Narratives in Malaysian Art: Infrastructures (II)

...In the next section, Nur Hanim Khairuddin’s concise and illuminating essay traces the development of independent “Artist Initiatives” that “…challenge the hegemonic control of institutional and commercial sectors”. Self-expression and public engagement go hand in hand, and associating these initiatives with the underground music scene is rightfully highlighted. That collectives grow into institutions, is indeed food for thought. Most fascinating is the discussion around interdependence, where Hasnul J. Saidon remarks, “(i)t’s [about] power. No matter what you call it, you want to call it independence, there is a structure behind it and I’m interested to see that structure. I want to see it visible. If it is possible, I want to see who gives you money, who supports you, who writes about you, who creates discourse, who creates the taste.” Yes, I want to see it too.

Hasnul J. Saidon - KDEK!KDEK!ONG! (1994)

Quotes from the roundtable discussion in “The Art Market” section include, “I’m looking for an artist who can think and a reason to paint what he paints”, “[art collectors are] not accountable to anyone”, “(p)lease, whoever writes art criticism, don’t underestimate the intellect of the collector”, and “(t)he truth is I want to sell a painting and I’m trying very hard to make a painting that is saleable.” The emergence of “new market platforms” indicates a growing demand, although it is acknowledged that only paintings/ “buyable” art are supplying this demand. Art buyers are not sufficiently interrogated, which could draw out the reasons people buy artworks from artists, e.g. art as luxury collectible, art as asset class, art as taste making, art as culture marker, etc. Actually, I just want to know why a number of well-known Malaysian collectors buy large figurative paintings only.

Jalaini Abu Hassan - Bomoh Urut (2004) [picture from]

That artworks apart from paintings are not sought after locally, denote a lack of awareness and ability to judge art by its private audience. Art will continue to be seen as Science’s poorer cousin within the existing education system. Such outmoded thinking and methods take a back seat in the “Art Education” section, which focuses on tertiary education, and its methods and issues. Starting from a nationalist agenda, pioneering teachers developed syllabuses based on their overseas training, which then evolved into more market-centric courses for private colleges. Musings from former lecturers such as Yeoh Jin Leng and Zainol Shariff provide keen insights, whereas Tengku Sabri Ibrahim proposes the best form of education one can attain, that of “self-learning by practice and understanding, and tacit education…” Is visual art part of the knowledge economy?

Yeoh Jin Leng - Sawah, Dusun, Bukit, Langit (1963)

In the volume’s last section “On Writing and Publications”, Sharon Chin writes in her essay – ‘When Everyone Does Everything: Crossing Disciplines and the Predicament of Wearing Many Hats in Malaysian Art’ – about the “under-professionalism” of the local art world, and how “…it may yet lead to an unforeseen blossoming of ideas, thoughts, and ways of making and looking.” In the Narratives in Malaysian Art project managed by consultants, sponsored by institutions and collectors, and writings contributed by many artists, one comes away impressed by the instigating impulse of those passionate about Malaysian art. There is no doubt our art infrastructure will continue developing for the better; in one roundtable discussion, Angela Hijjas says, “(w)hatever you wanted to do, you did, and it would have an impact on somebody. So it was fairly easy to make a difference.”

Installation view of Sharon Chin - Mare Clausum/Closed Sea (2006) [picture from]