Fabrics of Society @ Sasana Kijang

Force fitting a theme to display one's collection is the challenge each curator has, especially if there is no borrowing from other galleries or archives. With "Fabrics of Society", the national bank utilises a smart theme that has multiple contexts and layers, also as an opportunity to display new works purchased through recent auctions. The exhibition is divided into five sections displaying the illustrious textile tradition in Malaysia - livelihood, togetherness, way of life, harmony, and design. A large Hoessein Enas painting of fishermen pulling in a boat greets the visitor, leading to Yong Mun Sen's 'Kelong'. Bright orange drapes of cloth (I assume?) hang below a kampong air, the bare shore and fragile structure hardly deterring the men from going about their Livelihood.

Yong Mun Sen - Kelong (1946)

Historical accounts of high-activity locations such as markets, mosques, and barbers, are recorded in Chiang Shih Wen and Tan Choon Ghee's paintings. The representative work befitting the exhibition theme - Ismail Mat Hussin's 'Mengecat Batik' - illustrates a process in the production of batik blok. Carved blocks with intricate motifs are dipped in hot wax and stamped onto the fabric, dyed, and dipped into water. The artist literally waxes lyrical about his preferred medium, pun intended. Juhari Said's 'Baju Kurung dan Secawan Kopi' highlights the Harmony section, splashed coffee and scribbled words commenting on empty talk and kopitiam chit-chat, a favourite Malaysian past time.

Ismail Mat Hussin - Mengecat Batik (1987)

Five works by batik art pioneer Chuah Thean Teng were on display, including recent high-priced acquisitions 'Bathing Baby' and 'Durian Sellers'. What caught my attention, however, was the cubist reconstruction of 'Mother Nursing a Baby'. Elongated spaces separate the subject matter from its background, creating a desolate and self-absorbed world in pinkish hues. Contrasting this dreary scene, are the loving mothers portrayed in Yeong Seak Ling's realist "Baby Cot" series, and Dzulkifli Buyong's peaceful 'Tidurlah Anakku'. Bringing the exhibition to a close are design motifs by Fatimah Chik and others, a comforting statement as we bear witness to the evolution of Malaysian society, and its fabric in all its meanings.

Juhari Said - Baju Kurung dan Secawan Kopi (1991)