14 August 2013

Convergence II: Allegories of the Malaysian Landscape @ Galeri Petronas

The perfect representation of the exhibition title, Wong Hoy Cheong’s ‘Buckingham Street and Its Vicinity’ greets the gallery visitor, a lithographic map that combines London and Penang in a whimsical reflection of Malaysia's colonial past. Hung next are large landscapes of the tropical rainforest, depicted in a serenity akin to a tourism advert, without the cheesy tune. Sabahan Yee I-Lann captures the contradictions of urbanity in the “Kinabalu" series, where contemporary images are fused with rural vistas to superb effect. The large panorama draws one into cool pastures, with the majestic mountain looming in its background, each picture commenting on specific issues of modernity.

Wong Hoy Cheong - Buckingham Street and Its Vicinity (2002)

From Ismail Mat Hussin’s batiks to Maamor Jantan’s watercolours then Ismail Hashim’s black & white photographs, the middle section is devoted to remind city dwellers that the rural kampung still feature prominently in many Malaysian lives. Two great keris hilts by Mad Anuar Ismail protrude from the ground, belonging to the beautifully sculpted “Siri Meditasi”, where these potent Malay symbols remain a juggernaut in the way of our struggle, towards establishing a national identity. The curatorial decision to place Anthony Lau’s ‘Gotong Royong’ at the end of the exhibition, aims to serve as a counterweight to this notion of Malay supremacy, but instead exacerbates the feeling of disappointment post-General Elections.

Yee I-Lann - Kinabalu Series: Kopivosian (2007)

Comic delight is detected in a couple of Chuah Thean Teng's works: first the sultry lady 'Combing Her Hair' sports a baby blue eye shadow, while the other snapshot is of a paddy farmer's behind while she bends over. Moving on from village humour to abstract landscapes, Hamidi Hadi’s “Wonderlust” series consumes the viewer with incomplete bands of colour, constructing a vague memory of the beach that never really materialises. Red pigments dot the dark canvas of Wong Perng Fey, who illustrates a burning scene with illuminated ashes, which form the shape of flags seen in Chinese traditional festivals.

Hamidi Hadi - Wonderlust series (2007)

The exhibition ends with two works from Ivan Lam’s incredible “After All These Years” exhibition. Waiting at the airport, waiting in a traffic jam, waiting for love – these acts of waiting constitute a reality for many urbanites. From sungai to wi-fi, Ketuanan to keinginan, the narrative of “Convergence II” presents a patriotic intention, but feels incomplete with the lack of contemporary artworks. Curious are the absence of Joseph Tan's rock surface drawings ("Formation" series), and Latiff Mohidin's agave plants ('Pago-Pago'), that belong in the gallery's permanent collection and are obviously Malaysian landscapes. I am sure the curators have considered their options, but what needs no pondering is that the deplorable lighting conditions require correction.

Ivan Lam - LCC (Never wave goodbye) (2006)

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