Locals Emerging Tomorrow, Open 2014

The local visual arts scene kicks off 2014 with a slew of exhibitions featuring young artists, starting with the Malaysia Emerging Artist Award (MEAA), where 41 finalists get to add credentials to their respective CVs. Some names repeat from the 2011 list, such as Cheong Tuck Wai and Yeoh Choo Kuan, whose crafting of oil paints project similar intent and tiresome to view. Themes popular locally are regurgitated, implying rigid academic instruction. The result is terrible art with hollow expressions - endangered animals, scrappy constructs, bitumen erosion, comic characters, splattered decay - amount to a collective yawn. References to international art leave one bemused. Andrew Chew's abstracts are Gerhard Richter decoys, and Firdaus Ismail's take on Francis Bacon's expensive triptych is plain sloppy.

Sabihis - Awang Hitam (2013)

Potential is detected amidst amateurish execution by Low Kar Lai and Hafiz Razak, the former blending Chinese-Taoist artefacts into nostalgic pictures, while the latter should seek inspiration from David Hockney to expand his simple compositions. Sci-fi landscapes by Raja Azeem Idzham are visually attractive, but easily dismissed in fine art criterion. Technique, composition, and narrative are quoted as the MEAA judging categories by a panel of 14. This fact is bizarre in that fat cat paintings and unsightly toy aeroplanes number among the five eventual winners. Also problematic are the uneven prices, where unknown works are two times more expensive than pieces by well-exhibited artists, indicating an ill-advised flexibility accorded to participating finalists.

Shafiq Nordin - Sweet Promises (2014)

However, two artists from the 5 winners have displayed improvements over the past year. Sabihis Pandi juxtaposes woodblock and woodcut prints side-by-side to project duality, a more efficient approach as compared to presenting two separate works. Shafiq Nordin paints terrifying animals stripped off its skin, the naked horror complementing linocut prints of Hirst skulls in the background. For the same price but a better representation, Shafiq's 'Sweet Promises' include Duchamp's urinal and Basquiat's crown, the red and green palette posing a more potent comment on the state of contemporary art. Exhibited at Taksu Gallery, "LOCALS ONLY!" shows familiar styles from the usual suspects. While the featured majority are painters, the visitor is greeted by a ceramic cheetah skeleton from Al-Khuzairie Ali, a former MEAA winner.

Umibaizurah Mahir - Fertility (2014)

Repeated cracked lines damper Al-Khuzairie's creations, whose other works from the same series are featured in "Tomorrow's Land", a group exhibition at Pace Gallery alongside his mentors from Patisatu studio. Walking past Ahmad Shukri's lazy pastiches, Umibaizurah Mahir enchants with works that supposedly celebrate flora & fauna, although the open-ended titles allow discrete interpretations. Surreal and defaced, painted heads are accompanied by porcelain sculptures of a child and house, presenting a lovely interrogation of self and place. Another delightful sculpture is spotted at Segaris, Hanif Khairi utilising circular strips of wood to make whimsical constructs. Minimal lines of colour add visual interest to one of his wooden towers, the UiTM lecturer's works displaying a touch of sophistication beyond complex craft.

Hanif Khairi - Bunga Telur