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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Art show 'Dark Light & Deconstruct' is strange, bizarre and fantastic

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Local artists Skinner and Art:tech have a fascination with the nightmarish and the weird, and their works are reminiscent of the Twilight Zone. It's positively Kafkaesque.

TW Chang hasn't had a haircut in three years. Whether he realises it or not, the tall and lanky artist – better known as Skinner – emulates his physical self in his work somewhat. In a double solo exhibition with fellow artist Muhammad Najib Timiran aka Art:tech, Skinner is in fine morbid form. Skinner's Deconstruct collection features 15 works of bones and all, while Art:tech delivers 16 works in his Dark Light series.

Can one gallery, in this case Artemis Art, contain such an amount of weirdness and the macabre?

"While it's probably noticeable that Dark Light & Deconstruct is a big stylistic departure from the other exhibitions we've had previously, it does fit within what we set out to achieve," says gallery owner S Jamal Al-Idrus. "One of our key focus areas has been to promote young art and young artists, including outsider artists who may have not gone through the traditional fine art route."

MONOLisa, Indian ink and grouache, is Skinner's fractured portrait of Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic lady.

Skinner, 35, has a respectable profile in the homegrown indie pop culture scene. Apart from regular group exhibitions, his work was showcased at last year's Urbanscapes festival, while local street art events have introduced him to other audiences. He also holds a degree in computer science.

Skinner's Deconstruct collection illustrates a literal anatomical deconstruction where his subjects are stripped to the bone, leaving behind more than hair, clothes and eyes for expression. "Most of (Deconstruct) is a mixture of history and modern art. Some of the subjects are my friends. Instead of a portrait, I'd do a skull," says Skinner.

The obvious pieces of the series include MONOlisa (an exposed version of the Mona Lisa), The Undead with the Pearl Earring (from Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Trippy Night (a reinterpretation of Van Gogh's Starry Night ). There are also skeletal portraits of Audrey Hepburn, the Chinese Monkey God Sun Wukong and a selfie of one of Skinner's friends.

With the exception of one piece that uses shimmering violet florescent acrylic, the other works were made with Indian ink, pigment ink and watercolour, and aim to make a bolder statement that goes beyond detailed simplicity.

"The Undead with the Pearl Earring", Skinner's homage to 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vemeer.

Artemis Art is no stranger to Skinner's imagination. "We first featured his works in Emergence, a group exhibition in 2012. The exhibits were a mix of very different styles, from Skinner's darker-themed pen and ink works to oil impasto scenic paintings by another young artist, Shyevin S'ng," says Jamal.

"Everyone has a skull. It's part of being human," Skinner adds. "I don't like people labelling skulls as scary and (associating them with) death. These skeletal impressions show the subjects as themselves."

Another notable characteristic of the young artist's work is the cosmic backdrop set in all his pieces. This intentional decision is a homage to him overwhelming appreciation of the night sky. "It's like the universe!" he proclaimed. "The universe is too gempak (awesome)!"

Meanwhile, Art:tech's work consists of detailed black lines that symbolise the contradicting symbiosis between darkness and light – that without the other, each would be meaningless.

The most eye-catching piece of his Dark Light series is Legasi, a sizeable digital print on canvas that features local indie musicians in faceless forms. There are singer-songwriters Yuna and Zee Avi, Noh Salleh from Hujan/Da Vagabonds,  Lan of Azlan & The Typewriter, and Aizat Amdan with his inverted triangular head. Legasi is also the planned artwork and title for Aizat's upcoming EP.

Each character was illustrated individually in pencil on plain A4 paper before being scanned and combined to create the final piece, which could be seen as five pop artistes combining their musical talents into recording one album.

Legasi by Art:tech, a digital print on canvas, features Nor Salleh, Zee Avi, Aizat Amdan, Lan and Yuna.

Art:tech, 30, is a self-taught artist, illustrator, designer and drummer from KL, a dapper young man who graduated with a multimedia diploma from Polytech Mara College in 2006. "This is the first time I've exhibited my original sketches," he says. "Usually I exhibit canvas prints because my final artworks are digital."

This technique explains his pseudonym of choice, Art:tech being an abbreviation of "art is technology". As a pop art surrealist, he creates intriguing pieces that feature a juxtaposition of seemingly random items. Also in his Dark Light series is a piece called Smoke, created to accompany a mystery short story of the same name that portrays an unconscious boy falling onto a larger-than-life cigarette below a magnifying glass above a flat head.

Elsewhere, Art:tech's piece The Silence, created in pencil and gold ink, features a fictional tribal girl with woven hair and an intimidating stare. In the details of her clothes are miscellaneous icons that include a fox, a key and an anchor. "I think for most of my artwork, I don't look for references," Art:tech says when asked where his ideas stem from. "Over the years, I've looked through many books and stuff, so somehow I think I've just combined everything."

"Dark Light & Deconstruct" is showing at Artemis Art, Lot 21 & 22 Level G4, Publika at Dutamas, Block C5 Solaris Dutamas, KL, until April 20. Open Monday–Saturday, 10am–7pm. For details, visit

'Tangkap Gambar' explores diversity through photographs

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Tangkap Gambar wants us to look beyond the technical and mechanical aspects of a picture, and challenge our understanding and perception of photographs and photographers.

Photography, with its aesthetic consideration, can certainly be art. Purists in the field, however, might frown on today's selfie generation and point-and-shoot culture. For most modern-day photography enthusiasts, the fear concerning expenditure, time and space needed to maintain a darkroom has been framed out. Photography is for everyone now. But to say that photography has moved away from technical craft, or doesn't require hours of training and hard work, is absurd.

Documenting this evolution and journey of photography and shutterbugs is the new exhibition called Tangkap Gambar: Sebuah Dokumentasi, by the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Visual Arts Organisation (Pertubuhan Pengkarya Seni Kuala Lumpur dan Selangor, or KSEVO). It features 20 works by five photographers, including one of Malaysia's most distinguished scholars, Professor Ghulam-Sarwar Yousof. The other photographers are Elias Yamani Ismail, Ady Ezwan Nordin, Halim Rahim and Associate Professor Hasnul Jamal Saidon.

"Subjek" by Elias Yamani Ismail, his own take on 3D graffiti and artful mischief.

Elias, KSEVO chairman and also the curator for Tangkap Gambar, says that the direction of the exhibition is "to take photography to another level". This is not solely on the technical aspects of photography, "but also one that challenges your understanding and perception of photography as an audience" he says.

This is important, Elias adds, because he believes people are afraid to talk about photography. "Because they associate it with the mechanical aspects," he says, and so a change of perception is necessary. And that is KSEVO's mission: to engage the masses and make art – visual art in particular – accessible to them. "My personal view is that the role of the artist is becoming too exclusive," says Elias.

Ady, who is experienced in traditional Malay art and heritage, adds that KSEVO, through its initiatives, will eventually move into other realms of art. The exhibits at Tangkap Gambar aren't entirely straightforward. They range from conventional to experimental, with actual objects in the photographs placed next to it. Pos Box 1 by Elias is his own take on the graffiti movement. He says he "disrupted the spaces with the post box" and other objects, like any other graffiti. "You won't find a post box on cars or billboards," he quips.

There's a flip side to this. Tailoring an exhibition to an intended end is crucial, Elias explains, more than just mounting artworks on the wall. A narrative that pricks the imagination and perception is necessary. The exhibition design is also crucial. "Everything is placed very fluidly and precisely. We were very calculative about it as we had to think about the audience's point of view. Like when a person turns left, what does he see, and when he walks straight, what does he see," says Elias.

Though the public is free to roam the exhibition space, Tangkap Gambar is designed in chronological fashion. It begins with the works of Ghulam, whose black and white prints show Zainab Samad, one of the leading performers of mak yong from the 1950s. Taken in 1975 as part of his research, the photographs show Zainab – or Mak Nab Raja, as she's fondly known – as an elderly woman in full vigour and vitality. The manner in which he frames the image focuses our attention on her graceful and dextrous dance moves.

"Ghetto Hero 2" (top) and "Parking Hero" (above) by Hasnul Jamal Saidon captures urban myth and street edge.

From film-based photography, the exhibition moves into the modern and the conceptual. Ady's images of boats from a Kuala Selangor fishing village aren't hanged on the wall like other photographs. They're video projected onto a wall, so the images keep moving in a loop. Actual objects from the village are placed in the room to recreate the environment and atmosphere of the actual place.

"It is up to the audience to find a relation between these objects and the photographs and create their own story. I will not dictate how they should perceive the photos just because I had my own thought process behind it," says Ady. As with the rest of Tangkap Gambar, the evolution of photography comes with the evolution of photographers.

"Guna Jika Perlu" by Halim Rahim is a snapshot of blue-collar life in sharp focus.

Tangkap Gambar: Sebuah Dokumentasi" is at Galeri Shah Alam, Persiaran Tasik, Tasik Barat, Shah Alam until April 25. Open daily 9am–5pm. Free admission. For more details, click on or call (03) 55105344 / 6045. 

Peranakan arts festival promises to be a cultural melting pot

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival will show audiences the way of the Peranakans, and lead actress Pearlly Chua to her 200th performance of Emily of Emerald Hill.

With a country as diverse as ours, arts festivals inspired by different cultures are aplenty. For the first time, Peranakan culture comes alive at the Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival next month. The inaugural month-long festival, which takes place at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Damansara Perdana, PJ from April 3-27, aims at capturing diverse works inspired by the illustrious story of Peranakan culture.

The word Peranakan in Malay simply means "locally born", and is Malaysia and Singapore's most fascinating hybrid culture descended from unions between China and South India merchants with local women.

Before coming up with the idea of the festival, co-producer Adrian Teh did extensive research at the Peranakan Museum in Singapore, then approached DPAC to hold the festival.

"They turned around and asked me to manage it instead! So I decided to work on a story instead of showcasing just the Peranakan artefacts and ornaments. Yes, we will have those things on display and sale, but the highlight will be the monologue, Emily of Emerald Hill," says Teh.

Pearlly Chua will reprise her role in the one-woman play as the indomitable Nyonya matriarch, Emily Gan. Written by Singaporean playwright Stella Kon, the play chronicles the life of Emily, whose grit and determination takes her out of an impoverished childhood to ultimately becoming the owner of the prestigious Emerald Hill mansion.

Fairuz Sulaiman's Main Wayang: Hikayat Sang Kancil is a performance docudrama in reference to the Sang Kancil character in Malaysian folklore.

Fairuz Sulaiman's "Main Wayang: Hikayat Sang Kancil" is a performance docudrama about Sang Kancil.

Emily of Emerald Hill premiered at the Guthrie Chemara Club House, Seremban in November 1984. Directed by Chin San Sooi, another Malaysian actress, Leow Puay Tin, helmed the title role. Since then, it has gone on to create Malaysian and Singaporean theatre history by being the most performed play in full, abridged, added or without the playwright's permission, locally and abroad. The play has also been introduced as a literary work in schools, colleges and universities.

Chua, a theatre stalwart, first took on the challenging role of portraying the protagonist in 1990 and has since performed it 165 times. She literally knows the script like the back of her hand. With 35 performances scheduled for the festival, she will reach her 200th milestone for the play.

"I'm excited!" Chua gushes. "The Peranakan culture, though preserved through the efforts of many Baba Nyonya associations, is slowly dying. Hence, I would like to be able to use the play to keep this culture alive. I'm looking forward to reaching out to the younger generation and see how the play can synthesise with current times. Yes, I have the words under the folds of my sarong, so I just focus on living in the moment and concentrate on the nuances."

Once again directed by Chin, certain scenes in the upcoming performance have been tweaked to give it a different feel. Although the script has full stage directions, Chin will try to give it a new spin by taking away all the paraphernalia and making it a minimalist show.

"Every time we revive Emily, we change it a little to give it a different interpretation. This is my 24th year of doing this, and I take it as a compliment that people want to see me take on the role again," Chua adds. "The most challenging aspect is to wrap your head around this woman and breathe life into her after two decades. My sentiment is for people to learn English and have some fun." 

Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival co-producer Adrian Teh did extensive research on the Peranakan culture.

Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival co-producer Adrian Tehdid extensive research on the Peranakan culture.

"Over the years, I've begun to understand why my mum and aunties think in a certain way, say a certain thing, and act in a certain way. It's an art. There's an Emily sort of spirit and character in everyone's lives. It's okay to be wrong," says Chua, who has lived a quarter of her life on stage as Emily.

The two-hour play can take its toll on Chua, who sometimes does two or three shows a day, but she takes it in stride by eating healthy and getting lots of rest. "There are no designs. I don't know what will happen after 200 shows," she says

Apart from theatre, Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival will roll out media, visual art and dance events, as well as hosting guest speakers from academic, media and business. There will be talks, exhibitions and performances programmed weekly. Other events include the Sembang-Sembang Talk series facilitated by Vernon Emuang, where a panel of five arts practitioners meet guests for an afternoon tea with Nyonya desserts.

Meanwhile, DPAC has commissioned Five Arts Centre co-founder Marion D'Cruz, multimedia artist Fairuz Sulaiman and comedian Kuah Jenhan to create a new work based on the title theme. The trio will present 2-Minute Solos (D'Cruz), Main Wayang: Hikayat Sang Kancil (Fairuz) and Good, Bad, Nasty! (Kuah). Kon will also give a playwright workshop on April 5.

On top of all that, there will be art exhibitions featuring Peranakan culture and a festival bazaar at the festival venue. "We're holding it over a month because we want to create loyalty and traffic to DPAC," Teh says. "It's intended as a family festival and there's something for everyone."

Amboi! Baba Meets Nyonya Arts Festival runs at Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC) in Damansara Perdana, PJ from April 3-27. For details and tickets, visit or call (03) 4065 0001 / 0002.


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