Em­brac­ing free­dom

As Malaysia marches to­wards Merdeka day, the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery re­vis­its the na­tion’s story through art.

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

THE for­mer Amer­i­can pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son once said: “Art is a na­tion’s most pre­cious her­itage. For it is in our works of art that we re­veal to our­selves and to oth­ers the in­ner vi­sion which guides us as a na­tion. And where there is no vi­sion, the peo­ple per­ish.”

The truth of John­son’s words can be wit­nessed first-hand at Ne­garaku, an ex­hi­bi­tion of some of Malaysia’s most sig­nif­i­cant artists and art­works. The show is cur­rently on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in Kuala Lumpur till Septem­ber.

“Ne­garaku is quite a wide term. In the con­text of this ex­hi­bi­tion, we have dis­played art­works that we, as Malaysians, can be proud of. We want to show­case the best of Malaysia through art. The ob­jec­tive is to bring peo­ple to­gether,” says Amerud­din Ah­mad, who is one of the NVAG cu­ra­tors of the ex­hi­bi­tion.

“It’s not so much just about Merdeka. If it was, we couldn’t show works from be­fore 1957. We have a wide va­ri­ety of art, from es­tab­lished names to young artists,” he adds.

Ne­garaku fea­tures 88 works – draw­ings, sculp­tures, pho­to­graphs and in­stal­la­tions – from over 70 artists, in­clud­ing Ab­dul Lat­iff Mo­hidin, Syed Ah­mad Ja­mal, Long Thien Shih, Ibrahim Hus­sein, Joseph Tan, Fa­timah Chik, An­thony Lau, Ge­or­gette Chen, Redza Piyadasa, Yeoh Jin Leng, Ab­dul­lah Ariff, Chuah Thean Teng, Yong Mun Seng, Dzulk­i­fli Buy­ong and Is­mail Zain.

The Ne­garaku art­works are mostly from the gallery’s col­lec­tion, while a few works are on loan from pri­vate col­lec­tions.

“We have a very di­verse col­lec­tion. Some of these great and his­tor­i­cal Malaysian works need to be in­tro­duced to the younger public, while the ones from pri­vate col­lec­tions will def­i­nitely be worth an in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” says Amerud­din.

This ex­hi­bi­tion is also part of Inisi­atif Ne­garaku, a na­tional pro­gramme launched in March to pro­mote the 60th an­niver­sary of Merdeka next month.

Ev­ery art­work dis­played at Ne­garaku has na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, re­veals Amerud­din, with some com­mem­o­rat­ing im­por­tant mo­ments in the time­line of our coun­try’s so­cial his­tory, and oth­ers be­ing im­por­tant mile­stones in con­tem­po­rary Malaysian art his­tory.

Early Malaysian works, in­clud­ing Yong Mun Sen’s Con­ver­sa­tion (1941) and Ab­dul­lah Arif ’s Bumi Ba­ha­gia Lom­bong Bi­jeh Malaya (1960) right to Mohd Hoes­sein Enas’s Memetik Daun Tem­bakau Di Ke­lan­tan (1962) and Lat­iff Mo­hidin’s Pago-Pago (1964) will need no in­tro­duc­tion.

If you take a stroll in the gallery, you’d be im­pressed by the ab­stracts, tex­tiles and ar­chi­tects, which are a big part of Ne­garaku.

Be­yond the world of can­vas, An­thony Lau’s steel sculp­tures – Rimba, Hasil Laut and Ayam Jan­tan – and stone/ce­ment work Wild Bull are also pi­o­neer­ing works to savour once again.

A re­stored wall mu­ral (1971) by Ibrahim Hus­sein, which was orig­i­nally dis­played at the sports cen­tre of Univer­siti Malaya, as well as Chuah Thean Teng’s batik clas­sic Malaysian Life (1968), are works which have been dis­cussed by art his­to­ri­ans. They await new­comer art en­thu­si­asts.

Con­tem­po­rary works, in­clud­ing Yee I-Lann’s Through RoseColoured Glasses (2002), fea­tur­ing res­cued old stu­dio por­traits from a Malacca photo stu­dio, right to Dahlan Su­laiman’s scenes of Kuala Tereng­ganu life (painted on the back of tr­ishaw seat boards) present snap­shots of every­day Malaysians.

Gan Chin Lee’s Kedai Kopi Sun­gai Jarom (2011) is also the sort of small town scene that most ur­ban Malaysians crave for.

One of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s main high­lights is Yang Ter­a­gung (1989), a piece cre­ated by ac­claimed Amer­i­can artist Robert

Rauschen­berg. The work, which blends Malaysian state flags and im­ages with Pop Art, was pro­duced dur­ing the Rauschen­berg Over­seas Cul­tural In­ter­change (ROCI) in 1985. This was a six-year pro­gramme where the artist vis­ited for­eign coun­tries, in­clud­ing Malaysia, to pro­mote har­mony and be in­spired by other cul­tures.

The most strik­ing piece in the show, how­ever, is the mys­te­ri­ous oil paint­ing of a river scene, orig­i­nally found on a wall of KL’s Her­itage Sta­tion Ho­tel (part of the old Kuala Lumpur rail­way sta­tion). Un­signed and un­dated, the ori­gins of the paint­ing – do­nated to NVAG by KTM Ber­had – re­mains a mys­tery for now. Many, how­ever, be­lieve it to be from the 1920s, and it could pos­si­bly be the one of the old­est and largest land­scape paint­ings in the coun­try.

NVAG is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing the process of re­search and con­ser­va­tion of the old paint­ing, which can be seen along­side a fa­mous pho­to­graph of it, taken by pho­tog­ra­pher Is­mail Hashim, as well as The Great Malaysian Land­scape (1972), a paint­ing by Redza Piyadasa done as a re­sponse to the enig­matic art­work.

“We hope to get more con­clu­sive find­ings on this paint­ing be­fore the end of the year,” says Amerud­din.

“The mys­tery be­hind that old oil paint­ing is a bonus for view­ers at Ne­garaku. This ex­hi­bi­tion, taken as a whole, is an ef­fec­tive vis­ual nar­ra­tive, which will help Malaysians to ap­pre­ci­ate the rich cross-cul­tural artis­tic legacy that they have in­her­ited,” he con­cludes.

Ne­garaku is on at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery, No 2, Jalan Te­mer­loh, off Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur till Sept 30. The gallery is open daily, from 10am-6pm. Free ad­mis­sion. Visit www.art­gallery.gov.my.

— Ber­nama

Vis­i­tors walk by leg­endary Amer­i­can artist Robert Rauschen­berg’s Yang Ter­a­gung (mixed me­dia, 1989) paint­ing, which is on show at the Ne­garaku ex­hi­bi­tion. This work was part of the Rauschen­berg Over­seas Cul­tural Ex­change Se­ries in this re­gion in the late 1980s.

— NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

Mohd Hoes­sein Enas’s Memetik Daun Tem­bakau Di Ke­lan­tan (oil on can­vas, 1962).

— NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

Bayu Utomo Rad­jikin’s Bu­jang Berani (iron and plas­ter, 1991).

— Ber­nama

Gan Chin Lee’s Kedai Kopi Sun­gai Jarom (oil on linen, trip­tych, 2011).

— Ber­nama

The his­toric four-panel oil paint­ing – artist and date un­known – do­nated to the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery by KTM Ber­had. Re­search is cur­rently be­ing con­ducted to find out more de­tails about this Bri­tish Malaya-era paint­ing, which now pro­vides the Ne­garaku ex­hi­bi­tion with a mys­tery el­e­ment.

— NORAFIFI EHSAN/The Star

An­thony Lau’s Wild Bull (stone and ce­ment dust, 1962), pic­ture fore­ground, with Ah­mad Zakii Anuar’s Dag­ing 2 (bi­tu­men on can­vas, 2009).

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