Syed Ahmad Jamal's tutorship is apparent in Sivam Selvaratnam's early works, where geometrical shapes and grid arrangements display a formal approach. Nevertheless, Sivam quickly broke away from this tradition with hand-drawn curved lines, especially evident in her never-perfect squares and rectangles. Studies for 'The Message' denote an understanding of abstraction, as a view from behind an archway transforms into orange swirls in the final painting. A variety of exhibits from 1969 show wilful experimentations, one astonishing example being 'Floral Monochrome II', a delightful illustration etched onto aluminium foil for printmaking. Garbed on a mannequin is the "Malaysian Sunshine" design on cloth, first presented to the mayor of Manchester in her student days.
|Sivam Selvaratnam - Floral Monochrome II (1969)|
'In Circles II' presents a square in the middle of four concentric circles, the artist's freehand imbuing a breezy quality into the pleasant design. In a curious move, decades-old patterns by Sivam are recreated on cloth, its minimal and repetitive motifs as fashionable and even more striking than Orla Kiely. Ruzz Gahara and Nelissa Hilman, local batik and shoe designers respectively, utilise her art output on their products, hereby acknowledging Sivam as a pioneer in Malaysian textiles. The final part of this wonderful exhibition shows Fatimah Chik, who reverts to traditional batik chop prints, and confidently eschews the batik painting method pioneered by Chuah Thean Teng. Following on from Syed Ahmad, Islamic art notions of form and space are prevalent in her geometrical configurations.
|Fatimah Chik - Gunungan (1993)|
Formal properties in Fatimah's works vary by time period, and the exhibition does well to bring together a variety for comparison's sake. In 'Meditation 1' and 'Mentari Senja', repeated symmetrical motifs induce a serene disposition. Visual elements that break a balanced composition, last seen in Syed Ahmad's diagonals and Sivam's non-perfect square, do make a welcome appearance in Fatimah's framed batik pieces. Stylised designs are left uncoloured in 'Gunungan', while spaces between the squares in 'Meditation 2' display an assortment of ornaments. True to its title, these small variations aid introspection upon appreciation, a characteristic most pronounced in the rousing flames at the centre of 'Mandalara No. 7'. A unifying theme in Fatimah's pre-millennium works is the 'Nusantara Motif', its stylised figures recognised as an amalgamation of regional shapes, but to me recall an uncanny resemblance to Incan textiles.
|Fatimah Chik - Meditation 2 (1993)|
The later works on display fail to inspire - keris on batik does not narrate 'Hang Tuah', and a collection of abstract forms resemble Khalil Ibrahim's batik pieces made forty years earlier. 'Alami', a collage of leftover batik, represents the quirkiness of a mood board and all its trappings. Handmade batik chops are displayed, itself beautiful tools to be appreciated. Completing the exhibition are five large hangings that represent Muslim prayer times, an intricate display of spiritual affinity internalised into visual shapes. In this age where fire extinguisher foam is used on canvas, fabric as fine art
is an irrelevant concern
. The thorough approach and strong curated effort mark this exhibition an outstanding one, even if it is just to better understand a medium, or three innovative Malaysian artists.
|Installation view of Fatimah Chik [1993, from l to r]: Subuh; Zohor; Asar; Maghrib; Isyak|
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