27 August 2014

鸿•图 -- 吴亚鸿60回顾展 @ Wisma Kebudayaan SGM

Goh Ah Ang's retrospective involves five series displayed across three floors, a non-chronological outlay for 42 years of art. Raised in Klang and tutored by Chuang Kim Siew in his secondary school days, Ah Ang's teenage output includes oil paintings and etchings that contain expressionist backgrounds, and compositions that recall Khoo Sui Hoe. Upon graduation he worked in advertising, and took the opportunity to submit a Chinese ink work ('荷花') to the renowned Chung Chen Sun for review, whom praised his technical prowess. Without a formal art education, Ah Ang proceeded to open his own art school and has 12 solo exhibitions to date. This inspiring story about one self-made man that did it all for passion, is part of the exhibition's kitschy appeal, apart from some fantastic works on show.

混乱中的宁静 Peace in the Midst of Turmoil (1997)

Groupings of displayed works cater to the popular, or perhaps what the artist regards as most significant. Western notions of exhibition hanging are non-existent, evident on the ground floor where Ah Ang's famous "蚁之旅 Life As Ants " series is presented alongside the newer "生生世世 Time After Time" series. Metaphorical creatures are not new in Chinese painting, but to highlight an insect for its strength en masse, is rare for a culture whose art inclines towards heroic subjects. Ant drawings are paired together with crumpled paper, which tactile surface projects visual depth, utilised to great effect in works like ‘缝隙 The Gap’ and ‘混乱中的宁静 Peace in the Midst of Turmoil’. Formication is mercifully not felt while appreciating these works, because of its artful presentation and stated analogies.

怀古 Cherish I (2001)

Bronze script 鐘鼎文 is copied as a personal reflection in the latter series, its juxtaposition of black background and copper patina unexpectedly enchanting. Archaic characters stimulate the cultivated longing for ancient wisdom, an intrinsic sentiment manifest withini works like ‘怀古 Cherish I’ and ‘对语 Conversation’. Oddly hung among the introspective pieces is ‘生命。希望 Life. Hope’, which seductive silhouette hints at more figurative works to come. The next section “方框与窗 Frames and Windows” employs a simple yet highly effective pictorial device. Spiders and cockroaches hang from painting frames, while moths and birds flock around windows. Such scenes are easily infused with metaphor, via its title. An admirer of Piet Mondrian, Ah Ang’s use of grids and colour blocks are few but interesting, denoting a potential area for further artistic development.

窗里窗外 Outside And In (1999)

Exhibited upstairs are more expressive swirls, and a number of outstanding paintings done in the early 90’s, upon the artist’s visit to China after travel restrictions was lifted. ‘祈求 A Prayer’ and ‘龙的传人 Descendants of the Dragon’ demonstrate the power of one fluid monochromatic medium, while Chinese ink’s transparent qualities contribute to the wistful serenity in ‘钟声的沉思 Bell Toll Musings’. Commenting about his practice as a traditional ink painter, “I have always thought of tradition synonymous to the winds of yesterday. They could not move today’s trees but the rain falling down today is the cumulative result of yesterday’s winds.” Adept at analogies and technically sound, Ah Ang’s success as a Malaysian artist is a well-deserved one, as I purchase a catalogue out of goodwill.

钟声的沉思 Bell Toll Musings (1991)

22 August 2014

Under Construction @ MIA Gallery

From one graduates exhibition to this diploma show, Yau Sir Meng’s accomplished presentation continues to stand out. Two installations comment on the Malaysian education system, including school uniforms planted in pots, and a sugary construct melted by humidity. Short-term research into waste disposal habits and its environmental impact is difficult to take seriously, while a wall covered in paper sheets is hardly noticeable even when highlighted. Works by two artists allow for unintentional interpretations - Emir Nazren’s distorted portraits made with a photocopier, and broken pencils stuck onto white panels by Kay Lee Pei Chyi. The former’s reproductions of anguish parody existential angst prevalent in the current age; Graphic design and less sophisticated materials encroach onto the latter canvas, also a dig at the lofty notion of fine art. Students must be mindful that contexts and self-reference matter in contemporary art, while honing visual techniques.

[from l to r] Emir Nazren - Botak 1, 4, and 5 (2014)

19 August 2014

Equilibrium @ Richard Koh Fine Art

Despite reading essays about art and abstraction, it is a struggle to describe my fascination with this category of painting, or why I get lost in Mark Rothko’s colour fields but walk past Jackson Pollock’s allover drips. Referring to Wong Perng Fey’s “Equilibrium” body of work, Martina Ziesse writes that “(t)he fascination of abstract art lies in the idea that the work might offer a glimpse into a different reality, a reality subjective to the artist and to each individual beholder. A painting on the wall may offer a gateway into an unknown but strangely familiar world.” Relocated to Beijing four years ago, the artist moves on from melancholic plants and awful Chinese zodiac animals, to a less figurative yet very powerful group of paintings. Utilising slow-drying oils as the bottom layer and glossy hard enamel paints on top, Perng Fey sculpts his materials to create forms and visual depth.

Paintings prefiguring the Equilibrium body of work

This process is better explained by Haffendi Annuar, “(t)hrough a wide variety of techniques such as painting, pouring, scraping, sprinkling and spraying, he would carefully lay and peel away skins of paint, each gesture a response to a specific piece’s image build-up, physicality and material presence. These tactile, richly coloured works are created through the acts of image erasure and layering, echoing the process of palimpsest. The unstable surfaces crack, revealing vivid colours below and creating sculptural and seductive palpable bodies.” Hung behind the office table and opposite it, are five smaller works that mark the start of this series, its horizontal brushstrokes a fit example about “erasure and layering” and “crack, revealing”. Fatuous discussions about materiality, however, are irrelevant.

Untitled #003 (2013)

Amanda Lai wrote for a previous solo exhibition, “...Perng Fey tries to capture and make permanent the fleeting nature of change, and of transitions.” Swathes of paint are typically used to surround or cover the subject, which depicts a wistful presentation that recalls neither an observed scene that long ago, nor a spell as short as a fleeted moment. Now, broad strips boldly occupy the foreground, which outline the picture composition only after rich layers of oils have been painted. The exhibited untitled works denote the transition from initial approach to current result, where specific textures and brushstrokes are applied and scraped away, on a black background. Traces of the old approach are obvious in the beautiful colours underlying ‘Untitled #003’, while ‘Untitled #004’ contains parallel horizontal lines like ridges on folded paper.

Luminous Silver #1 (2014)

Thick dripping paint from such tactile effects augment diagonal blocks in ‘Luminous Silver #9’, the pièce de résistance among the major exhibited series painted in metallic silver. Geometric forms indicate a human barrier, and act as an effective foil to the abraded surface present in other works, a characteristic easily interpreted as time’s passing. On the contrary, the decrepit presentation is more progressive than just illustrating nostalgia, as visual memory is recounted in a contemporary sense via inscription. Perng Fey’s approach towards layering has always portrayed such anecdotal notions, but when impastos are scraped away to reveal stalks and mountains (like in ‘Luminous Silver #1’ and ‘Luminous Silver #6’, respectively), the representation of visual cues become even more powerful. Not sure why, though.

Details of painting surfaces in Perng Fey's works

Personally, pictures of new village houses, vast grasslands, and isolated palm trees, are more attractive. Nevertheless, Perng Fey charts a compelling development in his artistic output that is worth appreciating. Beijing’s dreary landscape and hard-nosed people are memorable, but is that environment really the impetus behind the artist’s change in style? Or is exposure to a challenging contemporary art scene the driving force? Figuration takes a minimalist turn, the immediate compositions are more striking and tactile, but also less sentimental. "Equilibrium” includes paintings with pink and red splashes, to be exhibited later in Beijing and Korea. Judging by the positive bookings, Ronald Kiwitt's pronouncement is perhaps only half correct. “Now, Perng Fey can undoubtedly be defined as an international artist.” Did the curator missed out one word on purpose - abstract?

Luminous Silver #9 (2014)

16 August 2014

刻舟求剑 - Pulau Melayu - Lost and Found @ Lostgens'

Hung precariously above accumulated rainwater on a concrete rooftop, one life-sized paper boat buoyed by a fishing net is subjected to the Malaysian thunderstorm. The vessel collapses and slowly disintegrates after being overwhelmed, while tall cranes occupy the city skyline. Allegorical and beautiful, Low Yi Chin's installation sets the tone in this show organised by four artists, which unifying themes include "...interrelated topics engendered by local contexts existing in contemporary Malaysian society." Physical borders pose a challenge for exhibiting within an independent art space, but forms a larger preoccupation for Chong Kim Chiew. Tarpaulins layered with map tracings depict changing frontiers, and will not be out of place if shown at NVAG. One accompanying video locates these research markers in uninhabited public environments, its self-reference to power negated by the lack of human presence.

Snapshots from Chong Kim Chiew - Boundary Fluidity (2014 - ongoing)

Human lust for power, and a perpetual state of distrust as portrayed by the local media, manifest within Liew Kwai Fei's paintings, markings, and found objects. Less derisive and more flamboyant than Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, his waggish output combines surreal compositions and Mandarin wordplay, with a quaint dose of literal translations. This zany characteristic is apparent in the exhibition title, where its three terms are only related if one is willing to stretch one's imagination. Pulau Melayu refers to one enigmatic painting-sculpture, which looks like three ridiculous figures fused together, then its centre hollowed out. Inside the core is a tudung-wearing mermaid and dinosaurs with songkoks, all bouncing along to flashing disco lights. An asymmetrical construct with multiple aspects craft unexpected perspectives, but this remains a most perplexing work.

Installation views of Liew Kwai Fei - Orang, Melayu: Do, Re, Mi 无来由的人 (2012-2014)

Placed around 'Pulau, Melayu: X, Y, Z 无来由的岛' is a triptych of oil paintings mounted on wooden frames like bulletin boards. 'Orang, Melayu: Do, Re, Mi 无来由的人' is easier to interpret, where colourful caricatures and phallic/yonic symbols are plentiful and obvious. Marking each work is a sign inscribed in Chinese characters, Latin alphabet, and Jawi script, which use puns referring to the 人 (person) ideogram and its compound multiple 从 (follow), and 众 (crowd). Urban development covers the picture landscape – chopped trees, high-rise buildings, MRT train – and grotesque beings dominate the foreground. As advised in the artist's statement, no reason is required to decipher the illustrated motifs. From patriotic hibiscus to ribald fruits, sacrificial bull to frightened pigs. the facetious and sometimes vicious presentation gives an impression of an ethnocentric outlook. Should curiosity lead so quickly to judgement?

Snapshots from Liew Kwai Fei - Barbie Fatimah the Puteri Mutiara 人鱼芭比法蒂玛 (2014)

The keris and a rubber tapping tool reinforces this bigoted view, yet Kwai Fei's satirical commentary is effective because of its gaudiness. He states in a previous solo exhibition, “(t)he Chinese have the tendency to dehumanize the others. This self-centred attitude does not only trivialize but tends to form clichéd judgement about other ethnic groups.” Deliberate textures and a whimsical visual also describe his found objects, where one glossy fairytale book is punctured and drawn over, resulting in a hilarious account that reveals an anxiety about censorship. Hung on the wall are jigsaw puzzles similarly reworked, which together with his painting-sculptures, surround a construct of four tongkats labelled 巫岛/誤導 and 半岛/絆倒. This assemblage is the real Pulau Melayu, where the artist condemns a country crippled by its citizen's passive prejudice, as lively toy snakes wreath down a static bamboo pole.

Malaysian contemporary art? (clockwise from top left) Works by Low Yi Chin, Chong Kim Chiew, Minstrel Kuik, Liew Kwai Fei 

Socio-political concerns escape Kuantan-based Yi Chin, who documents the natural ecosystem on Pulau Ular, by isolating textures, specimens, and sounds. From one illustration of a venomous sea snail, to two piles of blood cockle 螄蚶 shells, the island theme is migrated from the physical realm to an emotional one. Pantai Remis-raised Minstrel Kuik's installation begins with a book of astringent poems, followed by photographs of feminine subjects, that surround 'The Island of Repentance'. Varying-sized prints recall a measured cadence, as formal visual properties like repeating shapes and tactile surfaces, fade into a beguiling display of one's internal conflict. The photographer's hidden hand amalgamates symbolic objects and personal subjects, whilst upholding an aesthetic ideal, then occasionally reveals itself as the assertive gesture it really is.

Installation view of Minstrel Kuik - Flowers in The Pigsty (2014) [photographs], and The Island of Repentance (2014) [installation] 

Confined within a narrow walkway, "The Prayer's Room" sees a thick braid of hair laid upon a single-sized bed. A prostrating woman hangs above it, informing of one's reflection that is visualised in the gallery through an opening. Reproduced on newsprint and folded into squares, this panorama of photographs is soul-stirringly beautiful. Memory is preserved in implicit human action - young men perform a wheelie, plants wilted, durians eaten, ground razed, girl plays with pinwheel, cherry stems plucked, insects conglomerate, and more durians just because durians are awesome. Saga seeds and clay sculptures lie in mounted boxes, these amulets protruding from the wall like containers of hope. Opposite this passage is 'The Prisoner's Landscape - after Pudu Jail', where cut-outs of the prison wall are pasted on softboards, while old captures of ambivalent passer-bys hang from the string divider.

Installation views of Minstrel Kuik - The Prayer's Room (2014), including Perak Woman (2014)

The solid and fractured landscape represents a rearrangement of the same puzzle, as unresolved notions remain open in this phenomenal installation by Minstrel. Binary concepts oscillate via self-doubt - informed/intuited, sympathy/apathy, fear/acceptance... what does freedom/captivity from the male gaze mean? On a lighter note, it is interesting to see the influence of partner Kwai Fei's works in hers, and vice versa. Research-based practice takes a back seat in this contemporary art exhibition, as one contemplates about the action/reaction dynamic between artist and audience, while the irritating Barbie Doll resounds incessantly. With political bickering hogging the headlines, despite the nation still mourning the demise of two planes, perhaps the next independent group show can be called "转弯抹角 - Kepala Pusing - Truth and Lies".

Installation view of Low Yi Chin - Sailing the Map (2014)

11 August 2014

Immaterial Frontiers 2.0 @ NVAG

The Malaysian visitor is confronted with media art from acclaimed regional artists, which curatorial theme "relates to how can artists from newly formed nation-states create works that reflect a sense of being part of a place that is culturally deep and yet nationally new." Walking past a non-functioning bell into the black box, one is captivated by Singaporean works presented across five screens. A rope stretched across an undulating sea in Charles Lim's 'Sea State: Drift (Stay Still Now to Move)', underpins the futility of demarcating a physical border in nature. This image anchors one adjacent video of a man floating diagonally over a split-screen projection of the sea, its fluid action equally applicable to a metaphor for life. Showing more than one perspective is the common approach utilised among the exhibiting artists, perhaps a necessary method in this multipolar world.

Snapshots from Charles Lim - Sea State: Drift (Stay Still Now to Move) (2013)

In one video from his ironic "Ju Yi Fan San" (举一反三) series, Cheo Chai-Hiang splits and shares a durian with his mother, trading obligatory courtesies and bantering in Hokkien throughout. Exhibited alongside is a live feed from the gallery's library, where four bookends of hands holding up/down bottles, are placed among the rack of art reference books. Will oral tradition and/or documented opinions stand the test of place/time? As one adept at situating multilayered contexts within his art, excessive reading into Chai-Hiang's presentation is inevitable. Red water scoop, blue waste basket, green tissue box, pink string wrapped around bronze fingers - suggest potentially delusive associations. The first video ends brilliantly with a 'beh tauge' (拔豆芽) quip, implying that life goes on regardless of social manipulations. Plucking the ends off bean sprouts, is just a natural action to get rid of what one deems unpleasant.

Video stills from Cheo Chai-Hiang - Ju Yi Fan San - Eating Durian (2013)

Frontiers form personal histories for Brisbane-based Tintin Wulia and California-raised Dinh Q. Lê. The former's performance of stacking then toppling passports is re-enacted by local artists Race Phua and Mohd Amirul Roslan, but this attempt to localise the artwork's clichéd commentary is weak, especially when compared to Chai-Hiang's presentation. Scenes from Apocalypse Now and Platoon are juxtaposed by the latter, 'From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage' focusing on Martin and Charlie Sheen, and their roles in popular movies set during the Vietnam War. Moments of doubt are woven together to cast suspicion onto a bloody conflict, and its American-propagated storyline. The cross-generational reference is clever and leaves a strong impression, as one reads headlines about yet another air strike on Iraqi soil.

Video stills from Dinh Q. Lê - From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage (2007)

Held in NTU Singapore during its first iteration, "Immaterial Frontiers 2.0" includes local artists for a supposedly more relevant exposition. However, projection of lines onto frosted acrylic and an interactive game fail to inspire, apart from a 'mencari lena' pun suggested by one reviewer. Old lexicons printed with coastline images, are literal manifestations of Sharon Chin who "...imagined these languages floating in the sea towards Penang, and landing on its shore." Grass mats and cardboards cover the floor, to augment a generalised and romantic view of the pendatang. Particularly alluring are the history textbook (Balik Pulau) and Hokkien dictionary (Gurney Drive) editions, its respective political and cultural intimations infusing additional context into beautifully-made and collector-friendly artworks. Frontiers may be immaterial for art-making, but its dividing line of power must be recognised, in order for boundaries to be pushed.

Snapshots from Sharon Chin's "Pendatang/Arrivals: Pocket Seas" series (2008): [top] Balik Pulau (Malihom), 6.55pm - Textbook; [bottom] Gurney Drive, 12.08pm - Hokkien

06 August 2014

Mihraj @ NVAG

Subtitled “Aku Hanya Seorang Tukang Cerita”, this collection exhibits the artworks from one adventitious prodigy, if we believe the story. The narrative hook begins with a Buddhist temple from Alor Setar, together with a tale about a missing bird, which welcome the visitor into Gallery 2B. Next to it is a small painting with sinuous lines, done in green because the artist had only that colour at that time. ‘Langsir Hijau’ won prizes when he was 16 years old, and affirmed Anuar’s outstanding technical skill for one so young. At 20, his seminal work ‘Kelahiran Inderaputera’ was disparaged for only focusing on the surface (by Sulaiman Esa), and described as mystical (by Choong Kam Kow). In the same year, Redza Piyadasa bought and painted his work black, then renamed it as an ‘Art Proposition’. Not everyone was dismissive, as Syed Ahmad Jamal did declare Anuar as “the new sensation of the Malaysian Art scene, perhaps its brightest star yet”.

Tanpa Tajuk (1985)

Following on his initial success, the artist utilised the Malay folktale to imbue mythical interpretations, seen in works such as ‘The Journey of Inderaputera’, ‘Sementa Pura’, and ‘Gegak Gempita Jin Dikar Agus, Jin Tamar Buga’. Its luminescence mesmerise, where colours and lines seem to be derived from prisms, and fantastical creatures manifest within cloud and ice. Influenced by the Devils Mountain scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his subjects are always portrayed in the act of emerging. Skyward projections visually uplift, as subsequent series “Wind, Water and Fire” and “Flight to Paradise” reinforce a distinguished style. Fortuitously for Anuar, brilliant paintings with little figuration was popular during this time after the implementation of the National Cultural Policy.

The Journey of Inderaputera (1979)

The Anak Alam member travelled around Europe after his early success, where some interesting watercolours from this period are displayed here. ‘Tanpa Tajuk’ shows a man torn apart by natural elements (ground, water, fire, wind, and light), pointing to the horrors of war that he may have come across during his travels. Exhibits in this gallery ends with a story of a friend who died after ingesting poison, one day after Anuar was chased out of his temporary residence by the National Art Gallery’s former director. The recalcitrant artist takes the opportunity to reproach Redza – “…aku tidak pasti dia dapat memahaminya.” – in a wall text for ‘Leaking In Cube’. Taking into account ‘Kelahiran Inderaputera’ produced a year earlier, this small work displays a keen sense for space and scale, and also a disposition for parallel dimensions seen in his more recent illustrations of wormholes and vortexes.

Leaking In Cube (1977)

The separation between the two exhibition spaces and its contents is unnecessarily vague – one is labelled “The End of a Beginning”, while the other “The Beginning of an End”. Representative works from his earlier series are shown in the former, yet ‘Leaking In Cube’ is placed in the latter space, which cavernous interior suits large format works better. Visitors are dwarfed by huge fantastical pictures that fill the hall, many which are inscribed with reflective Arabic verses. 'Assalamualaikum Ya Bani Adam' overwhelms anyone near the doorway, while the seven paintings that make up “Asma Al-Husna” is breathtaking to view at one go. Deference to the creator leads to compositions that distance the viewer far away from the canvas, like watching an apocalypse movie in a cinema. Flying steeds dominate as a subject matter – from the Malay Merak Emas to the Islamic Burāq, the Greek Pegasus to the contemporary jetliner.

Installation view of "Asma Al-Husna" series

The stunning visuals in these new works are repetitive and prosaic, signifying “The Beginning of an End”. It is obvious from the wall labels that Anuar’s re-emergence in the local art scene after 20 years, is financially rewarding. Abstract splendour is again in vogue, especially if Jawi writings are included, for those who prefer art that illustrate the Muslim component in Malaysian identity. Anuar’s transition from reliance on the Inderaputera myth, to depicting the transcendental journey of the Mihraj, indicates one soul-seeking individual who found peace with God, artistic development notwithstanding. Viewing paintings of a landing aeroplane, Stargate, and a Dassault Mirage fighter jet, one cannot help feel that in this unfortunate year of aviation incidents, magnificent pictures with imagined narratives can be a story worth looking out for.

Pangg! Sebelah Sayapnya Ditampar, Ia Tiada Lagi Disitu Israk Miraj - Jet Seq-11 (2013)

01 August 2014

UNPACK-REPACK @ The Whiteaways Arcade, Penang (III – Taking a Break)

...Back to Looking Out, juxtapositions of rubbish dumps and beautiful vistas occupy the Environment table. Sliced into half horizontally, this heaven/hell configuration projects a moralising message that regresses into what Jacque Rancière calls the “ethical regime of art”. Not being able to fully express his disdain at such behaviour shows Ismail Hashim as one truly passionate about social concerns. The next section Human Rights expands on his activist persona, where cleverly designed graphics include a play on Barisan Nasional’s flat-bottomed dacings. Perhaps the link between photography and graphic design is much closer than previously thought, since both disciplines require work on flat printed surfaces. Tennyson’s poem closes off this corridor, but at this juncture, the issues – and ethics – of “curating posthumously” are already apparent. General categories suit an archive, but how suitable is it for a gallery exhibition?

Graphic designs in Looking Out: Human Rights [picture from Aliran's Facebook page]

A personal take will be to view the works in Environment right after Streets, then Work and People, in order to appreciate better the notion of human presence in Ismail’s works, given the break into Looking In midway down the corridor. The next area is more problematic when interpreted at face value, as one can argue that the Passing of Time is by default applicable to all Ismail’s works. Bookending a selection of untitled test prints, the curator repudiates ambiguity to re-present an outstanding characteristic. Sequential snapshots of a dying papaya tree din the point to ignorant visitors. Exhibits in this area act as a counterpoint to the introspective Going Bananas section. Prints displaying the Growth & Decay of plants are curiously coloured, as if the real world only sets in, when a being’s natural lifecycle reaches its end. Journey’s End documents the last bullfight in an extinct village, a diversion into photojournalism.

The Looking Out corridor [picture from OUR ArtProjects website]

Before & After shows pictures more easily associated with Ismail, including eccentric sequences of a plant coming back to life, or a girl disappearing from a doorway. Curator Hoy Cheong describes a hallmark in Ismail’s works, “…the way he look for idiosyncratic elements within photographs, that take him to the next level of an ordinary photographer…” Works here are titled but not framed – one rolling back mists, the other revealing human spoils – both waiting to be labelled as masterpieces. In Narratives, ants carrying a dead cockroach pique curiosity, as much as noticing which picture is coloured and which is not. Time-lapse images of ants lured by drops of honey, its sequence manipulated by Ismail, again shows the photography artist and his preoccupation with time’s passing. Dwelling in this room, one feels that the curator was ruminating about the “irrepressibility of time” within his research journey, as much as about the theme itself.

Now you see her, now you don't

Emily Dickinson’s tragic ‘I Died for Beauty’ wraps up the exhibition, the hand-copied poem displayed alongside fleeting images of clouds, plants, and landscapes. “It is our basic nature to be attracted to beauty”, said Ismail. Wordplay injects a quirky dimension to these serene pictures, notably in the three distant captures of a propelling sampan titled ‘Kayuh! Kayuh! Kayuh! – nun di sana Pulau Tikus / row! row! row! and yonder is Pulau Tikus’. His romantic side reveals itself in a title given to a photograph of water lilies: "When light touches water, we are privileged to witness miracles; when light, flowers and sun come together, we have a glimpse of paradise." Nature is awe-inspiring and transient, as this wistful tribute themed Truth & Beauty, ends with 300 photographs found on Ismail's digital camera when fate took his life. Last Engagements projects an unending memorial, as one ponders what has become and what could have been.

Kayuh! Kayuh! Kayuh! – nun di sana Pulau Tikus / row! row! row! and yonder is Pulau Tikus (2001)

Fellow photographer and friend Ooi Cheng Ghee remarked about Ismail telling him once that “God may be found in the bathroom”, and I am inclined to agree. Utilitarian acts contribute to renewal, in a publicly private space. This observation sums up Ismail’s approach, which he utilises the common image to highlight the subconscious and in-between, informed by the culture in his home state Penang. Ismail’s oeuvre and quotes indicate one who lives his life through art’s context, but is also sufficiently self-aware to know what a perfect work should be. Coming full circle back to the lady in ‘Doktor Jam’, most proceed with life without taking in the many absurdities present in one’s immediate environment, and Ismail points that out with charming wit. These multi-layered interpretations are evident in this exhibition, where its brilliant title alludes to a physical activity, a curatorial process, a re-presentation, and best of all, a reference to Ismail’s penchant for words.

Snapshot of desk print in Looking In: Home

“UNPACK-REPACK” will be remembered as the Ismail Hashim exhibition curated by Wong Hoy Cheong, archival process notwithstanding. "...(T)asked to invade (his) privacy" and "...to think through how to honour the assets and archives because the artist is not here for a dialogue", the curator's selection of works and configuration of space demonstrate a masterful exposition. In a rare move for Malaysian artists, Ismail’s family initiated an archival process to document his belongings, which beneficiaries hopefully extend beyond local art collectors. Unpacking continues when the exhibition travels to Balai Seni Visual Negara next year, together with the release of a monograph, as I anticipate the opportunity to make sense of the four pictures on a black board seen in Streets. To sum up this tribute show and its curatorial effort in Ismail's own words, “Respect the space, respect the subject”. 

Doktor Jam (1979)