Pulling to­gether, right now

A group ex­hi­bi­tion, fea­tur­ing 101 women artists, is a timely re­minder of the in­flu­ence of Malaysian women artists in con­tem­po­rary art.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art - By HARIATI AZIZAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IF you are look­ing for is­sues of gen­der and iden­tity, fem­i­nism and strug­gles of women at the Di Mana (Where Are) Young ex­hi­bi­tion of 101 works by Malaysian con­tem­po­rary women artists, you might be dis­ap­pointed.

What you get at the all-women show cur­rently on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in Kuala Lumpur till July 31 is more of a fuzzy, me­an­der­ing voice in the con­ver­sa­tion of what it means to be a woman in the 21st cen­tury world.

But then again, why should our gaze on to­day’s women, much less women artists, be con­fined to the sin­gu­lar lens of so­ciopo­lit­i­cal la­bels?

Women in this age are an in­tri­cate and di­verse group of peo­ple, so per­haps we owe it to them to look beyond the con­ven­tional canons and recog­nise their in­di­vid­ual unique­ness.

That was the chal­lenge faced by Tan Hui Koon, the NVAG cu­ra­tor for the Di Mana (Where Are) Young, as she sourced for 101 works by Malaysian con­tem­po­rary women artists. “I was wor­ried about how to rep­re­sent their dif­fer­ent voices and cre­ate some sort of co­her­ent di­a­logue. It couldn’t be a gen­eral hang­ing show, but at the same time, it can­not be lim­ited to a show on women’s strug­gles.

“I hope peo­ple can see this as an art show that hap­pens to have an abun­dance of women artists – han­dling var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als and styles, deal­ing with a range of is­sues and themes,” she says, quot­ing arts ad­min­is­tra­tor and writer Syar S. Alia’s ob­ser­va­tions that this is too large and too sig­nif­i­cant to flat­ten into merely women’s art or an all-women’s show.

“One can­not say that gen­der is the only thing that ties these mot­ley in­di­vid­u­als to­gether as their un­der­stand­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence of their own gen­der is too di­verse to be com­mon,” states Syar.

The ar­ray of works speaks for it­self, from the in­ti­mate per­sonal sto­ries in oil from Fadi­lah Karim to the in­ter­ac­tive class­room fan­tasy of Ed­die Choo’s Mad­line series and the sex­ual political com­ment of Sheika Khunz Corona’s Mould­ing/ Puissy.

Tan ad­mits she was ini­tially wor­ried about the chal­lenge of find­ing 101 lo­cal con­tem­po­rary women artists, but as she dis­cov­ered, Malaysia def­i­nitely has more than the spec­i­fied num­ber.

Di Mana (Where Are) Young fea­tures works from the NVAG per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, lat­est art­works from in­vited artists and en­tries through an open call.

“It was great to dis­cover that women artists in the coun­try have the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate and are thriv­ing,” she notes.

While the lo­cal con­tem­po­rary art scene is male dom­i­nated, Tan be­lieves any “set­back” for Malaysian women artists is more

from a ques­tion of op­por­tu­ni­ties and pri­or­i­ties rather than any real gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“There are quite a few es­tab­lished women artists who are no longer ac­tively producing art­work but have moved on to full­time moth­er­hood and teach­ing,” she as­serts.

Then there are some women artists who are dif­fi­cult to track down due to the in­com­plete records, hence the ti­tle “Where are you ‘young’”, which is sup­posed to be a play on the Malay term of en­dear­ment yang (short for sayang, which means dar­ling), in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of women artists who per­sisted in their art against all odds.

Suzy Su­laiman, with her in­ter­sec­tional ex­pe­ri­ence in the fields of ar­chi­tec­ture, ed­u­ca­tion and vis­ual arts, longs for the day when all-women art shows will be such a norm that we wouldn’t need to high­light them.

“Af­ter all, we don’t need to la­bel an all-men’s show,” says Suzy.

De­spite the dis­tinct voices of the dif­fer­ent women artists in the Di

Mana (Where Are) Young show, Suzy feels there is sub­tle, gen­tle force link­ing them.

Her origami in­stal­la­tion Ruang

Kita (Our Space), she says, proves the fact that women’s ex­pe­ri­ences, back­ground and roles as con­structed by so­ci­ety can­not be di­vorced from their work. But this no­tion should also be seen as strength.

The in­ter­ac­tive work is spe­cially cus­tomised for her beloved daugh­ter and all the chil­dren who come to the na­tional gallery.

“I of­ten go to art gal­leries with my kid and she al­ways com­plains about how ‘art gal­leries are sooo bor­ing!’ So I de­cided that as an artist, I just want to make a fun ‘space’ that ev­ery­one can en­joy,” ex­plains Suzy.

Else­where, artists like Wong Pey Yu and Marisa Diyana Shahrir choose to look at a more universal is­sue – how dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment is im­pact­ing our world.

Wong’s in­stal­la­tion Pink An­gel is a re­flec­tion on hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion to­day, specif­i­cally the grow­ing usage of “emoji”, which she says is sim­pli­fy­ing and free­ing in­ter­ac­tion while con­strict­ing it.

Marisa’s sculp­ture Loop, which showed at the 2014 Venice Bi­en­nale, maps out innovation over time, from ana­logue to dig­i­tal. The piece, which is a so­cial cri­tique on how we are let­ting tech­nol­ogy rule our lives, sym­bol­ises how we have let tech­nol­ogy be­come larger than life it­self.

“As the piece fo­cuses more on hu­man be­hav­iour, gen­der was viewed in a more in­clu­sive way,” says Marisa.

Both agree that it is not necessary to em­pha­sise gen­der in the cre­ation of art or have a spe­cific “Women Artists” show.

“Why is there a ne­ces­sity to em­pha­sise the art pro­duced by women? The fact is art is art, sci­ence is sci­ence, and phi­los­o­phy is phi­los­o­phy. The ex­is­tence of a valu­able mes­sage and the world­view of the artist ex­pressed in each art­work it­self is cap­ti­vat­ing re­gard­less of whether it’s done by a male or fe­male artist. When one is look­ing at an amaz­ing art­work, how can one pos­si­bly iden­tify if the art­work is done by a male or fe­male artist?” muses Wong.

For ar­chi­tect/artist Marisa, the ten­sion lies not in the gen­der struggle but be­tween her pro­fes­sional life and artis­tic soul.

“It’s a very com­pet­i­tive play­ing field and when you are jug­gling your pro­fes­sion with your hobby, you don’t want to sur­ren­der one for the other – you can just hope that both feed into each other and it en­ables you to thrive ... you just have to man­age your ex­pec­ta­tions and never stop cre­at­ing,” she shares. Marisa be­lieves the Di Mana

(Where Are) Young ex­hi­bi­tion is pro­vid­ing a vi­tal plat­form for the ex­pres­sion of ideas and is­sues faced by women, par­tic­u­larly Malaysian women.

“It is giv­ing the gen­eral pub­lic a sense of ref­er­ence and his­tory and for art stu­dents and en­thu­si­asts to take stock of the ex­ist­ing tal­ent that we have,” notes Marisa.

This is echoed by Tan, who stresses that rather than look­ing at the ex­hi­bi­tion as a sta­tis­ti­cal feat, the “101” should be read in the American col­lege cus­tom of “ba­sic in­tro­duc­tion.”

“With works on urban space, his­tory, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, among oth­ers, expanding the idea of what it means to be a woman, this quest of sur­vey­ing works by con­tem­po­rary fe­male artists in Malaysia has only just be­gun,” con­cludes Tan.

Di Mana (Where Are) Young is on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, 2, Jalan Te­mer­loh, off Jalan Tun Razak in KL till July 31. The NVAG gallery re­opens on Tues­day and is open daily (10am-6pm). Visit: www.art­gallery. gov.my.

— Ber­nama

A vis­i­tor stud­ies the ‘peep­ing’ scenes fea­tured in Ong Cai Bin’s Hello Strangers (light box with printed pho­to­graphs, 2017).

— Pho­tos: NORAFIFI EH­SAN/The Star

Marisa Diyana Shahrir’s Loop (mixed media, 2014). The young artist’s sculp­ture shows mod­ern life’s tran­si­tional path from ana­logue to dig­i­tal, with the use of found ob­jects like iPad, dis­sected TV frame/screen right to a vintage type­writer. The art­work showed at the 2014 Venice Bi­en­nale.

— Ber­nama

The Di Mana (Where Are) Young ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery in KL gath­ers 101 works from a di­verse range of Malaysian fe­male artists. The works in the ex­hi­bi­tion con­sist of the gallery’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, lat­est art­works from in­vited artists and en­tries through an open call.

Shooshie Su­laiman’s Kedai Bat Jenum (mixed media, 1997).

— Ber­nama

The late Nir­mala Dutt’s role as artist and so­cial com­men­ta­tor is re­vis­ited in this work State­ment 1 (1973).

An NVAG staff ex­plores the in­te­rior of Suzy Su­laiman’s in­stal­la­tion called Ruang Kita (2017), which the artist as­sem­bled out­side the gallery space.

Hashimah Abu Hazim’s House Mon­u­ment Series Land­scape - Home­land #1 (acrylic on canvas, 2017).

Fadi­lah Karim’s Beau­ti­ful Tan­gle (oil on linen, 2013).

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