Snippets: Q4 2017

Organized by the artist’s family, a collection of 100+ sketches and paintings by Chia Yu Chian are cramped into a first-floor room at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. Among figure studies, still life oil paintings, city scenes, and commissioned works tagged onto billboards in the narrow aisles, the quality on show is mixed. For every derivative impression, there is a delightful element, be it a forceful figurative gesture or a swirling impasto. His son reveals, “(e)ven during the times he was admitted to hospital, he would go around and sketch scenes of life in the hospital…” These paintings are incidentally the best works on show, as Yu Chian documents moments of human empathy and humdrum companionship. The older accompanying sketch indicates his strong composition skills, while suggesting also the artist’s painting method and its prominent use of outlines.

Chia Yu Chian – Attended to the Patient [left sketch 1977; right oil painting 1980]

Malaysian Art Archive & Research Support re-stages a series of 2004 works by Yee I-Lann at the British Council, at which opening the artist remarks that she has been wanting to do a similar series for females. “The Writer’s Portrait” series features re-touched portraits of 12 Malay-Muslim men, whose writings and friendship influenced the artist around that time. I-Lann recaps about applying her ‘female gaze’ upon individual persons, while maintaining an ongoing conversation with the men in producing each portrait. Equal dimensions yet stylistically different, pictures that describe less clearly about one’s creative pursuit appear more visually attractive, such as Pak Samad sitting in Starbucks KLCC, Baha Zain tending to a manicured garden, Salleh Bin Joned taking a baldi shower, and Osman Ali resting at his home’s dining table. Next serving of “The Writer’s Portrait”, please, I-Lann.

Yee I-Lann - Baha Zain 'Bahasa Alam' (2004)

During Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur, I took the opportunity to visit Galeri Z at Taman Melawati Indah, the home gallery of prominent Malaysian collector Zain Azahari. Showcasing mostly works made in the past five years, the display seems to project a confidence in emerging artists and Malaysian contemporary art, although the medium is strictly confined to the modern modes of painting and sculpture. Unfortunately, the eccentric choices do not reveal any general themes about the collector’s preference, apart from vague notions of spirituality, sensuality, and nostalgia. I left with the impression that gallerists have an uneven influence, as most artists featured are the popular ones in the Malaysian contemporary art market. Hopefully in the next change of exhibits, where older works are planned for display, will change my perception. 

Kow Leong Kiang – Sprout Head (2017)

Works referring to the artists’ cultural heritage are displayed in the upstairs gallery at “Roots”, which include Alena Murang’s small acrylic portraits that give back specifically to each sitter, and Shaq Koyok’s tedious monochromatic close-ups on woven dried pandan leaves. Less direct are the collection of objects depicted by Afiq Faris, whose chequered jute canvases are overlaid with beeswax & resin, inkjet print on silk, and batik dye. The mediums coalesce into fascinating visual collages, that transform household objects into an unstable recollection made up of, impressions derived from the natural/industrial, the mechanical copy, and/or traditional technique. With titles referring to Malay historical stories (and myths), Afiq’s experimentation with multiple mediums and dialled-up contrast, manifest a desire to embody one’s heritage, be it unconsciously absorbed or consciously adopted.

Afiq Faris – And everyone that appears shall return to his home / Maka segala yang menghadap pun masying-masying kembalilah ke rumahnya (2017)