Tags: Malaysia, artists, BEVERLY YONG, Redza Piyadasa, MALAYSIAN ART, Wong Hoy Cheong, Malay Artists, Abdul Rahman, postmodern art, Thematic Approaches, middle class, Malay culture, artistic interests, Malay traditional, jawi script, ideas and ideals, Tak Ada Beza, Abu Hassan, appropriation, Malay language, Malay script, SARENA ABDULLAH, mainstream media, Mantera Buka Gelanggang, Ahmad Fuad Osman, Malay-Muslim, concerns raised, Malay identity, CRITICAL STRATEGIES, private sectors, Malaysian society, Malaysian Art project, NUR HANIM KHAIRUDDIN, Raja Azhar Idris, Jalaini Abu Hassan, middle-class, Beverly Yong Editors, Liew Kung Yu, Islamic beliefs, Jason Tan, Taman Tunku Apartments Bukit Tunku Kuala Lumpur, National Art Gallery, Abdul Rahman Embong, Contemporary Art
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Narratives in Malaysian Art project editors-in-chief Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Beverly Yong Editors for th is volume Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Beverly Yong Consulting editor T.K. Sabapathy Proof-reader Jason Tan Publication assistants Goh Sze Ning, Chiang Xi Ning Alexandra Tan design studio MMCMM Printing Pakatan Tusen Cetak Sdn Bhd Published by Rogue Art i-7 Taman Tunku Apartments Bukit Tunku Kuala Lumpur 50480 Malaysia
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Kenneth Tan Rosemary & Steve Wong 30 Art Friends With support from The Krishen Jit·ASTRO Fund
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Contents 6 General Acknowledgements &Editors' Notes 8 Notes on Contributors 12 Preface T.K. SABAPATHY 14 Introduction NUR HANIM KHAIRUDDIN & BEVERLY YONG 22 Manifesto Generation Anak Alam 24 Anak Alam: Behind the Scenes NUR HANIM KHAIRUDOIN 31 Towards a Mystical Reality: a Documentation of JointlyInitiated Experiences by Redza Piyadasa and Suleiman Esa 55 An Empty Canvas on Which Many Shadows Have Already Fallen SIMON SOON 70 Dynamism and Sophistication: Malaysian Modern Art in the 1970s SAFRIZAl SHAHIR 81 .. Chong Kim Chiew, Isolation House .,. Yee 1-Lann, Malaysia Day Commemorative Plates .,. Nadiah Bamadhaj, 1965: Rebuilding its Monuments .,. Chai Chang Hwang, Rukun Negara 98 An-Other May 13: An Ongoing History of Artistic Responses MARK TEH 113 Invisible Body: An Othering Narrative TAN Zl HAO 127 ,.. Nirmala Dutt Shanmughalingam, Statement 1: Pollution Piece, Statement 2, Statement 3 -A Comparison 1975-1979 .. Ponirin Amin, Chess Alibi, Pulau Bidong 136 Towards an Utopian Paradigm: A Matter of Contingencies and Displacement ISMAil ZAIN 146 New Art, New Voices: Krishen Jit Talks to Wong Hoy Cheong on Contemporary Malaysian Art 154 Malay Artists and the Postmodern Situation: Thematic Approaches since the 1990s SA RENA ABDUllAH 166 Different Visions: Contemporary Malaysian Art and Exhibition in the 1990s and Beyond MICHEllE ANTOINETTE ·
186 .. Wong Hoy Cheong, Lalang .. Zulkifli Yusoff, Power 1 .. Liew Kung Yu, Wadah Untuk Pemimpin .. Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Warbox 204 Against the Grain: Photographic Practices in Malaysia since the 1950s ZHUANG WUBIN 221 From Mass to Multimedia: Malaysian Art in an Electronic Era HASNUl J. SAlOON & NIRANJAN RAJAH 231 Languages and Locations: Video in the Malaysian Art Context ADELINE 001 & BEVERLY YONG 243 Malaysia's New Media Art Landscape SUZY SULAIMAN 256 .,. Apa? Siapa? Kenapa? .. Ahmad Fuad Osman, Hoi hoi... apa ni?! Dia kata hang salah, hang kata dia yang tak betoi... sapa yang salah, sapa yang betoi ni?!!! Hangpa ni sebenaqnya nak apaaaaa??? .. Anurendra Jegadeva, Running Indians and the History of Malaysian Indians in 25 Cliches 212 Radical Gestures in Malaysian performance art RAHMAT HARON 289 The Street is Our Canvas: Grafitti Art in Kuala Lumpur EVA MCGOVERN 297 Re-Negotiating Spaces: Site, Space and Place in Contemporary Art in Malaysia YAP SAU BIN 309 .. Noor Azi2an Rahman Paiman, Cleansing Rituals .,. Mark Teh, Sudden Death 319 Four Currencies in Contemporary Practice SIMON SOON 334 Timeline of Events 336 Illustrations 337 List of Illustrations 352 List of Acknowledgements
SARFNA ABDULLAH Malay Artists and the Postmodern Situation: Thematic Approaches since the 1990s SARENA ABDULLAH The original vers1on of th1s essay was published as the paper, 'Thematic Approaches in Malaysoan Art since the 1990s', on the journal JAT/, 16 (December 2011). 1his essay discusses thematic approaches taken by Malay artists in Malaysia since the 1990s. Malaysian art has become increasingly diverse in terms of its approaches, subjects, themes and media. This growing artistic diversity is discussed within a postmodern framework and is representative of a shift in tendencies away from a purely Malay/Islamic-centred artistic tradition to a more postmodern approach. Since the 1990s, works produced by Malay artists have taken a more critical perspective aligned with the postmodern situation or situasi percamoden, in accordance with Malaysia's leapfrog into modernisation. Through their works, Malay artists raise concerns and issues pertaining to the consequences ofdevelopment and modernisation, and explore themes ranging from social problems, to the environment and urbanisation, and other contemporary issues, employing postmodernist approaches in their art. What is obvious is that Malay artists are concerned with the immediate and near future, rather than looking back or glorifying the past. These artistic tendencies epitomise the challenges, divergences and shared perspectives that define the growing Malaysian middle class especially in the context of the construction or even deconstruction of Malaysian society. The late Redza Piyadasa observed in his papers, 'Modernist and PostModernist Developments in Malaysian Art in the Post-Independence Period'1 and 'Modern Malaysian Art, 1945-1991: A Historical Overvicw'2 an increasing tendency towards postmodernism in Malaysian modern art. These marked the first instances in which he employed the term "postmodern" in relation to developments in Malaysian art and in both papers he traced several isolated artistic shifts that he argued could be considered postmodernist - from his and Sulaiman Esa's post-formalist Towards a Mystical Reality in 19743 to Ismail Zain's Digital Collage exhibition in 1988 {16, 27}. In both essays, he also provided examples of performances, installations and video art works such as Wong Hoy Cheong's and Marion D'Cruz's performance-type presentations and Wong Hoy Cheong's video 154
MALAY ARTISTS AND H I E POSTMODERN SITUATION composition Sook Ching (1990), installation-type art-cum-performance Two Installations (1991) by Liew Kung Yu and Raja Shahriman Raja Aziddin, and Zulkifli Yusof's Power series installations as illustrations of this early shift {32, 33; p. 191]. Malaysian art has become increasingly diverse in terms of its approach, subjects, themes and media since the 1990s. I have argued elsewhere that developments in Malaysian art should be discussed in light of the social and cultural changes that the country has undergone since the implementation ofthe New Economic Policy (NEP) and the subsequent New Development Policy (NDP), and not merely within the framework of postmodern art. 4 Therefore, the shift from a Malay/Islamic-centred art to a postmodern artistic approach sinee the l990S, as noted by Redza Piyadasa, will be discussed with respect to Malaysia's burgeoning middle class that the NEP and NDP have produced, especially among the ethnic Malays. This essay focuses on Malay artists' concerns and issues in terms ofthematic approach, which are closely related to the interests of this new Malaysian middle class from which they have evolved. Economically, the goal of the NEP was to increase Malay economic ownership from around 3% in 1971 to 30% over a 2o-year period through direct government intervention and economic support, aggressive training and Educational strategies aimed at bringing the bumiputera (i.e. ethnic Malays and other indigenous natives in Malaysia) into the modern urban economy. s This has resulted in the creation ofa multitude ofbureaucrats, company executives, technocrats, academics, accountants, computerchip engineers, Information technology specialists and other professions which demand specialist education and training. 6 Consequently, the NEP produced a marked paradigm shift among the middle classes, especially among the Malays. Studies ofthe middle class, especially in the Malaysian context, have been discussed by several researchers. 7 While these studies will not be discussed here, it is worth noting that many ofthe Malay artists discussed in this essay were graduates of Institut Teknologi MARA (ITM, now known as Universiti Teknologi MARA, UiTM) and are the by-product of the NEP. This is because ITM was one of the earliest tertiary institutions designed to support the economic, social and cultural engineering policy of the NEP. The focus in this essay will primarily rest on those artists who graduated from TTM from the mid-198os, born after Malaysia's Independence from British rule and reflective of the burgeoning Malay middle class that the NEP produced. 155 ·
SARENA ABDUllAH 1be economic aspects ofMalaysian artists' lives are seldom discussed, but here Hasnul J. Saidon offers some insights into the economic context of artists participating in Takung, an exhibition he curated in 2005:8 "The political and economic backgrounds ofthe participating artists are difficult to probe and explicate due to the fact Lhat the subjects may perhaps be a bit sensitive and private for many artists. Six members of the whole gang including the one who writes this essay are government 'servants' with stable income. therefore can be technically defined as part-time artists, double-act, semi-pros... Others arc self-employed, or define themselves as full-time artists, while a few work full-time whilst soliciting the greener pasture ofprivate sectors as well as residency progranm1es. Generally, one may assume that all the participating artists in TAKUNG are 'not poor' and many are committed in acquiring 'financial comfort' from the midst of the local 'art market: Other than a fortuitous spill-over from the public sector (National Art Gallery), the economic setting for this exhibition was shadowed by an entrepreneur stance erected by the 'newly-revised' UMNO-oriented corporate and business class. The shadows of private sectors as well as NGOs (other than YKP) are blurry, perhaps intended [sicl."9 If the artistic interests of Malay artists during the 1970s and the 1980s were mostly rooted in Malay and/or Islamic aesthetics or what could be termed as "Malay/Islamic-centred art:' shifting artistic approaches in art since the 1990s reflect the changes in the structure and feeling of the "new" middle class in Malaysia to which these artists belong. Abdul Rahman Embong has highlighted that the country's "new" middle class tripled; in 1970 it comprised 5.9% ofthe population, increasing to 15.2% in 2000. 10 The salient characteristic of this "new" middle class, according to Abdul Rahman, is its dramatic generational upward mobility over the past three decades, largely as a result of heavy state-sponsored investments into higher education. This "new" middle class comprises the most educated sector of Malaysian society, its economic basis reliant on a salaried income, dependent on financial systems of credit and loans, and increasingly consumer-oriented.ll I have used the term "postmodern situation" or situasi percamoden to describe the social and cultural changes among the Malays who form the "new" Malaysian middle class. 12 The term denotes how Malay society seems to be both fragmented and rooted in multifaceted cultural 156
MALAY ARTISTS AND TH~ POSTMOOERN SITUATION influences such as tradition, Islamic beliefs and modern or progressive ideals at the same time. The drastic modernisation efforts imposed since the NEP have faced the Malays with a situation in which traditionalism, Islam and modem ideals coexist, sometimes peaceably and sometimes discordantly, and these contestations are reflected through new symbols, and social and cultural practices. This dialectic has initiated a subsequent shift in thematic approaches to art as will be discussed in this essay. Farish Noor's views on contemporary Malay society in this regard are enlightening: "The Malay of today is a product of modernity in every respect, living in exile from the past. He is the inhentor ofa tradition ofsecular Modernity as taughtto him by the West, and also an inheritor ofthe tradition ofModernist Islam as taught to him by his elders l.iving as he does in a thoroughly modern world, he cannot help but share the preJudices and fears of the Modem age. Beguiled by the charms of Modernity he place~ his faith in science and rationality, hoping that they would in turn shed light upon the darkness. A convert to positivism, he looks ever forward to the future, certain that it will bring him closer to enlightenment and safety. His dialectical approach to all that is Other ensures that he can only view the past as a dark world full of irrational and incomprehensible forces. A solipsist who lives in a monochromatic moral universe, he regards all that goes against his modern lslamic values as ldturafat, sytrik, inferior, biz.arre, chaotic, irrational, and! or contanlinating:·n During the 1970s and the 1980s, with the proclamation ofa national culture through the 1971 National cultural policy and the parallel resurgence of Islam, Malay artists began to channel their interests in Malay culture and the Islamic religion into art as ways of expounding their identity.14 This was especially true among the Malay artists studying or teaching at the School ofArt and Design at ITM such as Sulaiman Esa, Kbatijah Sanusi, Ruzaika Omar Basaree, Pontrin Amin, Mastura Abdul Rahman, Raja Azhar Idris and Jalaini Abu Hassan, to name a few. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, such aesthetic approaches in art have declined, and we see a significant shift from Malay/Islamic-centred art to a postmodern art approach as a direct or indirect consequence of situasi percamodenls at a time when Malaysian artists, as part of the new Malaysian middle class, were beginning to reiterate the concerns and interests and even champion some aspects of their class' concerns rather 157 ·
than aligning their artistic interests along limited racial demarcations. As Johan Saravannamuttu points out:
"Evidence from various studies shows that middle-class political actors have been driven to champion various causes connected to social democracy, Human Rights and the environment. The argument is advanced that middle-class pohtics ofthis sort pro,ides an altematn·e discourse to ethnic-centric, as well as class-centric perspectives. Further it is contended, that middle-class political actors on the Malaysian scene ha\·e developed a multi-ethnic. multi-class praxis ofsorts galvanising civil society to resist excessive state surveillance, dominance and outright repress1on over the citizenry':16
With the widespread adoption of postmodern artistic techniques by many artists, Malay artists began to question their social and cultural position in a wider historical, social, and cultural construct of the na- tion and global context. In AI Kesah (1988) by Ismail Zain, the images of the Ewing family of the hit TV drama Dallas are juxtaposed m front of a traditional Malacca house [27). The work might seem playful, but it evokes a response to the penetration of global mass media, reaching deep into traditional villages and affecting Malaysian local culture and consciousness. In discussing the response to the exhibition, the artist appropriates various contemporary images from local and foreign con texts, mostly from mass media, and confronts the audience with a new reality of modern Malaysia. In regards to this appropriatiOn strategy. Krishen Jit asserts that:
··r he juxtaposition of images also put Ismail in the forefront of postmodern thinking. What fascinates and mstructs most of all is Ismail's sentiment toward his chosen images. I find hun to be entirely free from criticism One image is not pitted against another in a posture of heroism. surrender, despair, or alienatl()n. Both reahties are palpable. dappled in light and effusive in sentunenL fhe strategy of the blocking of the i111ages, I am tempted to say. the mb<.' en scene. lends a perfom1ative dimension to the production. Thq are p~rformances that create juxtaposed moods: ofhorror and farce. tragedy and comedy, sense and nonsense. This kind of performance strategy raise~ them from the mundane and the sentimental and places them in a reflective realm." 17
Not only did Malay artists begin to adopt postmodern artt· ·strategi.c'
such as appropriation and the use of m. art· The thc ma.ttc
mivc r:>a1 tn· l
MALAY ARTISTS AND THE POSTMODERN SITUATION terests and a more liberal position than before. The ideas and ideals raised by works since the late 8os and 90s advocate values such as rationalism, ind ividualism, democracy, and secularism, and manifest a concern for human rights, the environment and the rule oflaw, ideals usually associated wilh middle-class interests. Among the thematic subjects popular among these artists are social and moral misdemeanours and issues pertaining to the environment and urbanisation. 111ough several artists remain inspired by Malay culture, history, values, myths and legends as well as literary sources, their artistic forms, aesthetic principles, techniques and sensibilities are somewhat different. Their works are no longer restricted to the purely aesthetic aspect of such elements, and are infiltrated with subtle nuances of contemporary issues. Bayu Utomo Radjikin in the early 1990s shocked viewers with confron tational images addressing the issue of child abuse and abandonment. In Newspaper (1995), real objects such as tubes and drips are stuck onto the figure ofa child with burnt hands and a bandaged face drawn onto a collage of newspaper cuttings {35). The collage of newspaper headlines implies that the suffering ofthese abused children is known only thro ugh the media. A decade later, Hamir Soib continues to remind us of life's grim realities in as confrontational a manner. His installation, Tak Ada Beza (No Difference At All) (2002) addressed the subject of abortion. Using imagery that would be regarded as especially disturbing within conservative ~1alaysian Muslim society, the installation featured a huge painting ofa tamily of pigs s itting together in harmony, pigs being regarded as hararn (unlawful) and Muslims not allowed to touch or eat them. Underneath the painting was a mass of "umbilical cord"; at the end of the cord, a P~pier- mache sculpture of a stillborn human baby \\as deposited in a totlet bowl in a nother corner of the installation. I lis work suggested that those who abort babtes have a far worse character than even pigs, with no facuhies of reason or compassion. The work formed an allegory of socletv'·'s moral decay. As Nur Hanr.m Kha.trudd.m explam. s: ··n,c serene ;1mb1~nce prOJeCted by the pig family portrait appeared to be LnSA RENA ABDUllAH ~ermon moreover was motivated by his desire to subvert the politics of Malay· Islamic art and its pious adherence to a non-figurative, 'halal' iconography:'l8 The titles ofa n.umber ofother works by Hamir Soib from the early 2ooos reflect similar criticisms of moral and social degradation in the Malay community, among them Haruan Makan Anak (Haman Fish Eats its Babies), The Rempit (illegal motorcycle racers), Telur Buaya (Crocodile Egg) and A Board Game, and each serves as a visual narrative to express his concerns for what he observes to be a failing society. Zulkifli Yusotf is also critical of the reality of a certain section of Malay society, highlighting social ills and issues regarded as taboo in Malay culture. In AhmadPulang Bawa HIV +ve (Ahmad Came Back HIV +ve) (1997), he narrates the plight ofAhmad, who contracts HIV from an airline hostess. Unlike Malay/Islamic-centred artworks that invite audiences to appreciate their aesthetic elements in a comfortable gallery setting, works by Zulkifli Yusoff, Bayu Utomo Radjikin and Hamir Soib are deeply confrontational and disturbing to the general public. Zulkifli even displays huge expletive words across the canvases of his graffiti-like paintings. With drastic development and urbanisation taking place in the last 30 years, a few Malay artists have also begun to address issues pertaining to the environment and urbanisation. For example, Insect Diskette (1997) by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, is a mixed media assemblage composed ofover two hundred computer diskettes [see also Insect Diskette Series 11, 40). These are arranged in a grid across four Plexiglas panels and are overlaid with representations of butterflies, palm trees, beetles, and other "specimens'~ He does not criticise or abstain from the technology brought by modernisation and development, but rather advocates balancing technology and nature. To illustrate, images of a fragile butterfly are repeatedly painted on parts of the diskettes, reminding us that nature and technology are not necessarily in opposition, and can actually merge to provide for and contribute to the progress of humankind in the present or for subsequent generations. Gregory Gilligan explains that: "lnSl'cl Diskette is no simplistic sermon on the ills of technology and the glorie~ of nature. On the contrary, the work holds both technology and na ture in balance, suggesting how elements - flora, fauna, humanily, and 1ts collected data- are equallysituated in the world, and perhaps co-dependent on each other.·l9 160
MALAY AHISTS AND THE POSTMODERN SITUATION 10 years later, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, together with his wife, ceramicist Umibaizurah Mahir, again addressed the nexus between development and nature in the couple's 2007 exhibition Warning! Tapir Crossing {76]. This exhibition was inspired by their discovery of five dead tapirs in the newly developed area ofPuncak Alam, located outside of Kuala Lumpur on the way to Kuala Selangor, where they had just set up their home and Patisatu Studio, an alternative art space, and its title refers to the encounter between development and the tapir, as a metaphor for nature. 20 Johan Marjonid, meanwhile, does not dwell on or lament the depletion of Malaysia's tropical rainforests, instead promoting nature and the environment through his realist paintings of these sprawling tropical forests captured from various angles. He has produced several series of works since 1994, such as Preservation Series, Area Alam and Melebu Alas Jelebu, drawing inspiration from visits to favourite locations such as Stong Mountain, Tahan Mountain, the national park in Pahang, the Endau-Rompin area, and forests around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. 1hese beautiful forestscapes entice viewers to immerse themselves inside the deep Malaysian rainforest and to appreciate the tranquility ofnature. Raja Shahriman Raja Aziddin's sculpture provides an example ofan artist's work inspired by Malay cultural values and forms which has moved away from the aesthetics and sensibilities ofearlier Malay/Islamic-centred art ofthe 70s and 8os. His early sculptures temper the movements of traditional Malay self-defence into the mechanical construction ofwedges of raw iron: the past and the new coalesce. The strength ofRaja Shahriman's Gerak Tempur series ( 1996) lies not in the romantically bersilat poses of these aggressive-looking figures but in their careful anatomical detailing. Raja Shahriman's depictions of the Malay silat warrior .have been depersonalised and dehumanised and his sculptures are stnpped bare of pretension, creating the impression of strength, yet soft and gentle in their movements in the moment captured before the figure strikes. In the series Langkah Hulubalang, each sculpture has a strong individualistic character, while every form also displays elegance and grace, calculated to demonstrate precision in form and balance. In Nur Hanim Khairuddin's description, "he strives to wed thoughtful perception and ascetic contemplation to construct an awareness of the order of things cloaked by postmodern metanarralives, paradoxes, and metaphors.)) 21 Hasnul J. Saidon, meanwhile, describes Raja Shahriman in terms of his battle with his "self-enigma" as an artist: 161 ·
SARENA ABDULLAH "This enigma is riddled by contradictions, paradoxes, and clashes. Intended or not, it epitomises the crisi; of the third millennium- parody and abnormality, pluralism and the crisis of identity, ethnocentrism and globalism, popular culture and virtual ecstasy, consumerism and spiritualism, mainstream media and the Internet, Sufism and fetishism, media fiction and subversh·e semiotic (sic], higlr (bourgeois) art and low (proletariat) art, sodalism and individualism and many (sic] more.ft22 Ifmuch Malay/Islamic-centred art is celebratory in nature, certain artists have broached themes which do not sit so comfortably with contemporary Malay-Muslim identity.}alaini Abu Hassan, for example, has addressed the animist aspects of Malay traditional practices in his Mantera series (2004), drawing on various rites, special prayers, words, and charms. Mantera Buka Gelanggang, for example, refers to a ritual preceding tra- ditional performances or games to appease the spirits, or to ensure a smooth run of the event and the safety ofparticipants. It shows an elderly bomoh performing the ritual of "opening the stage or court" before the commencement of a game or performance. Bomoh Hujan (2004) features a rain doctor who is sometimes called upon for big events and gather- ings, such as major sports competitions or kenduri (gatherings for either religious or non-religious festivities, often to celebrate in1portant life events such as birth, circumcision and marriage) to ensure dry weather. Works by Malay artists have also begw1 to deconstruct or question official historical and even political narratives. Several issues raised in the media have invited interpretations and perspectives from artists' points ofview. In 1999, Hamir Soib produced fawi, an installation work that questions jawi, an Arabic alphabet adapted to the Malay language, as an embodi- ment of Malay identity. As part of the installation, framed silkscreens of jawi script were hung throughout the exhibition space and circular texts written in jawi script covered the floor. The audience's first impression coming to the installation was that the artist was raising the issue of our needing to do more to revive the usage of this Malay script. However, upon further scrutiny of the texts in the installation, they found that the jawi script read, "Ini Cuma Tulisan Jawi" (This is Only fawi Writing). As Nur Hanim Khairuddin suggests, through this work, the artist is actually addressing the alienation ofjawi script in (Malay) society, whilst simultaneously contesting the script's aesthetic idealism and its alleged sacredness: "by installing his ]awi series in a secular context, especially in scribblingjawi graffiti' on the floor, [he] wrests its cultural values from 162
MALAV ARTIST$ AND THE POSTMOOERN SITUATION the domain of'holy' discourses and altogether 'blasphemously' nullifies its religious w1dertones': 23 Nadiah Bamadhaj's 147 Tahun Merdeka (2005/2007), a series of digital prints made in collaboration with Tian Chua, meanwhile, posits a possible future trajectory for Malaysia [6s]. The artist juxtaposes images using digital manipulation to imagine what Malaysia's institutions might be like too years from now. The series features nine large format digital prints of major Malaysian institutions or buildings such as lstana Budaya, Angkasapuri, Putrajaya, Tugu Negara, and commercial buildings like IKEA, as well as a commemorative arch along the highway and newspaper frontcover headlines. Ahmad Fuad Osman's Recollections ofLong Lost Memories (2007-2008) deconstructs dominant historical narratives of the Malaysian nation {66]. This body ofwork consists of two parts - a series and slide projection of 71 historic photographs taken between 1860 and 2003, into which the artist digitally inserts a modern-day figure, and a series oflarge paintings on canvas using images of old photographs into which are painted contemporary figures. Ahmad Puad's manipulations question, in a visually literal fashion, images of Malaysia's history and their relevance to contemporary life, as well as the nature of historical memory: "History is false memory because history is sclecth·e; the saying tbat history is \~Titten by the victors i~ certainly true in our own nation. Wby do we remember Tunku's ·~1erdeka' cr} but not the bombing of the Tugu ~egara in 1975? \\'hat deal did the ruling elites strike wtth the British to gain independence? Those of us who lived through the cvenb of 19;7 remember it very differ~ntly irom those of us yet to be born. But dt~crepandes exist, e\·cn among those who experienced s1milar events. llumans are adroit at forgetting details they(! rather not remember. \\'ho prcscn·cs our nation's memories and to what end? And do younger Malay)ians really care?"24 As discussed in this paper, a major paradigm shift in the artistic approach of artists in Malaysia can be observed since the 1990s. While Malay/Islamic-centred art is inwardly and aesthetically focused, Malay artists since the 1990s who have adopted a postmodern perspective are outwardly focused on and address ongoing social and political concerns. They do not work or live in a vacuum, but are dependent and inextricably included in Malaysian society as reiterated in the thematic approaches 163 ·
SARENA ABDULLAH of their work. Unlike works pertaining to Malay or Islamic ideals, these works of art do not need to be beautiful, representational, or realistic. They conflate images from high and low culture and from traditional and modern life. Innovative applications of media and techniques such as collage, montage, photographic imaging, and digital manipulation, resist rigid formal and structural conventions. The use of collisions, collage and fragmentation opens our eyes beyond the limited perception of art and its role in society. By denoting this shift in Malaysian art development with the term "postmodern situation" or situasi percamoden, it is argued here that this paradigm shift has little to nothing to do with the discontinuity with the earlier phases of the modern period as implied in the term "postmodern" or "after modern~ The "postmodern situation': as being used here, describes a cultural condition, especially among the new Malaysian middle class, which is the result of Malaysia's launch into the modern economy engineered by the government through the NEP and NDP. This cultural condition is not only fragmented but most importantly has pulled the Malay middle class in various directions, creating a very conflicted and even contradictory society, which can be seen reflected in the works by the artists discussed above. 1 Redza Piyadasa, 'Modernist and Post·Modern1st Developments in Malaysian Art in the Post· Independence Period', in John Clark (ed ), Modern1ty in Asian Art, Sydney: Wild Peony. 1993. 2 Redza Piyadasa. 'Modern Malaysian Art, 1945-1991: A Historical Review', in Caroline Turner (ed ), Tradition and Change. St. Lucia Un1versity of Queensland Press 1993. 3 See Towards o Myst1col Reality: A Documentation of Jomtly Initiated Expenences by Redzo Piyodoso & Sule1man Eso, Kuala Lumpur 1974 4 Sarena Abdullah, 'Postmodernism m Malaysian Art' unpublished thesis, University of Sydney 2009 5 Cheah Boon Kheng. Molays1o. The Makmg of o Not·on, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Stud·es 2002, p 141. 6 A.B Shamsul, 'From Orang Kaya Baru to Melayu 8aru', in M1chael Pinches (ed), Culture ond Pmilege and Capitalist As·a. London & New Yorlc: Routledge 1999, p. 100. 7 For example. see Abdul Rahman Embong, 'Malaysian Middle Classes: Some Prelim1nary Observations', Jurnot Antrologi don Sosiolog1, 22 (1995); Abdul Rahman Embong, State-Led Modernization and the New M1ddle Closs m Malaysia, London : Palgrave 2001; Joel S. Kahn, 'Constructing Culture. Toward an Anthropology of the Middle Classes 1n Southeast Asia', 1n As1on Stud1es Review, 15: 2 (1991); Joel S Kahn, 'The Middle Class as a Field of Ethnological Study', 1n Muhammad lkmal Sa1d & Zahid Emby (eds), Cntica/ Perspectives· Essays m Honour of Syed Husm Ali, Kuala Lumpur· Malaysian Social Science Association 1996. 8 An art exped1t1on and exploration to Lake Bandmg in 2004 organised by the Perak Arts Foundation (Yayasan Kesenian Perak) The Malaysian participating artists were Saiful Razman, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Ahmad Azrel, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Falrus Ahmad. Hamir So1b, Hasnul J. Saldon, IIi Farhana Norhayat, Masnoor Ram II Mahmud, Kamal Sabran, Mokhzain1 Hairim Mokhtar, Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Nurul Aida Mohd Noor, Raja Shahriman Az·dd1n, Rozita Zakaria, Suzlee Ibrahim, Syahrul Niza Ahmad Zaini, 164
MALAY ARTISTS AND THE POSTMODEAN SITUATION Tan Vooi Yam. Teoh Joo Ngee. Umibaizurah Mahir, Zaslan Zeeha Zainee and Zulkifli Yusoff. 9 Hasnul J. Saidon, 'Mengocak Takung- Stirring Takung', in Tokung, Kuala Lumpur: 8alai Sen· Lukis Negara 2005, pp. 34 · 35. 10 The ·marginal middle class on the other hand comprised of 23.9% in 1970 and only grew to 28% by 2000. while the "old'' middle class was estimated to be at 3-5% in 2000 See Abdul Rahman Embong, 'Beyond the Crisis The Paradox of the Malaysian Middle Class ', in Abdul Rahman Embong (ed ) , Southeast Asian Middle Classes, Bangi Penerbit Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia 2001, p. 86 11 Ibid , pp. 87-90 12 Sarena Abdullah, 'Postmodermsm on Malaysian Art' 13 Farish A. Noor. ' From MaJapahit to PutraJaya· The Kens as a Symptom of Civilizat,onal Development and Decline', on From MaJapohll to PutraJayo· Searching for Another Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur S1lverfosh 2005. p 60. 14 The 1971 National Cultural Policy was formulated on three principles: that the national culture must be based on the culture of the Malays, as the native people in the region; Islam as an important source in determ1nong the form of national culture; and the acceptance of elements of other cultures as long as these do not conflict with the Malay culture or Islam. See Dasar Kebudayaan Kebangsaan (National Cultural Policy), 1971, php/component/content/article/88·dasar-dasarnegara/238·dasar-kebudayaan-kebangsaan.html, retrieved 23 February 2013. 15 Sarena Abdullah, 'Postmodermsm in Malaysian Art'. 16 Johan Saravanamuttu, 'Is There a Politics of the Malaysian M1ddle Class?', in Abdul Rahman Embong (ed.). Southeast Asian Middle Classes, p. 104. 17 Krishen Jit, 'Digital Collage', in Digital Collage One Man Art Exhibition by Ismail loin, Kuala Lumpur 1988, p. 19. 18 Nur Hanim Khairuddin. 'Hamir Soib: In Search ol the Essence of Gothic·Fantastic Angst'. in Motahot1. Kuala Lumpur: Petronas 2008. P 198 19 Gregory Galligan. 'Asean Arts Awards', Art AsioPoci(ic, 18 (1998), p. 25. 20 Azman Ismail, 'Overview of Recent Works by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed and Umibaizurah [email protected] Ismail', in Patisotustudio: Wornmg! Taplfcrossing, Puncak Alam: Patisatu Studio 2007. pp. 18-19. 21 Nur Hanim Khairuddin. 'Nalas Asyik: The Reality of Aesthetically Ecstatic Self, in No/as: Sculptures of Raja Shahrimon, Kuala Lumpur National Art Gallery 2004. p. 16. 22 Hasnul Jamal Saidon. 'Semangat Best. Retrospection of an Enigma', in Ro1o Shohrimon: Semongot Besi Relrospekt·f Sebuoh Emgmo, Kuala lumpur· Petronas 2002, p. 32 . 23 Nur Hanim Khairuddin, 'Ham" Soib: I n Search of the Essence of Gothic·Fantastic Angst', p . 194. 24 Carmen Nge, Ahmad Fuad Osman', R1mbun Dahan, last mod1f1ed 19 February 2008, ahmad_fuad_osman/. retneved 4 June 2009. - With thanks to JATI. 165 ·


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