Symphony of Unity @ Sasana Kijang

As Malaysians demonstrated unity by thronging the streets donned in yellow, many whom took the opportunity to “re-discover” the streets of Kuala Lumpur, it is a pity they did not venture out to Sasana Kijang for an invigorating dose of art. Intentional curatorship is unnecessary when broad categories are adhered to, and the extra effort here to pair pictures up make for a wonderfully pleasant walkthrough. Having seen many pastoral works hung on these walls, two pairs of collaged women stand out. Redza Piyadasa’s horribly garish ‘Two Malay Women’ sets off Norma Abbas’ ‘Two Heads Better Than One’ to great effect. Photocopied images of traditional dress are juxtaposed with the latter’s multifaceted women, whose short hair and trendy tops denote a cosmopolitan setting.

Norma Abbas - Two Heads Better Than One (1989)

In a clash of approaches, the formal idealism in ethnic Chinese artists is compared with the honest and straightforward depictions by ethnic Malay artists. In ‘Wedding Melody’, Eng Tay’s figures hold on to their banhus and stand aloof, in contrast with Harun Hj Bakar’s ‘Malay Classical Marriage’, where music is played and a convivial atmosphere exists via the couple dancing at the centre of this rather simple painting. A similar observation is made about works by Chuah Thean Teng and Dzulkifli Buyong. Teng’s profiled figures in ‘Combing Hair’ are encased in a circular frame, the adult’s strapless batik dress and dark skin tones referring to the exotic native. Whereas in ‘Searching’, two girls in baju kurung look for a cat perched upon a zinc roof, their gestures conveying lively enthusiasm and naive charm. The proximity with the subject matter at hand becomes obvious.

[l] Chuah Thean Teng - Combing Hair (1990); [r] Dzulkifli Buyong - Searching (1986)

Next pair in focus are the house interiors of Mastura Abdul Rahman and Chuah Chong Yong. The impossible top-down view in the former implies a divine eye that collapses visual perspectives, or perhaps just a cat’s viewpoint from the rafters. A more symbolic detachment is depicted in the latter, which point of view is at the stairwell behind a bamboo screen, a switched-on television outside further highlighting the personal isolation. Sabri Idrus’ hexagonal ‘Blue Cube’ captivates via its protruding shape, capturing as much attention as the gigantic canvas by Fauzan Omar that hangs opposite, which joins together symbols of development and nature in a Rauschenberg-like collage titled ‘Pembangunan Negara’. The flattened contemporary, thankfully, holds its own against the immediate illusion.

[l] Mastura Abdul Rahman - Interior No. 38 (1988); [r] Chuah Chong Yong - Interior - 2 (1993)

The great individual pieces about places on display include the beautiful overlapping lines and sky blue drawn in Victor Chin’s lithograph ‘Cascading Down Klang River’. ‘Kwong Siew Temple KL’ by Fung Yow Chork portrays a moody section within the 128-years old building on Jalan Tun HS Lee. Among the lovely watercolour paintings of buildings by Chin Kon Yit, ‘Masjid Zahir Alor Setar, Kedah’ stand out as a personal favourite with its slightly elevated perspective and for its cone-shaped trees. Unity is a reflection of individuals’ desires to live in a community, and showing the places we live and move in, can cultivate this sense of belonging more effectively than racial integration stories ever could.

Chin Kon Yit - Masjid Zahir Alor Setar, Kedah (1990)