Paint & Ink: Just Add Water @ Sasana Kijang

In a year where news highlights include two airplane disasters, the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery puts together an exhibition program that commemorates the ten years since the Indian Ocean tsunami struck, where an estimated 184,000 lives were lost and ten times that number displaced. London-based Oi Nuen Sprunt stages an installation that aims to explore “damage and healing”, where large ink paintings on layered paper are hung around an organza-covered space. A Louis Ghost chair and casualty statistics contribute to the sombre mood, although the obscure performance video and deliberately messy presentation block out any sense of empathy. Perhaps the sunlight streaming through the windows helps one focus better on the here and now, instead of the art installation.

Installation snapshots of Oi Nuen Sprunt - ShoutCryRoom

The adjoining gallery shows recent works from 42 members of the Malaysian Watercolour Society, and 15 international artists. A medium utilised by the British to depict maritime landscapes in Malaya since the 19th century, watercolour remains popular in this tropical land with its easy application and quick drying. The overwhelming focus on pastoral scenes and heritage buildings, however, deters any serious consideration of it as an effective medium in Malaysian contemporary art. Kho Choon Lee’s paddy fields during twilight are beautifully illustrated, while Seah Kang Chuan’s riverside shack reveals great skill in drawing ‘Reflection’. Two-wheelers are common subjects painted against a nostalgic background, which assumes the self-propelling vehicle as an antiquated machine, instead of one currently in vogue and promoted by city planners worldwide. 

Kho Choon Lee - Twilight #1 (2013)

Referring to works by the Penang Impressionists art group, Redza Piyadasa once remarked, “(t)hese idyllic and scenic panoramic views were influenced by the Classical landscape painting tradition and were admired by the local artists.” Notable painters in the following generation such as Tan Choon Ghee continue to have a strong influence here, although ‘Penang Prangin Heritage Zone’ by Koay Shao Peng projects an interesting birds-eye view of an old yet urbanised part of town. Koh Shim Luen’s chickens on sarong portray innocent pleasures; two aggressive cockerels in a cage by Ooi Aik Cheong show the opposite sentiment. Samsudin Osman’s depiction of a bridge in Putrajaya is a sad indicator that this fluid medium familiar to Malaysian schoolchildren, only has the potential to paint scenes similar to what the Impressionists did more than a century ago.

Koay Shao Peng - Penang Prangin Heritage Zone (2014)