Isnin, 23 September 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Concept of identity


Indonesian street artist Eko Nugroho mixes pop with the politics of his homeland.

Back in January, Louis Vuitton asked the Indonesian street artist Eko Nugroho to help design a new scarf. The luxury brand has become a master of these kind of collaborations, which have come to be known as "artketing" – combining the world of fine art with mass consumer marketing – but it has tended toward artists who are more established internationally, like Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and most recently Yayoi Kusama. The decision to select Nugroho was a sign of his quick rise.

It's not the only one. This year, Nugroho, 36, who recently made the list of Art + Auction magazine's "Top 50 under 50," is participating in the Indonesian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which runs through Nov 24.

Nugroho mixes pop influences with Indonesian motifs and touches on issues of identity and democracy.

For the Louis Vuitton collaboration, Nugroho created six large oil paintings, with the brand selecting one for production – Republik Tropis, which portrays a mythical creature whose body is made of tropical fruits and vegetables, with two masked faces peering through the twisted amalgamation.

"This creature is like a compilation of the democratic idea in Indonesia, colourful and complicated, a symbol of today's society," said Nugroho in a recent interview in Singapore. "Our democracy is still very young, not fixed yet."

Masks are integral to Nugroho's visual vocabulary, and he started using them in his practice in 2000. In Indonesia, he said, they are "more about the concept of identity and the concealment of your true human nature."

Nugroho is part of a generation of artists that emerged as the dictatorial Suharto regime was falling and Indonesia was slowly transitioning toward democracy; and from the start, he has used his works to communicate and engage with a general public, particularly through street art.

"I like to develop my work outside during daylight. It's more free and flexible and it allows me to interact with people, sometimes asking them to help," he said.

For his new solo exhibition, called We Are What We Mask, which opened at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute last week, masks take centre stage.

Inspired by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood and Willem Vogelsang's Covering the Moon: An Introduction To Middle Eastern Face Veils, which retraces the history of veils, Nugroho has created 70 colourful paper works, many of which are wearable. They include a series of 10 flat masks that take on the shape of the head covering worn by the women of the Rashaida tribe in Saudi Arabia, and a series of eight full-face head pieces in absurd shapes and bright neon hues that were made from abaca cotton paper treated with konnyaku, a form of Japanese root-based gelatin, to add strength. All these "face veils" include text like "obey and happy" and "prohibited to prohibited" that take on a specific meaning within the Singaporean context where they were created.

"I like strong visuals. I've never used such strong colours before, sometime they are hurting the eyes, but the underlying idea is still about democracy and the freedom," he said.

Nugroho's works were completed during a six-week residency that challenged the technical capabilities of the Singapore institute's workshop.

The coming months will be busy for the artist: He is opening a solo show in October at Arario Gallery in Seoul, and has plans for a solo show at the Lombard Freid Gallery in New York next year. – IHT

Eko Nugroho's We Are What We Mask exhibition is on at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in Singapore till Oct 9. For more info, go to

Absolut Vodka all bottled up


Four young Malaysians join an illustrious list of international artists who have created artwork for Absolut.

ART and Absolut Vodka have always gone hand in hand, ever since the Swedish vodka producer commissioned the legendary Andy Warhol to create an original artwork for the brand back in 1986.

Warhol was the first in a long list of artists who contributed in turning the Absolut bottle into the icon it is today, a list that includes not just conventional artists and painters, but also photographers, sculptors, graffiti artists, typographers, cartoonists, interior designers, art glass sculptors, architects, and even Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood.

Well, now we can add four young and talented Malaysian artists to the list as well.

In conjunction with the launch of Absolut's first ever floral-flavoured vodka – Absolut Hibiskus, the local distributors of the brand, Pernod Ricard Malaysia has collaborated with four artists from local online art gallery 3editions (, namely Abs Lee, Michelle Lim, Tan Howe Qin, and Hyacinthe Kaur to create four unique interpretations of Absolut Hibiskus.

The four designs have been revealed in stages in the past month through exclusive Hibiskus parties, starting with Lee's Rage: Black & Red at KL's Poppy Garden on Merdeka eve.

A graduate from the LimKokWing University College of Creative Technology, Fashion & Retail school, Lee's inspiration for her bottle design came from strong black and red colours, albeit with a feminine touch.

"Black is the colour of the hidden, unseen and mysterious, it's the embodiment of the unknown," she said.

"Red represents the hibiscus flower that exudes action and confidence, it's a symbol of an energetic society longing for change. The feminine touch represents a woman's important role in society in giving new life."

Titled Nature in a Bottle, Michelle Lim's bottle was inspired by Malaysian nature, and was revealed at Luna Bar in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 6.

"As the new flavour incorporates the all-natural hibiscus and pomegranate ingredients, I used nature's elements to exhibit a bottle that holds within it, the taste of nature," she explained.

At the other end of the spectrum, digital artist Tan Howe Qin, who likes showcasing electronic and robotic elements on objects, came up with hi:bis:kus, which he said was "daunting" to create.

"I've never combined a flower with robotic elements. To express the power of the hibiscus flower, I fused it with digital electronic robotic elements to make it even stronger," said Tan, whose piece was revealed at Mois in Penang on Sept 13.

Last but not least, is The Eye of Enlightenment, by PJ College of Arts & Design graduate Hyacinthe Kaur, which will be unveiled in the grand finale Hibiskus party at The View in Kuala Lumpur this coming Friday.

Featuring the hibiscus flower and a majestic peacock prominently, Kaur's bottles are the most elaborate of the four, reflecting the cultural influences that are usually apparent in her art.

"The hibiscus is a perfect symbol as it shows that empowerment can be a gentle and peaceful process. We don't have to fight against who we are; we just need to embrace it," she noted.

"I chose a peacock to accompany the flower, as they work in perfect harmony, symbolising things such as purity, renewal, strength and much more. To top that up, the peacock has always been a trademark for my drawings."

The Absolut Hibiskus grand finale event will be held at View Rooftop Bar (Gtower, 199 Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur) on Sept 27, 9pm onwards. Visit the Absolut Malaysia Facebook page at for more information about Absolut Hibiskus and the 3editions art collaboration.


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