Singular Rhapsody @ Xin Art Space

In the catalogue essay titled Rhapsodies of A Different Kind of Singularity: A Celebration of Malaysian Outsider, Naïve and Self Taught Art, curator Tan Sei Hon states the reason behind his interest in artists categorised as stated. “…(D)ue to their unique and personal approaches which differ markedly from the academically trained and conventionally inclined. Their private visions, fantasies and yearnings materialised in their own visual vernacular offers us a glimpse of the dimensions of the self unbounded by the tyrannies of conformity and standardisation. They believed unswervingly in their own artistic ingenuity and stubbornly refuses to sheepishly observe aesthetic formalities still shackled to dated or popular ideas about ‘Art’ taught in art academies, celebrated in the mainstream and sold in the marketplace.”

Installation snapshot of Cheev – How High Can You Dance? (2013)

As an art enthusiast, I have to utilise formal knowledge to appreciate the artful creations exhibited. The paintings of Ismail Baba and George Daniel fall under l'art pour l'art, while diety-like figures by Waja and Ummi Natasha project an unfashionable religious slant. Enchanting qualities in Gaelle Chong’s and Melissa Lin’s illustrative works draw upon surrealism. All-over lines and shapes by Fathullah Luqman, and the beautiful swirls in Dennis Chan’s paintings, fall into defined genres and are excellent interpretations of it. Active in non-mainstream communities, the visual styles of Rat Heist and Pangrok Sulap are well-established and expectedly striking. Why are artists who have shown at the Singapore Biennale (Shieko Reto and Jainal Amambing) considered outsider art? 

Installation snapshot of Thangarajoo Kanniah – Atomic Scape Series (2009)

A number of artists show potential to be contextualised in contemporary art terms. Pyanz Sharifudin’s use of henna relates to cultural connotations of the human body, while Thangarajoo Kanniah’s presents mysterious yet attractive compositions with cosmic forms. A mainstay in Publika’s Art Row, Adeputra Masri displays the attributes necessary to join the exclusive club. In ‘Benteng Akhir’, plasticine is moulded into grotesque figurines and photographed, then overlaid with camouflage designs and newspaper cut-outs for a splendid projection about politically-motivated resistance. Equally potent despite its irrelevance within the show’s context, a string-less violin crafted by gallery owner Chan Yong Sin is exhibited together with his anthology of poems, written during his eleven years detention under the draconian Internal Security Act. 

Adeputra Masri – Benteng Akhir (2014)

With news of pusillanimous politicians supporting creation of the more insidious National Security Council Act, one seeks respite from a hopeless feeling via beautiful art. Cheev’s scrap wood sculpture ‘How High Can You Dance?’ is undeniably raw, yet its exaggerated toe and wonderfully lithe arms contribute to an uplifting mood. Nearby, intricate drawings by Shanthamathe fascinate with an amazing array of fine patterns, as I learn that both artists suffers from physical illness. Looking at the totem heads in Rahmat Haron’s paintings, sincere personal expression prove attractive when it is not muddled by grandiose statements. Insiders call others outsiders, and seldom the other way round. Exclusion is a tool of power, and the Malaysian art world could do well to self-reflect and shed its many pretensions.  

N. Shanthamathe – Power (2014)

“Sebuah violin yang bisu,  Di dalam perutnya,  Tercatat nama pembuat,  Pada tahun 1972,  Di tebing Sungai Muar.
Cikgu Sa’at pernah menggeseknya,  Beberapa buah lagu Melayu asli,  Bunyinya tidak begitu merdu dan bersedu-sedu,  Bagaikan suara orang tahanan yang terseksa,  Cikgu memuji pertukangan violin itu,  Dan memesan pembuatnya pasti menjagai,  Violin tunggal dan mahal tak dapat beli.
Selepas dipindah dari Muar ke Taiping,  Kemudian dari Taiping ke Batu Gajah,  Dalam perjalanan pemindahan terhuyung-huyung,  Akhirnya ditimpa kejadian berdarah,  Violin bersedih dan terus bisu.
Maka ia tidak berbunyi lagi,  menemani si mogok lapar yang menderita.”
- Violin Yang Bisu, Chan Yong Sin [from Bebas, published by Gerakbudaya, 2014)

Installation view of Chan Yong Sin – Violin yang Bisu (1972)