Collectors Show @ White Box

Modern Malaysian artworks are rarely spotted outside private homes, and one has to rely on auction houses and galleries for such viewing opportunities. Walking into Fergana’s “Collectors Show”, the visitor is greeted by a dramatic Ismail Mustam picture, balanced out by an uplifting scene by Ibrahim Hussein in similar hues hung at the side. Sensual forms appear too on recent paintings by the former, which along with abstract works by Jolly Koh and Syed Ahmad Jamal, surround an astonishing steel sculpture titled ‘Mengadap Rebab’. Mad Anuar Ismail depicts the opening ritual in Mak Yong as a network of elevated islands, where the orchestra musicians and Pak Yong surround Tok Minduk, the five stylised figures perched upon a three-prong base.

Installation snapshot of Mad Anuar Ismail – Mengadap Rebab (2009)

Exaggerated forms inject vitality to the troupe, a figurative expression echoed in the preparatory drawings by Joseph Tan displayed in the row behind. Anurendra Jegadeva once described Joseph’s studies as “extremely methodical”, but looking past precise curves and measured spaces, the illustrated motifs present alternative ideas to his seminal work ‘Love Me in My Batik’. The lady lying on a bed in a vulgar pose, would have projected a controversial illusion, when the social commentary was about the two-dimensional construct of one national identity. Another mock-up had a Tricolore background and “BATIK LUV” letters that that can be read as “BIL AKU TV” vertically.

Joseph Tan – Graffiti Series (1969)

Structured compositions dissolve into complex emotions in the powerful ‘Graffiti Series’, a recreated wall scrawled with angry words, and (as the exhibition organiser informed) the artist’s blood. No words can explain May 13th adequately, and this piece should be included among the artworks typically mentioned as responses to the 1969 riots (Ibrahim’s flag, Lee Kian Seng's sculptures, Redza Piyadasa’s casket, et al). While the next section has some fantastic examples of Fatimah Chik’s batik creations – especially in terms of layering motifs as a symbolic space – one has to backtrack to Joseph’s fellow New Scene artist Redza and his ‘Baba Family’, in order to complete a tour of Malaysian modern art.

Installation snapshot of Faitmah Chik (l to r): Gunungan (1993); Gunungan (1987); Nusantara Sunset (1986) [picture from Fauzi Tahir's Facebook album]  

Redza once described the expressionist paintings of Jolly and Syed Ahmad as “highly personalised emotive statements”; looking at the garish collage and wooden constructs titled “Homage to Malevich”, it appears to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Form and colour are always non-objective concerns, and in the paint cracks that reveal halved lap wood joints in the black & white ‘Homage’, the pictorial support literally falls apart with time. More interesting are its transparent shapes and hanging possibilities, where one resembles a digital Chinese ideogram, and the slatted purple ‘Homage’ reminds of a bed base or window blinds. Mimesis is dead, long live mimesis!

Installation snapshot of Redza Piyadasa – Homage to Malevich (1972) [picture from Chai Chang Hwang's Facebook album[

Not fond of the gestural brushstroke too is Ismail Zain, who etches natural and organic forms to accompany a selection of generic shapes, which describe ‘Monument’. Stencilled motifs emerge from the black background, and the monotone seems suspiciously spiritual in matter. Completed with a computer 22 years later, ‘Memorial’ presents the perfect counterpoint to ‘Monument’. Thick vertical lines encase foliage like a goodbye ode to nature drawings, the nest-like slash marks at the bottom parodying the heroic actions of painting. While the grand modern narrative may be Abstract Expressionism vs Minimalist Conceptualism, I am just glad to see these works exhibited in a publicly accessible place.

Ismail Zain – [l] Memorial (1988); [r] Monument (1964)