Young Malaysian Artists: New Object(ion) III @ Galeri Petronas

In this edition of Galeri Petronas’ bi-annual platform for emerging artists, the found object as art medium is associated with the experimental nature of youthful art-making, an unsophisticated assumption in this day and age. Featuring a line-up of local art school graduates, a number of exhibits fail to attract due to the individualised notions that artists assign to their medium. Meaning-making is sacrificed for immediate visual impact – one young lady is portrayed with thread and acrylic on a large canvas, a Malaysian map is constructed using sandalwood blocks, colourful cable ties make up a pair of large ears, black cloth is laid over a chair, presidents are depicted using corrugated cardboard or chicken wire, a reptilian form is arranged from parquet swatches…  

[foreground] Installation snapshot of Fatin Shamira Nor Azmi - Overreact (2015) 

More engaging are visual triggers that lead to current issues, such as Yau Sir Meng’s oft-exhibited education system commentary ‘Melting’, and mesh wire sculptures by Fatin Shamira Nor Azmi. The latter’s diaphanous creations evoke dreamy thoughts of food cravings, and via its title – ‘Overreact’ – remind of emotional dissatisfaction associated with impulse eating. Addiction manifests in a milder form in Huan Jia Jin’s ‘Really?’ that juxtaposes a performance of covering one’s mouth with stickers, with a video of the artist staring down at her smartphone. Illuminated screen flashes describe one’s deference to technology, although the red stickers hint at an artist’s concern, i.e. selling artwork.

Video snapshots of Tiffany Huan Jia Jin - Really? (2015)

Another one concerned with being an artist, Nazrul Hamzah empties his wallet then photographs its contents, the overall installation recalling Sulaiman Esa’s ‘Man and His World’ exhibited 44 years earlier. Equally self-indulgent is Khairul Ehsani Sapari’s desktop computer with post-it notes stating deadlines, the indifferent presentation guilty of falling into the “is this art?” category. Conversely, 3 clocks – two altered and one smashed – by Kamal Sazali hang nearby, which depict time and place in a wickedly absurd manner. Alicecia Tan’s gender-ambiguous portrait and Shahrul Jamili’s sejadah made from nails provoke with intention, and stand out as good examples of utilising an effective artful approach towards questioning indisputable truths.

Kamal Sazali - Dekat Tapi Jauh, Jauh Tapi Dekat (2016)

Two wooden constructs project contrasting ideas – Raymond Anak Utan’s long house on stilts refer to environmental sustainability concerns, while Anniketyni Madian large clear-cut logos are nihilistic in its use of a natural resource to comment upon capitalist consumption. Surprisingly, it is the simple and straightforward images that leave a lasting impression, such as Raja Mohamed Nizam’s watercolour line drawings and four paintings of slippers by Siti Noor Aishah Maulana. Harun Fadzilah Tajudin’s ‘Selamba’ captures a fascinating photograph of one man standing on the pavement outside Sungai Wang Plaza. A sewer cover on the bottom right anchors the picture, which perfectly describes many predicaments of urban living – peddling, stopping, thinking to go where next, etc.

Wooden sculptures by Anniketyni Madian (2016)

Outside, catalogues from past years are sold at a steep discount, indicating the financial struggle currently faced by its sponsoring entity. With nearby Ilham Gallery raising the bar for public programming, Galeri Petronas needs to rejuvenate its fading reputation among local art circles. Putting together a group exhibition for young artists, with vague entry criteria and no curatorial direction, is a cop-out (also, the police should vacate the gallery). Perhaps, mentors can be introduced for each YMA participant, or regular curatorial walk-through sessions be held. Its prime location attracts a public audience more than any gallery in Malaysia, and the institution needs to maximise this opportunity to keep itself relevant. Better late than never.

Harun Fadzilah Mohd Tajudin – Selamba (2016)