Hidup Terlampau Selesa @ Kedai

Alternative art space Kedai presents two young artists who draw fully from their demographic background – the urban Malay – to “…reflect(s) the deliberateness in their practice of addressing sensitive topics – an explicit strategy used to question the everyday in Malaysia.” Greeting the visitor is a sofa inscribed with Hidup Terlampau Selesa, the furniture itself an art piece that cheekily depicts the comfortable effects of social engineering. Stacked tin cans in two supermarket trolleys are wrapped with drawings of ejaculations in a bathroom, its labels hinting at the portliness of the male subject. Akmal Borhan's illustrations are droll and sometimes salacious, especially the series of under-armpit pictures exhibited in a covered box. This peephole installation invites an unsuspecting audience to a voyeuristic view, of one lewd personal fetish.

Installation view of Akmal Borhan - Bilik 5 (2014) [picture from Kedai's Facebook page]

The overbearing smuttiness is present also in the "Bilik" series, which illustrates different situations related to a spoken expression. Uncomfortable scenes in 'Sakit Tak' and 'Jangan Takut' depict trepidation well, but Akmal's output is too cartoonish to invoke serious reflections. Wordplay drawings such as 'Janda Baik' and 'Kuih Lapis' by Engku Iman, denotes one who keenly records her observations with a strong sense of irony. The self-taught artist is assured in her cultural commentaries, from marriage ('Makan Free') to religion ('Dipaksa Sembahyang'), not sparing even the goreng pisang makcik munching on a pack of Doritos ('Mewah'). The Malaysian experience cannot be complete without a reference to juvenile times, as awkward wax-cast hands bring a smile, and an immediate urge to replicate the hand positions shown.

Installation view of Engku Iman - Anak Celaka (2012) [picture from Kedai's Facebook page]

Her installations are stronger projections of the same themes – 'Pertandingan Lilit Tudung' mocks conformists, while 'Duduk Sama Rendah, Berdiri Sama Tinggi' depicts the insecurity of pursuing one's dreams. From her blog, Engku displays a keen knowledge of art history and occasionally appropriates familiar images with great effect. While Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' gets auctioned off for ~RM13.9 million, a messy bed with a mannequin still lying in it, is clearly visible from Kedai's storefront. A cursing mother drawn onto the wall, and an XPDC poster flank the mattress, 'Anak Celaka' capturing a clever and acute memory of young Malays across Malaysian suburbia. Kudos to Kedai's administrators for allowing young artists a space to express such daring works, appropriate or not.

Installation view of Hidup Terlampau Selesa exhibition [picture from Kedai's Facebook page]