Ahad, 19 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Language of politics

Posted: 18 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

An exhibition called A La Carte is the artist's take on national headlines.

THE air was thick with the clinking of silverware. The tables, bedecked with lit candles, lent the place an enchanting aura. A familiar tune (French, probably) played in the background.

People were chatting and drinking vintage wine. They looked lost in conversations on politics, art, the state of the country and world.

But something else accompanied them, never leaving the place. Something bizarre and yet familiar. Strange humanoid beings with extra appendages, clad in even stranger garb, were unlikely company for the patrons.

A bespectacled human-like figure with blue wings was flying through the air. His nose was exceptionally long and his lips, mint green. Looking up at him, he would have passed for a giant insect if it wasn't for his elongated tongue curling out to the earth below.

If you were of a grim disposition (like this author), you would hastily conclude this was a scene from the sequel of The Island Of Dr Moreau. But in truth, the scene is much less horrific and serves as a backdrop for a fusion of delectable, vibrant and satirical cuisines of the visual variety.

Paiman played the humour card with Dayang Sulu With Her Troop as he changed the self-proclaimed Sulu prince to a princess

National threat: Artist Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman played the humour card with Dayang Sulu With Her Troop, which references the Lahad Datu crisis.

For the next two and a half months, Maison Francaise, a French restaurant tucked away in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, will play host to the A La Carte exhibition by notable Malaysian artist, Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, fondly known as Paiman.

The exhibition, presented by Fuman Art gallery, features 35 of Paiman's artworks, a mixed collection of old and new. And that is how the whole à la carte concept was engendered, the artist said.

"During my initial discussions with the gallery, I did not have any new work. All that I knew was that the exhibition will be taking place in a restaurant. So, I had the idea to make a selection of my works from 1994 up to now," shared Paiman in an interview in Kuala Lumpur last week.

The artist, who is based in Ipoh, has a day job as a senior lecturer – 14 years now – at the Fine Art Department in UiTM Perak. Away from the academic field, Paiman has been active in the art scene. In late 2012, he presented his third solo exhibition Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves, while last year he was part of the group exhibition Kembara Jiwa Fukuoka: Expanded Passion.

For the A La Carte exhibition, Paiman enjoyed trawling through his work at his studio.

"That is how the concept of à la carte came about. But of course, there are some newer paintings which I completed early this month."

Paiman with his Social Contract sculpture

Artist Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman below, with a sculpture called Social Contract. 

A smaller collection, 12 in total, will be exhibited at the Fuman Art gallery itself in Glenmarie, Shah Alam.

Paiman's paintings are a visual treat at first glance. In fact, he labelled himself a "visual chef". Enticing your sight like scrumptious desserts, tantalisingly arrayed on a marble-top table on a cool spring afternoon, the artworks are simply bursting with colour. Looking at them in the daytime, the room brightly lit by sunlight, is akin to gazing at blooming flowers.

But beyond the colour is a deeper layer that arrests your senses. The characters in the paintings are human-like but there is something strange and otherworldly about them. Some have extra eyeballs, some have oddly shaped heads and limbs, and others have animal-like faces.

One such painting, called Dayang Sulu With Her Troop, features a tall female figure in a polka-dotted headdress and robe, surrounded by impish creatures in stripy clothes. In the backdrop are spindly tree trunks.

The faces of the imps were frog-like and some even looked like potato heads. Interestingly, all the figures, including the female leader, were armless. Two had webbed feet. They were all standing on the shore of a lake or sea.

Paiman, who has been involved in the country's art arena since the early 1990s, said this artwork is actually in reference to the Sulu gunmen who invaded Lahad Datu last year.

AP Series - Lee Lam Thye

AP Series — Lee Lam Thye

"Dayang Sulu was a popular actress during P. Ramlee's time with Filipino blood and 'Dayang' is a name commonly used by Borneon or Filipino princesses. However, this painting is a metaphor for the Sulu 'prince' who wanted to start a revolution in Lahad Datu.

"I decided to take a humorous stance on the situation and instead of a prince, I made the leader a princess and these are her troops," Paiman explained.

This is the deeper layer that permeates every painting. A social commentary, as it were, on pertinent issues that is part of the nation's fabric. And that makes the experience of looking at these paintings even richer and exhilarating. Not only are you stimulated visually, but your brain too.

The artist himself confessed that his artworks are indeed "social commentaries" and it is his way of voicing his opinions on these issues.

Another painting, called Dasar Pendidikan Negara, shows what could be a female teacher wearing a scarf and spectacles, with a blackboard and the alphabet behind her. A cane of some sort is seen sticking out.

Paiman reasoned that this is in reference to the nation's education system and how it has changed over the years.

"Before, the teachers were allowed to cane the students for wrongdoings. Now, they can't even touch the students," he said.

But one that catches the eye instantly is an artwork called The Statesman. .

Former prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, is wearing a red pagoda hat, his face carved with his cheeky smile. He is wearing a lilac blouse with red-faced emoticons for buttons. The McDonald's symbol "hangs" from his pocket.

Sprouting from his shoulders are gigantic red horns. Written across the painting is a sarcastic quote by the elder statesman: 'What do we brown-skins know about justice?'

"This statement was made by Mahathir in an interview with an Australian broadcast reporter when he sacked Anwar Ibrahim from the cabinet. The interviewer asked about the justice in Malaysia and that was Mahathir's reply to him," chuckled Paiman.

A La Carte is on exhibit at Maison Francaise (5, Jalan Changkat Kia Peng, Kuala Lumpur) till March 31. The restaurant opens Tuesday to Thursday from noon to 10.30pm, and Friday to Sunday from noon to 11pm. For more information, visit www.fumanart.com. Paintings are also on display at Fuman Art, Wisma Samudra, Ground floor, 1, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Hicom-Glenmarie Industrial Park, Shah Alam, Selangor. Call 012-229 8364 or 017-269 1648 for an appointment.

Extreme ends

Posted: 18 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

A Malaysian artiste reflects on a conflicted society in her adopted home of Yogyakarta.

IN the middle of the city stands the Kraton, home to the Sultan and the heart of Javanese culture. Within its walls, the streets wind themselves around the palace grounds, snaking around humble dwellings and shops. Markets and schools dot the compound, set against the backdrop of elaborate architecture from an age long past.

Nadiah Bamadhaj, born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, has called this place home for over a decade now – a city she describes as one "rich with culture and history spanning thousands of years old".

Here in Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia, ancient artforms are preserved and practised till today.

Nadiah, 45, refers to them as forms of "high art" that are "juxtaposed sharply against a degree of visible economic and infrastructural poverty, evident by the swellings and structures that congest the city, and in the number of visibly homeless people."

It is these contradictions and contrasts that she attempts to convey through her works in Poised For Degradation, an exhibition comprising four architectural works and four portraits.

In Kandang Ningrat, a cowshed sheds its humble purpose when crowned with a palace roof.

In Kandang Ningrat, a cowshed sheds its humble purpose when crowned with a palace roof.

The exhibition is currently showing at Richard Koh Fine Art in Singapore till Feb 14.

"The contrast between these rich forms of traditional culture and visible economic destitution of where I currently live form the intellectual foundation for the exhibition. The works are based on my observations of both social life and the physical environment of where I live," she explains. "I hope to convey my emotions about the juxtaposition between the cultural poise and the economic degradation that I see around me."

In Kandang Ningrat, for example, Nadiah crowns a humble cowshed with a palace roof structure, and in doing so, "lifts" the shed a level higher than its intended function. In Tertindas Yang Ditandu, the ventilation holes in a wooden box renders it "liveable", despite the boxed-in oppression – in contrast to the carrying poles that hint at being carried around like someone held in high regard and worshipped by all.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what Poised For Degradation has to offer. All the forms in Nadiah's drawings are taken directly from her surrounding environment, "either from found objects, or from Javanese mythological references".

When asked what the most distinctive aspect of everyday life that has found its way into her works is, the artist responds with, "the structures that symbolise the degree of economic poverty in Yogyakarta – dilapidated buildings, recycled objects, zinc and wood dwellings, warungs and carts that are wheeled by hand (which also act as homes), places that 10 years ago I would never had guessed that people would call their homes."

Null and Void is a portrait of an elderly woman who scavenges for recyclables in Nadiah¿s neighbourhood. In this frail figure, the artist sees an extremely hard life and ponders on the absurdity of the meaning of the word ¿future¿ in this woman¿s world.

A bleak life: Null And Void is a portrait of an elderly woman who scavenges for recyclables in Nadiah's neighbourhood. In this frail figure, the artist sees an extremely hard life and ponders on the absurdity of the meaning of the word 'future' in this woman's world.

She singles out Null And Void as the work that best conveys the economic brutality for a large number of people in the city, a work that represents an elderly woman who walks past Nadiah's studio every day, collecting recyclables.

"She's probably in her 90s," relates Nadiah, "and hard of hearing, frail, and extremely vulnerable to both the physical environment and to people who wish to harm her."

Nadiah has chosen to represent this old lady on a congkak, as she is "the end result of a game that has already been played".

This is probably not an unknown sentiment in this city, where, apart from its romanticism and culture, says Nadiah, "living in Yogyakarta is basically living on a fault-line within view of a very active volcano, under a near-sighted and overly-bureaucratised government, with an expensive and over-burdened health system, in one of the most over-populated islands in the world."

The potential of things going wrong is high, and to this artist, Null And Void is "the antithesis of our hopes and dreams for the future, the fear of what life could become."

Sounds grim? Perhaps.

In return for the wealth bestowed upon those who worship Nyi Blorong, a human sacrifice (¿tumbal¿) must be made. In Tumbal, Nadiah places the portrait of her husband on a creature resembling a chicken, originally manifestated from a garuda or eagle. The garuda¿s manliness is deformed and its claws display a character that is simultaneously strong and ¿closed¿.

In Tumbal, Nadiah places the portrait of her husband on a creature resembling a chicken, originally manifestated from a garuda or eagle.

"Despite the changes of subject matter over the year, most of my work has consistently reflected a certain amount of "grimness" – it is not intentional, it just always seems to come out that way. I find a work is successful when I manage to marry grim with a certain amount of humour," she says, adding that so far, only her mother is able to read this combination in her work.

Having developed her charcoal and collage technique since 2000, Nadiah believes that this technique adds a certain emotional quality to the work she creates.

"I find it hard to describe this in words. I suppose it contributes to articulating the 'grimness' I talked about earlier, or at least I hope so," she says.

Through Nadiah's eyes, Yogyakarta looks different now than when she first set foot in the city. Compared to living in Kuala Lumpur, she notes that the divisions between household, community, and administrative bureaucracy are much more porous in Yogyakarta.

"Each does not exist independently of each other and one's participation in each component is essential and noted. Because of this I have had more of an opportunity to observe the social structures and processes of community life," she relates.

Although she finds that this impinges on the kind of privacy and social independence that she was previously used to, she points out that Yogyakarta is "a more culturally and religiously tolerant environment" to live in.

"Despite the economic hardships that I attempt to articulate in my work, the fundamental basis of life in Yogyakarta is people's desire to get along with one another and maintain a peaceful life," she says.

How's that for poise.

Nadiah Bamadhaj's Poised For Degradation is showing at Richard Koh Fine Art Singapore, Artspace@Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road, #01-05 Tanjong Pagar Distripark in Singapore till Feb 14. More details at www.rkfineart.com.

Changing times

Posted: 18 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

The potential for selfies to influence art and reinvigorate self-portraiture cannot be ignored.

IN my mind's eye, the word "selfie" paints a picture of a hall of mirrors bearing endless reflections of a depressed navel.

The selfie, as explained by Oxford Dictionaries, is a photograph that one has taken of oneself, usually with a smartphone or webcam, and shared via social media.

This genre of self-portraiture has become a social networking sensation in recent times, aided by the pervasive presence of digital cameras in everyday life, from mobile phones to laptops to electronic tablets.

Celebrities do it, politicians do it, millions of Everyman and even astronauts do it.

That the Internet slang was crowned Word of the Year 2013 by Oxford Dictionaries is further testament to its cachet.

With fame and attention, however, comes scrutiny, and this social networking phenomenon has not been spared.

Vigorous debate has been waged online and off over its merits and faults. Much of the discussion, with everyone from psychologists to social advocates and armchair critics weighing in, has centred on its socio-psychological significance.

A common refrain which decries its rise charges that it encourages narcissism and attention-seeking behaviour in needy teenagers and adults.

This argument hinges on how social networks that selfies are uploaded onto, including Instagram and Facebook, often allow other users to register their approval of pictures posted by clicking on "Like" or heart-shaped buttons.

A recent selfie posted on Instagram which showed American reality TV starlet Kim Kardashian in a come-hither, white backless leotard, for example, attracted admiration from more than one million netizens.

The social trend has also drawn brickbats for how it spotlights shallowness and glamorises superficiality.

Those who consume selfies are equally at risk of social dysfunction. Psychologists have pointed out that frequent exposure to a constant barrage of pictures which show one's peers living pictureperfect lives – "Here I am, toasting the sunset on a pristine beach in a Maldivian resort" – can stoke "Instagram envy" and "Facebook depression".

Yet others have looked upon the craze as a tender, harmless expression of how people in the digital era yearn to connect intimately with other humans. The recent selfie that Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt snapped at the memorial service for former South African leader Nelson Mandela, with British Prime Minister David Cameron and United States President Barack Obama flanking her, may be seen as falling within this category.

What has piqued my curiosity, however, is the potential for this new visual language to influence the genre of self-portraiture in art.

The self-portrait is not novel. Its history stretches as far back as the 14th century, during the Renaissance, when interest in the individual came alive. Famed Dutch artist Rembrandt was a prolific self-portraitist and his series of drawings, when seen together, conjure a poignant, introspective picture of one man facing up to the brutal process of aging.

Over time, the symbolic and moral self-examination embedded in the genre has given way to experiments in optical perspectives and studies into the ways in which individuals negotiate complex social identities and taboos.

In the last century, self-portraiture in art has completely broken free from mimesis and the human figure, replaced by abstract portrayals of personhood; American pop artist Jim Dine, for example, has painted himself as a bathrobe with sleeves akimbo.

Already, this idea of the abstract or semi-abstract self-portrait has taken root with selfies, inspiring a string of subgenres such as shelfies – pictures of one's bookshelf, born of the idea that I-am-what-I-read – and legsies, photographs of one's outstretched legs, in which the body parts share the limelight with a usually charming background.

What selfies can bring to the longstanding tradition of self-portraiture in art is perhaps a sense of the changing times, when so much of our lives exist online as netizens who communicate in a strange new syntax.

Indeed, the art world seems to have cottoned on to this idea. Last October, art curators Kyle Chayka and Marina Galperina launched the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, an exhibition at London's Moving Image Contemporary Art Fair, which features a looping series of video selfies of 19 young artists.

As the phenomenon morphs and mutates, so too might its potential to reinvigorate the discussion of self-portraiture in art. Artists may yet have the last word on selfies. — The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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