Isnin, 11 November 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Ode to a dream


Raja Lope conjures futuristic dreamscapes using local myths and legends in his first ever solo exhibition.

HIGH atop the ruins of the mountains, amidst the thick clouds, sat the Horned Cat. It looked across the morning sky, searching for the little girl.

The gigantic feline waited and waited and finally, she came. Clutching her teddy bear close to her heart, the little girl stood, full of fear and doubt, on top of the ancient pillar of limestone.

The cool breeze played across her tearful face. Her thick, curly hair blew behind her. Looking doubtfully at the Horned Cat, she beckoned it. But before the beast could soar to her aid, robots, tall and skeletal and engraved with intricate markings of an ancient world, rose from the clouds.

The little girl screamed. The menacing beings turned to the Horned Cat and said, "The battle begins tonight. Protect her." The animal nodded in ascent and they were gone.

The poor girl sobbed uncontrollably. The cat leaped amongst the clouds and landed next to her. She hugged him, tight, and the Horned Cat knew its duty as her guardian and guide had begun.

Lope says people have forgotten to dream and shows the beauty of dream via this exhibition

Raja Lope says people have forgotten to dream and hopes his art can remind them of fantasy worlds.

That is one of the many possible tales you could conjecture when you visit the latest contemporary art exhibition at Core Design Gallery (Subang Jaya, Selangor) by Raja Lope Rasydi Raja Rozlan, called LOPE.

Featuring 11 artworks, which took the artist a year-and-a-half to complete, the exhibition is a clever and beautiful amalgamation of Malaysia's myths and legends and futurism.

One only has to step into the gallery and this artistic fusion is a screaming evidence. The iconic wayang kulit (shadow puppets) and kuda kepang are now robotic beings, acting as guardians and chariots respectively. Astoundingly ravishing Indian, Malay and Chinese princesses are cyborgs, with their metallic armoury and mythical weapons.

Growing up in Beruas, Perak, the artist was not short of inspiration. Any historian will tell you that Beruas was part of the ancient Gangga Negara kingdom, which is believed to be the Hindu Malay kingdom mentioned in the Malay Annals and historic cities with crossover cultures are often treasure troves of extraordinary lore.

"During my younger years, dreaming was something fun and it was like a play thing for me. I spent my time, even in classrooms, dreaming and fantasising about these stories that I have heard. I began creating my own dragons and fairies and mermaids.

"And as I grew older, I was able to control my dreams and all the characters seemed to change and evolve. For instance, my dragons were really simple when I was younger but as time went by, I wanted my dragons to be more realistic with markings on their body and strong physical features. So, when I'm dreaming, I tend to stay there longer and try to manipulate as many ideas as I could in that zone," Lope, 41, shared.

Gangga Nagara

Gangga Nagara reflects Lope's place of birth.

And what transpired was the creation of an original fantasy world, one that reminds us of George R.R. Martin or even Tolkien.

When you look closely at Lope's mythological beings, though you may recognise them as mermaids or fairies, there is a sense that these creatures are entirely new. And there is a certain order to this world, according to Lope. Some of his creatures may appear robotic but they do not run on fuel or energy. They are made alive by spiritual powers.

"If I am a writer, I will be writing fantasy novels but I can't write. However, I can draw!" Lope quipped.

Gangga Nagara is one such artwork. To begin with, instead of diving into the water as mermaids usually do, this particular one jumps upward, for in Lope's world, the ocean is in the heavens and where seas usually are, is the sky.

"Alternatively, you can hang this painting upside down and it will look like she is diving into the water but this is how I meant it to be. The sea is in the sky," Lope explained.

And she is not the ubiquitous mermaids we are accustomed to, with golden scales and red hair. Fusing local legends, culture and sea creatures, Lope's mermaid is an Indian princess with the tail of a toman fish (giant snakehead), a fresh water giant with distinct markings that resembles batik motifs, earning this particular species the name toman batik. However, these batik patterns slowly change to Indian motifs on the mermaid's tail. She is also seen assuming the Lotus Stance, a common yogic stance.

The Message III by LOPE.

Angel dust: The Message III is one of central highlights of the LOPE exhibition.

Another intriguing piece is Message II which features a unicorn and a fairy. The fairy is seen passing a message to the unicorn and just like the mermaid, the fairy has batik motifs on her body. Lope reasoned that no one knows how a Malaysian fairy looks like and he envisioned them as thus.

In fact, most of Lope's creatures possess batik or henna motifs on their body, once again reflecting the Indian and Malay culture he was exposed to as a child.

The unicorn is part robot but the intriguing elements of the horse are its horn and eyes. Where there should have been the singular white horn was a wooden keris, with hints of a golden hilt and where there should have been big, black eyes were jade stones and around its nose hung an Indian nose ring.

"The fairy is actually telling the unicorn to take care of the other animals and plants in the land, if not all of them will be forgotten and destroyed.

"That is the message. If we are not conscious and aware about taking care of our culture and world, we will soon forget them, just like how we have forgotten about these mythical beings," Lope reckoned.

Three Some features cyborg Indian, Malay and Chinese princesses.

Three Some brings forth Lope's cyborg Chinese, Malay and Indian princesses.

But a regular character in this exhibition is the Horned Cat, which Lope derived from an old Malay adage, menantikan kucing bertanduk or waiting for the horned cat.

"My elders used to say this proverb to me a lot when I was a kid since I liked to procrastinate. It simply means waiting for something that will never happen. And I see myself in the Horned Cat. I've been waiting for so long and working so hard and finally, my dreams have come to fruition.

"You see, people have forgotten how to dream. I think they don't want to dream anymore. People nowadays are too serious and there are a lot of realists out there. I'm a dreamer and through this exhibition, I'm trying to show them that dreams can come true," said Lope.

He went on to say that his niece is a perfect example. Still a child, she does not dream and fantasise and is lost in the trappings of the modern world. Children, Lope opined, should dream and be lost in their fantasies.

This is why the other main character in this exhibition besides the Horned Cat is the little girl, a representation of his niece, who is taken on an adventure around this mythical world by the cat, reminded as it were not to forget the fantastical beings and creatures.

Legends and history may not be your cup of tea but dreams are part of who we are. They make us human and it is in the land of our dreams the most amazing and magical things happen.

And that is exactly what Lope desires to conjure for you and me, a world filled with possibilities and magic and most importantly, the importance of dreaming.

"People should learn how to dream again," he concluded.

LOPE is happening at Core Design Gallery, 87, Jalan SS 15/2A, Subang Jaya, Selangor from now till Nov 30. Monday to Friday, 10am – 7pm. Saturday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. For more information, visit or contact 03-56121168.

Capturing the moment


The inherent tension and contrast in James Whitlow Delano's photography sets his work apart.

American-born reportage photographer James Whitlow Delano has lived in Asia for the last 20 years, documenting stories in this region and beyond. His extensive body of work on social, cultural and environmental issues has covered everything from China's rapid rise to the global sex workers industry and stories from the United States/Mexican border. Delano is distinguished by his high contrast black & white style, imparting a dreamlike poignancy to his photographs. He works simply, armed only with a Leica M camera with a single lens, a 35mm.

"That means I must be very close to my subject, enter their world. This means that respect plays a huge part in my way of working," he says in an e-mail interview ahead of a masterclass in Klang, Selangor next month.

The 53-year-old's photographs have appeared in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair Italia, among others, and he has exhibited around the world. Delano is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, Picture of the Year International and NPPA's Best of Photojournalism. His latest book Black Tsunami: Japan 2011 is a haunting record of the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake, capturing the disaster's impact and consequences on the people and landscape. Here, the Tokyo-based photographer speaks to The Star about his work process and experiences as a photographer.

James Whitlow Delano's photo of Aung San Suu Kyi in the garden of her Yangon (Rangoon) home in Myanmar in 1996.

Quiet dignity: James Whitlow Delano's photo of Aung San Suu Kyi in the garden of her Yangon (Rangoon) home in Myanmar in 1996.

What got you interested in photography?

I was at university and completely uninterested in the engineering course I was studying. In the library's rare books room, they had work by masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz, Robert Frank and others. I felt thunderstruck. The work spoke to me. I immediately committed my life to photography. It was that simple. I felt I had found there was something to which I could dedicate all my energy.

How did you get your start? How would you describe the way you work?

I got my proper start by moving to New York in the mid-1980s. I began assisting people who had been abstract heroes/ icons up until that time like Annie Leibovitz, Joel Meyerowitz, Deborah Turbeville and others. They, and others like Michel Comte who I would later assist in Los Angeles, established the high standard by which I knew I would have to work to. Also, I would see that these people produced great work every time, no excuses. They got the job done. This became burnt into my psyche. Michel would also climb on tables, climb over walls, run like a lunatic after the subject down the beach in Santa Monica, out in the desert or wherever. He showed me that the photograph is important and never worry how it looks making it. I carried that lesson away and it is still at the core of how I work.

You have a very strong, but dreamy visual style. How did you develop it?

I developed my style in the darkroom during my New York/California days. You can see a similar style in my street photography from Europe in the late-1980s after I got my first Leica. It just felt right and I now like the continuum of time it creates in my photographs. The style has evolved, as has the way I work, but I decided that I would rather be known for my own style, for better or worse, than to become a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

How important is it for young photographers to develop their own style?

Personally I think this is of paramount importance. It is particularly difficult today to develop your own style. I still make prints in the darkroom, scan the prints and then share the work in digital form. So, the work still has an unique grainy feel to it. Now, with so many one-touch apps that can take an amateur image and get 80% the way to a professional-level image, the skill part of creating an unique style is pretty much taken away and mimicry is too easy. It can hurt both sides of that equation by arresting the development of the person mimicking the original and it can steal any originality from the person who has been copied. That is why I have always respected people like Cartier-Bresson or Frank. Their work was about capturing unique moments and energy. You cannot knock that off. So much of what we see now relies on technique, not vision.

I'm sure you have many interests that often tug you in all directions. How do you decide on a project and stick with it?

Generally I like to connect dots and tell stories globally or at least comprehensively and how they relate to larger issues. With Black Tsunami: Japan 2011, as a resident, I would listen to what was going on up there, after the initial shock of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster and I would try to communicate each phase of the challenge to the people in Tohoku. I would try to tell the story in a way I felt was not being told internationally. My goal always is to place the viewer in the photograph so that they can feel like they gain a visceral understanding and empathy with those who are living that moment. As a freelance photographer, I cannot realistically concentrate on one subject over time and manage to publish the work. I have to document a subject and then come back to it later, when magazines or other media are ready to address an issue again.

One of your long-term projects is in Malaysia. Can you tell us a little about it?

Multicultural Malaysia has one of the oldest, most diverse environments on the planet. I have long been fascinated with the various Dayak people in Sarawak and how they interact with the forest. They are so hospitable that I feel like I am going home when I visit them. Likewise, the Batek Negritos of the peninsula are one of the most fascinating people on the planet and may have been some of the first humans to walk out of Africa. I have shown photographs of the Batek to Africans and they cannot believe they are from Malaysia. There is an endless amount of interest to be found in Malaysia.

Due to the nature of your stories, whether it is covering a disaster or documenting a social issue, do you get emotionally involved with your work?

We are only human. There are times I find it difficult to imagine what people go through every day. During the tsunami, victims looked like my family. My wife is Japanese. It also showed that all of us are only one bad day away from refugee status. In other words, we are all the same. I always remember why I am there. That way, I can strike a balance between empathy and documenting what is critically important. Photographs can give people a voice they would not ordinarily have. For the first time in my career, I felt like photography directly aided in bringing more relief funds to Japan during the tsunami recovery because the world could see what Japanese survivors were bravely enduring.

What is your next big project?

I am considering a return to China. I have not returned there for about 18 months. My plan is to combine recent photographs with older photos I plan to print from the early and mid-1990s. They look like they were made in the 1930s, not the 1990s. The comparison will be fascinating.

James Whitlow Delano will be at The Monsoon Masterclass from Dec 3-7 at Starsound Studio, 27, 3rd Floor, Wisma PAL, Jalan Tengku Kelana, Klang, Selangor. The five-day workshop (outdoor and indoor) will cover such topics as style development and project analysis, complete with daily critiques and practical experience. Website:


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