24 September 2013

The Weaver @ White Box

Representing the past to confirm the present, is a theme prevalent in Shia Yih Yiing's ouevre. Her latest "Homage Couture" paintings transpose familiar images from local art history onto gowns, the artist acting as both maker and model. Like mixing & matching fabric patterns, the designer selects formative works by notable artists, then amalgamates its scenes and motifs onto preconceived shapes. Two distinct series are produced - one denoted by time period (i.e. historical record), the other by people groups (i.e. personal taste). The former series documents a chronological development in line with the acknowledged narrative, when modern art made way for Postmodernism, its progressively sombre palette indicative of a maturing ambiguity. '70's' stand out as being devoid of figurative elements, equating the avant-garde with a collective shift towards abstraction.

Homage Couture !!! (2013)

Paying her respect to fellow artists in the latter series, Yih Yiing demarcates the works by artists' profile - overseas residents, ethnic Chinese, women, and ethnic Malay - the final picture a plea for national reconciliation in this hostile political landscape. 'Homage Couture !!!', a dynamic portrait where Sharmiza Abu Hassan's 'Hati Nyamuk' overlaps with heart shapes, form a wonderful multilayered pattern in this tribute to the female artist. Having narrate the Malaysian art landscape in these paintings, the artist is also keenly aware of her role as a practitioner, depicting herself as tightly-garbed in these gowns. History informs her next story, unable to loosen the reverential bodice. As Simon Soon writes in the catalogue essay, this act "...suggests the utilitarianism of art, in which the sartorial skin is taken as a costume to forge one's national identity as it envelops one's body."

The Special Day I (2010) [top half]

Yih Yiing is often described as one who assumes multiple roles in life, juggling both family and career responsibilities. Her drawings display a practical sensibility - symbols shape allegories, grids underline composition, brush strokes colour forms. In the earlier works of "An-An's Adventure", which include a pair first exhibited at WWF Art for Nature, metaphors abound. The artist's daughter represents the ethnic Chinese, holding onto its kancil social reality, backed by nationalist emblems in a hibiscus design. The hot pink seat is up for grabs, as various political players masquerade as characters from Through the Looking-Glass. Cheeky details and animal silhouettes provide visual amusement, notwithstanding the direct implications seen in the patterned fabric background (Melayu-ness) and diamond grid floor (Malaysia-ness).

0308 - 0505 (2008-2013)

The same yellow-black floor joins "The More We Get Together", a series of 4 paintings that follow on from the medieval piece 'Once Upon A Time', and must be viewed in context of older works belonging to the same series. Each girl symbolise a Malaysian profile - Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sarawakian, and Sabahan. The Borneo ladies shut their eyes throughout, rendering themselves irrelevant. Paper boats are strewn across the ground, camaraderie forsaken. The Chinese ponders throwing her freedom away in '!!', preceding the damning indictment in '!!!' where she serves tea to all at the table, the cake a symbol of the New Economic Policy. Floating bubbles and a wet floor denote a rising tension, as the girls swing above a row of religious buildings with pointed roofs. The Tetrimino hanging configuration demonstrates an incisive social critique, which projection is downright cynical when the allegory is interpreted from past symbols.

The More We Get Together !!! (2009-2013)

Occupying another sectional area are illustrations from the 2010 children's book The Special Day. Cats represent 10 Malaysian races, each painting depicted with reference to Chinese paper cut-outs, European masters, and Wong Hoy Cheong. "The Weaver" stands apart from recent figurative exhibitions participated by the artist, suggesting that nude women and animal heads are only draught practice. Cryptic symbolism declare livelihood issues, where its pretty approach disguises a combative stance. With Art Expo happening nearby, the comparison with Eng Hwee Chu is inevitable, a female artist peer whose expressions are also rich in allegories, albeit more personal. Yih Yiing displays a pessimistic thread in her woven fables, but her art reflects a passionate woman clearly aware of life's priorities, a disposition seen in the early work 'Slave to Love and Art'. Her homages then are now woven into the central figure, the Artist embodied.

70's Homage Couture (2013)

Note: Anybody interested to de-construct the references in the "Homage Couture" paintings, feel free to comment/populate this spreadsheet [click link, list in two tabs].

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