Selamat Hari Malaysia M50 @ White Box

Organised annually by the Ministry of Tourism & Culture, the 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism (1MCAT) festival is a ridiculous gimmick initiated by the previous minister, which government spend could be better utilised in other tourism initiatives like promoting KL heritage. Lousy art are publicly displayed in shopping complexes such as Pavilion and Starhill Gallery, while the galleries in "art mall" Publika collectively offer a dismal number of quality work. Main showcase "M50" is organised by the National Visual Art Gallery (NVAG), where despite occupying a decent space like White Box, fails the litmus test in its capability to curate and display a good art exhibition. These embarrassing events stem from a need to fulfil pro-government objectives spelled out in the marketing brochure (in Bahasa Malaysia):

Anurendra Jegadeva - I is for Idiot [Picture from news report]

1. Meningkatkan kesedaran tentang persejarahan dan pembentukan Malaysia. (Raise awareness about Malaysia's history and formation)
Gan Sze Hooi's 'The Map of Jalan Petaling and Jalan Sultan' does not qualify as artwork, but is the only exhibit that contains traces of Malaysia's formative history. Upstairs, RA Fine Arts gallery exhibits interesting Merdeka memorabilia, including copies of the Declaration of Independence in 4 languages.

2. Menjana kepentingan, minat dan publisiti antarabangsa yang positif di Malaysia. (Generate positive interest and publicity to an international audience)
The festival kicked off unceremoniously when Anurendra Jegadeva's "Alphabet for the Middle Aged Middle Classes” series was removed by the police, after one artwork was reported as insulting to Islam. [Google "karim publika idiot" to see the blog post written by the narrow-minded zealot whom made the police report] To many foreigners, such bigots make up our nation's populace.

Jalaini Abu Hassan - Steak (2013)

3. Menyerlahkan kepelbagaian seni visual dan kebudayaan dari sudut seni kontemporari Malaysia. (Showcase the breadth of visual art practices and culture, in Malaysian contemporary art)
Polystyrene statue, postcard book with hopeful messages, installation of spices in plexiglass container, are among the various types of artworks exhibited, with the notable absence of sculpture. Chong Kim Chiew's fascinating recreation of a black & white painting using marker pens, comments on the digital age while negating the tactile quality of paint.

4. Satu langkah penyatuan seni visual dan kebudayaan dalam konsep satu negara. (Unity of visual arts and culture in a single national concept)
Contradicting point #3, this parochial statement does not apply to any exhibits except Sulaiman Esa's simplistic designs of cross-cultural motifs, which shallow intent is aggravated in awful pink. Opposing this sentiment is Ahmad Zakii Anwar's realistic and life-sized illustrations of the Malaysian people. Appreciating all 8 charcoal portraits together render the thought of racial typecasting a foolish notion.

Chong Kim Chiew - White over White, Black over Black (2011) [Left: original painting; Right: Recreated with marker pens]

5. Mengembangkan komuniti seni di Malaysia. (Grow Malaysia's art community)
Displaying works from the recent "Whiteaways" exhibition in Penang and Galeri Chandan's stock room, the perceived collaboration crumbles when one discovers that critical artworks are excluded from the main showcase. Among the pieces relegated to Art Row are Yee I-Lann's commemorative plates and Ng Seksan's "Malaysian Spring" flags.

6. Mengangkat dalam meningkatkan profil Balai Seni Visual Negara sebagai sebuah institusi seni negara. (Raise the profile of NVAG as a national art institution)
A dubious objective since it is the national art institution, this exhibition suffers from recurring issues seen in NVAG-curated shows, such as lack of text and poor choice of works. The incorrect title of Sze Hooi's map, and Jai's name misspelled on the label, are unacceptable typos. Just look at Kelvin Chap's atrociously bad painting of a boat with Malaysian flag, and I have made my point.

Edroger Rosli - Not Exactly (2013)