27 September 2013

The Other Malaysia: Alternative Realities @ Bangkung Row, Bangsar

Kuala Lumpur's art collectors came out to play this September - exhibiting their personal collection in private galleries, promoting selected artists at an art fair, and throwing art appreciation parties in their restaurants. The last event is part of a Malaysia Day cultural programme, a good excuse to display some great contemporary art. In an exhibition that promotes alternative national histories, the artist's storytelling prowess is put to the test. Strong visual interest consistently trumps literal references – Household curio cabinets or distorted political flag? Toiling kerbau, emblematic harimau, or sequestered polar bear? Yawn while watching a clip of people running around in circles, labelled as Malaysians from their dressing? Settling the case in favour of aesthetic value is Anurendra Jegadeva’s depictions of a Penang legend, rendered in the artist's signature figurative manner with compelling symbols.

Ismail Hashim - Bilik Mandi (1984)

Since the idea of nationhood came about, politics inadvertently affects people and their observations of life. Former UMNO branch chairman Ismail Hashim presents stunning hand-tinted photographs, where flowery fabric decorates a concrete bathroom, creating a serene yet brilliantly illuminated nostalgia. Equally evocative underneath the spotlight, Nadiah Bamadhaj’s picture of a miniature Parliament building, depicts its detachment from the local landscape. A zinc roof exaggerates the absurdity of isolated decision-making, while an ascribed song lyric cheekily comments on political party-hopping. Tracing a theme of outstanding solo exhibitions held at Richard Koh BVII over the past year, works by Justin Lim and Chang Yoong Chia feature prominently at Leonardo's stairwell. The former illustrates a beautiful allegory of the nature of man, whereas the latter zooms in on the ethnic Chinese communes known as the new village.

Nadiah Bamadhaj - Lompat, Lompat, Lompat Apek Lompat (2012)

Capturing cityscapes from high above, Eiffel Chong utilises a photography technique which projects sharp focus and intense contrast. Time stops, subjects become objects, rendered in a plasticity akin to toys. The Putrajaya picture delineates the overpowering draw of urbanity - man-made structures, calm river, and roadside foliage, coalesce into an artificial whole. Contemporary concerns continue upstairs, where Carolyn Lau highlights oceanic pollution via a construct of discarded floats, its presentation mimicking fish swimming. Rahel Joseph's concise catalogue reminds, "...that there is more than one interpretation of the Malaysian story in all its complex, multi-layered variances." This exhibition leads by example, first showing art in an unconventional setting, then rejecting the authorities with its withdrawal from M50. Compared to the boring collectors' exhibits at Morne, this truly is the better, alternate, artistic reality of The Other Malaysia.

Eiffel Chong - Southern Pacific Ltd. 1 inch size (Various Colours) Pack of 8 (2012)

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