus­tra­tion of each era.

In the gallery, there is a flea mar­ket spread of ev­ery­day ob­jects like match­boxes, medicine la­bels right to pop culture relics and vin­tage ad­verts.

For book de­signs, Haji’s Book Of Malayan Nurs­ery Rhymes by English­man A.W. Hamil­ton, first pub­lished in 1939, is worth an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It is a bilin­gual book, fea­tur­ing Malay trans­la­tions of 100 pop­u­lar English nurs­ery rhymes. It also fea­tures multi-racial char­ac­ters and such stock images – though stereo­typ­i­cal – con­trib­uted to later vi­sions of Malaya as a land of many races.

Else­where, you find a room ded­i­cated to pro­pa­ganda posters and wood­cuts dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion. The art dur­ing this pe­riod – a time when Bri­tish icons and sym­bols were de­stroyed – fea­tured clean strong lines, mo­tifs of the “Ris­ing Sun” and mil­i­tary-themed in­flu­ences, among oth­ers.

“The public can have a sense of what some of the el­e­ments seen as im­por­tant in dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods were, and how these were com­mu­ni­cated to dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the Malaysian public,” adds Ezrena, who is the founder of MDA.

The exhibition, mostly, soaks up the at­mos­phere of the times. After Merdeka, graphic de­sign be­came more di­verse and ex­per­i­men­tal, re­flect­ing the for­ma­tion of na­tional iden­tity. The for­ma­tion of Malaysia in 1963 led to more ro­bust ef­forts to bridge the di­vide be­tween race and lan­guages.

“The story of graphic de­sign in Malaysia is still un­rav­el­ling, and through the process of un­rav­el­ling and ex­plo­ration, we are able to find out more about who we are, in all our com­plex­i­ties,” says Ezrena.

As We See It: Malaysia’s His­tory Through Graphic De­sign is on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, Jalan Te­mer­loh, off Jalan Tun Razak in KL till June 30. The gallery is open daily from 9am to 5pm (dur­ing Ra­mad­han). For more info, visit www. malaysi­ades­ig­nar­chive.org.

A gallery vis­i­tor tak­ing a closer look at the public an­nounce­ment posters, leaflets and a vin­tage movie poster from the 1950s at the As We See It exhibition in KL. — Photos: NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

by A.W. Hamil­ton was first pub­lished in 1939. The col­lec­tion fea­tures Malay trans­la­tions of 100 pop­u­lar English nurs­ery rhymes.

Green Moun­tain (top) and Su­pe­rior Safety Matches, two an­tique Malayan match­box de­signs. — SHAARI CHEMAT/The Star

A large hand-painted movie poster of the 1992 Hong Kong film Mr Vam­pire, on dis­play at the As We See It

Malaysia, a vin­tage poster de­sign from 1963, cour­tesy of the Na­tional Archives of Malaysia.

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