Po­etic and provoca­tive

Anuren­dra Je­gadeva cel­e­brates a new body of work and looks back at his 30-year artis­tic jour­ney with a mono­graph.

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

THE sense of place has al­ways been present in his works, says Anuren­dra Je­gadeva, one of Malaysia’s lead­ing con­tem­po­rary artists, no mat­ter where he is.

“My work has al­ways been about the nar­ra­tive, mostly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, but they al­ways re­fer to the place and times they were made,” says the 52-year-old artist, fondly known as J. Anu, at the launch of Sa­cred Al­tars, his new 300-page mono­graph doc­u­ment­ing his 30-year jour­ney as an artist, at Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary in KL re­cently.

What drives him is his search for how he fits in.

“All my art is an ex­am­i­na­tion of how I fit in the world around me. And they are how every­day sto­ries about the place I live in af­fect my ex­is­tence,” he says.

And Anu’s cre­ative tra­jec­tory has spanned over oceans in the last three decades, be­gin­ning from his time as a stu­dent in Bri­tain to when he up­rooted to Mel­bourne with his fam­ily in 2000, and back.

“Malaysia will al­ways be my home. It’s where I was born and grew up, and I be­long here.”

When he re­turned to Kuala Lumpur in 2005, he was baf­fled to find a home­land trans­formed po­lit­i­cally “yet faced with the same is­sues that plagued us then”.

His art was in­spired. He pro­duced 20 painted sto­ries, de­scribed as his “bold­est ven­ture into the realm of pol­i­tics yet” for his eighth solo ex­hi­bi­tion, Con­di­tional Love (2008). This her­alded a pe­riod of work that his cousin and “com­rade in art” Ed­din Khoo de­scribed as a “rad­i­cal shift in sub­ject mat­ter, form and size”, with My God is My Truck (2010), Let­ters to Mr Hitler (2012) and MA-NA-VA-REH – Love And Loss In The Age Of The Great De­bate (2014).

How­ever, in 2015 when his daugh­ter went away to board­ing school in Aus­tralia, Anu de­cided to re­turn Down Un­der; a place he de­scribes as “now dif­fer­ent, yet very much the same”.

Re­lo­ca­tion, and be­ing away from Malaysia, raised sim­i­lar is­sues of iden­tity, na­tion, im­mi­gra­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion, mem­ory and, in­evitably, pol­i­tics.

“I re­alised it doesn’t mat­ter where you live, the world is now so small.”

His search for his place in the world con­tin­ued, a thread that is ev­i­dent in his body of work, as well as his lat­est solo ex­hi­bi­tion On The Way To The Air­port – New Keep­sakes, now on at Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary.

And Anu is quick to deny that he is a po­lit­i­cal painter, pre­fer­ring in­stead the la­bel “painter of pol­i­tics” anointed to him by Khoo.

“I have never seen my work as po­lit­i­cal – I think I sim­ply re­spond to the world I live in and try to make sense of it truth­fully. I think what­ever we think or how we live is in­evitably shaped by forces much larger than us, be it po­lit­i­cal, so­cial or ge­o­graph­i­cal, and the mean­ings in my work sim­ply at­tempt to ex­am­ine – of­ten on a very per­sonal fa­mil­ial level – how I or we fit into that scheme of things,” he re­it­er­ates.

Anu in­sists his work re­volves around sim­ple ways of telling a story, which he says comes from his back­ground in writ­ing and the very ba­sic need of want­ing to tell a story.

But as his­to­rian and so­cial com­men­ta­tor Dr Far­ish Noor in his speech at the launch of Anu’s My God Is My Truck show had said, the artist’s works have been a long-drawn, thought-out, sen­si­tive and ex­haust­ing ef­fort at self-ques­tion­ing and self-rep­re­sen­ta­tion that shows how the Malaysian story, with its myr­iad of en­tan­gle­ments and com­pli­ca­tions, is “too dense, com­plex and dif­fi­cult to be told with one telling”.

On The Way To The Air­port – New Keep­sakes shows that Anu’s Aus­tralian story is not that sim­ple ei­ther.

It is pre­sented in a di­ary of 35 por­traits – each painted on an ac­tual page taken from The Pic­turesque At­las of Aus­trala­sia ,a vin­tage Lon­don-based pub­li­ca­tion from the 1880s.

The Vic­to­rian sen­si­bil­i­ties of the an­ti­quated let­ter­ing and il­lus­tra­tions on the orig­i­nal pages pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing back­drop to Anu’s con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian life, as af­fected by the cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal and so­cial panorama.

Locked in mini glass cab­i­nets rem­i­nis­cent of our seko­lah ke­bangsaan (na­tional school) no­tice boards, each di­ary en­try evokes a yearn­ing for the way things used to be, al­beit with a

dose of ir­rever­ant cyn­i­cism.

Please don’t call him nos­tal­gic, says Anu.

“I would hate to think that my work was about a long­ing for the past. I would like to think it more a con­tem­pla­tion of al­ter­na­tive fu­ture – how things could have been – though that still hinges on the past.

Aes­thet­i­cally, an­tiq­uity has greater ap­peal, and artists I think are in­nately drawn to­wards nos­tal­gia, be­cause we all have a long­ing for the past and a sense that things were more pris­tine than they ac­tu­ally were,” he said in an ex­cerpt from “Con­ver­sa­tion with Ed­din Khoo” from the mono­graph

Sa­cred Al­tars.

If any­thing, his yearn­ing is more for he­roes, he con­cedes, which is rooted in his so­ciopo­lit­i­cally-im­posed “mi­grant com­mu­nity” iden­tity in the Malaysian con­text.

“My work has al­ways been in the search of he­roes, from Obama

(My God Is My Truck, 2010) to Elvis (Find­ing Grace­land, 2011).

“I feel that we are bank­rupt of he­roes, but I am still search­ing,” he says, shar­ing that his heroic search has brought him closer to home.

“While we may dis­agree on var­i­ous things, I think my par­ents are heroic in a strange and manic way. So is my wife. I have a friend whose eight year old son has a se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tion .... he is heroic ev­ery day.”

And to more women, he quips.

“More and more I find that women – as lead­ers, ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists, moth­ers and part­ners – are hon­est and com­pas­sion­ate and cor­rect and com­mit­ted and self-less in a way that men have failed so mis­er­ably. I think Datuk Am­biga (Sreenevasan) is heroic. And An­gela Merkel.”

He ded­i­cates Sa­cred Al­tars to the mem­ory of artist Redza Piyadasa, an­other per­sonal hero.

“He was my friend and teacher ... and I am still amazed at how lit­tle recog­ni­tion there is of Piya’s con­tri­bu­tions to Malaysian and South-East Asian art move­ments and how lit­tle we recog­nise this huge hole in our art move­ment left by his pass­ing. Or that he is so missed.”

The mono­graph was five years in the mak­ing, and fit­tingly, Anu feels he had em­barked on some of the most sig­nif­i­cant bod­ies of his work as an artist dur­ing that time.

“Hav­ing 30 years worth of work, the one thing you don’t want to do is to look back and say ‘Hey, I wish I was do­ing work like that be­fore.’

“I feel good that in the last five years I made two ma­jor in­stal­la­tions that has ex­tended my prac­tice both con­cep­tu­ally as well as from the point of view of ma­te­ri­al­ity and tech­nique – these works ne­ces­si­tated ex­tend­ing my paint­ing prac­tice be­yond the can­vas to look at ne­go­ti­at­ing my painted ob­jects within a larger space and con­text.

“Yes­ter­day In A Padded Room ... and MA-NA-VA-REH also placed the works in in­ter­na­tional venues that have given me a pro­file I per­haps didn’t en­joy as much be­fore.”

MA-NA-VA-REH – Love, Loss And Pre-Nup­tials In The Age Of The Great De­bate

was ac­quired by the Sin­ga­pore Art Mu­seum for its per­ma­nent col­lec­tion and ex­hib­ited at its SG50 show Af­ter Utopia: Re­vis­it­ing The Ideal In Asian Con­tem­po­rary Art. The Yes­ter­day In A Padded Room ...

in­stal­la­tion fea­tured at Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, fol­lowed by the Asian Art Bi­en­nial 2015 at the Na­tional Tai­wan Mu­seum of Fine Arts.

So will we be see­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive or sur­vey show soon?

Anu shrugs off that idea, al­most em­bar­rassed.

“Maybe some day ... Now, that I see the work in its en­tirety spread out over 30 years in Sa­cred

Al­tars, I cer­tainly think that I have made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion as an artist and a writer to – at the very least – Malaysian con­tem­po­rary art, but hon­estly, I don’t know if any­one cares.”

Anuren­dra Je­gadeva’s On the Way To

The Air­port - New Keep­sakes is show­ing at Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary, RT01 Sixth Floor, The Gar­dens Mall in Kuala Lumpur till Aug 22. Open: Tues­day-Sun­day, 11am-7pm. For de­tails, call 03-2282 8323. Anu’s mono­graph Sa­cred Al­tars is avail­able at the gallery.

— Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary

Anuren­dra Je­gadeva’s Father (mixed me­dia on vin­tage parch­ment in wooden box, 2017).

— Pho­tos: ROHAIZAT MD DARUS/The Star

Anu’s Golden Boy (mixed me­dia on vin­tage parch­ment in wooden box, 2017). It is part of his On The Way To The Air­port – New Keep­sakes ex­hi­bi­tion, now on at Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary in KL.

Sa­cred Al­tars.

U Is For Unity, from Anu’s An Al­pha­bet Book For The Mid­dle Aged, Mid­dle

Classes, which the artist said he pub­lished with two friends, but ‘it failed to launch’. This work is fea­tured in his mono­graph

Boom 1 (mixed me­dia on vin­tage parch­ment in wooden box, 2017).

Run­ning In­di­ans And The His­tory Of Malaysian In­di­ans In 25 Cliches Era Ma­hathir

In the pages of the Sa­cred Al­tars mono­graph, read­ers will re­alise Anu’s art re­mains deeply Malaysian at heart. The ti­tle of this work is We Dance Alone, taken from his Con­di­tional Love ex­hi­bi­tion in 2008.

Anu’s in­stal­la­tion Yes­ter­day In A Padded Room at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2015. This work is fea­tured in his mono­graph Sa­cred Al­tars. — Wei-Ling Con­tem­po­rary

A vis­i­tor lis­tens to the de­scrip­tion of one of the works from the On The Way To The Air­port series on head­phones.

Mother (mixed me­dia on vin­tage parch­ment in wooden box, 2017).

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