"..... the mass public from local (Malaysian) middle income earners are now economically capable of appreciating and acquiring the new Malaysian art, that is Malaysian Contemporary Art. It is as if they (the collectors) are panicking and running to grab hold of those visual art pieces!" quoted by a prominent Malaysian art collector
alaysian contemporary art is emerging like phoenix rising from the ashes. What is Malaysian contemporary art? All these years and decades Malaysians were only exposed to a few big names in the local art landscape. When asked, they could only only mention Ibrahim Hussein, Ismail Latiff, Jaafar Taib, Azman Yusof and the likes. If Mona Lisa and Madonna On The Rocks are the infamous pieces from the early impressionists, then for us, Malaysians, we prefer to shout out Ibrahim Hussein's Ayahku Dan Angkasawan (See the display below). These names and masterpiece has now been categorised as the art of the past. Whilst they are labelled as 'Modernist', they are modern for their era.
What characterised them as a class? Well, an example would be how Ibrahim Hussein uses lines in all of his art work and another example would be how Ismail Latiff's obsession with that moon that never seems to be absence from his abstracts. This compulsion to maintain a signature is what makes them 'Modernist' Malaysian Art, an art category of the past, the past that is labelled as 'Post-Colonialisation'. So what is the new age Malaysian art? I believe, as mentioned by a prominent local art collector: "..... the mass public from local (Malaysian) middle income earners are now economically capable of appreciating and acquiring the new Malaysian art, that is Malaysian Contemporary Art. It is as if they (the collectors) are panicking and running to grab hold of those visual art pieces!"
So who are the new names in this so called Malaysian Contemporary Art category? Well, I am an art lover but I am not a connoisseur. Recently I had the privilege of being introduced to a connoisseur of Malaysian Contemporary Art, Mr Farouk Khan and his wife, Aliya Akbar Khan. Both are collectors. I perused through some of their private collections. I must say that it is an impressive collection although some (of the art work), I couldn't grasp the subliminal meanings. That is only because I am the 'new kid on the block', so to speak. Beautiful pieces by names that are already big in the local art community but perhaps, a normal Joe Bloke like me has never heard before. To name a few (that I managed to capture in my mental note from discussions): Ahmad Fuad Osman (one of his masterpiece displayed on the left) and Ahmad Shukri Mohamed for canvases; and Bayu Otomo and Muthalib Musa for sculptures (See the last display of sculpture in the park). These are the new breed of artists.
Must Malaysia be represented by culture and art that do not even originated from Malaysia? Must a foreigner equate Malaysia to a piece of water colour work that has a panda eating bamboo trees? Why mustn't it be an oil painting of a Pak Cik (an elderly Malay male) by his beca (trishaw)?
Why now, in the years 2005 and subsequent, that these art works suddenly get noticed? The art industry is a unique industry. A very high quality art work may get unnoticed for years and some may even start getting attention when the painters have long gone to the heavens (or hell), like in the case of Van Gogh. Since Merdeka (the independence of Malaysia), the art scene in this part of the world (South East Asia) has been very much influenced by 'Oriental' type work, the Nanyang Art (see example of display on the right) they call it. This is/was an influence that can be traced from China all the way down to Thailand (Although Thais have somewhat unique religious touch to art), skipped Malaysia, and gravitated towards Singapore. For years collectors have been obsessed with Nanyang Art to the point where its supply becomes abundant. The 'commonality' of the obsession has resulted in an non-uniqueness of the art itself. For those who studied economics, particularly the neo-classical Keynesian Supply and Demand mechanism, of course they'd straight away pointed out the supply has dampened the demand.
Collectors have shifted their appreciation kiblat (direction) to the Malay archipelago that consists of artists from the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Indonesian Islands and the Southern Philippines. This group of people are commonly known as the Malays, for which, the British colonial masters have irresponsibly tagged as disquiet, depression, dissatisfaction, melancholic,..... well, pretty much the opposite of optimism. After colonising, not only they have dampened the the economic well being of these people (Malays), they have also hidden their culture, particularly their artistic creativity.
The Malays didn't have to work hard to get the crops out. They didn't have to worry about the 4-seasons' impact to their vegetation. They can find fishes, vegetables, fruits and live stocks available from the rivers and the jungle nearby their kampungs (villages) that they lived in. Naturally, biologically, psychologically as well as historically, these people (Malays) should have developed skills in areas other than economics. In my crude opinion, I think that that skill ought to be art and creativity. When the collectors shifted their attention to the Malaysian Contemporary Art artifacts, it only confirms my hypothesis: a hypothesis that highlights the creativity and the intelligence of the Malay race.
So let's get back to the colonisation story. The Malay creativity has been deprived from public appreciation for years since Merdeka - 55 years of post-colonnialism. This is merely the outcome of prioritisation by the Malays themselves. Let's just ignore Indonesia for they have managed to put their cultural and artistic heritage at a higher elevation for the world to notice. Malaysia has gone through quite a milestone. They fought for independence via political methods which went on for ages since the early 20th century until now. This is to ensure their survival in this world. Next step would be, or had been, refining their economic policies to ensure that they are on par with the rest with respect to wealth. This was quite apparent in the various Government initiatives since the 2nd Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, and was made intensified under Tun Mahathir, the 4th Prime Minister. So far the 2 equations are: Politics = Survival and Economy = Wealth.
The 3rd stage would be to define or redefine their existence via culture that has art as its subset. Who are we? Who are Malaysian? Must Malaysia be represented by culture and art that do not even originated from Malaysia? Must a foreigner equate Malaysia to a piece of water colour work that has a panda eating bamboo trees? Why mustn't it be an oil painting of a Pak Cik (an elderly Malay male) by his beca (trishaw)? Anyway, I recently realised that my first appreciation of a Malaysian Contemporary Art was way back in 1992 (during my school days) when the sculpture by Bayu Utomo, called Lang Kachang (See display on the right), appeared on the cassette cover of a local rock album Rampage by Search.
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