Monday, December 1, 2008

The Malaysia Young Contemporary Awards

I wanted to share the following text which I found on this website. It talks about the Young Contemporary Art Competition and how important and influential it was to the art scene and community in Malaysia.

Note: Dato P.G. Lim delivered the following official speech at the presentation of awards of the Young Contemporary Exhibition 2000 at the National Art Gallery, Malaysia, on 30 January 2001. P.G. Lim was the first Chairman of the Exhibitions Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery Malaysia, former Director of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Arbitration Centre Malaysia and art patron. She was Malaysia's first woman Ambassador to the United Nations and is currently a legal consultant.

“Since its inception in 1974, the Young Contemporaries Exhibitions (Malaysia) have become a platform for exhibiting and exposing the works of young artists below the age of 35 to the eyes of the general public. More than that, they have over the years, served to motivate them to develop meaningfully and effectively within the context of modern Malaysian art.

This year there was a panel of six judges which included a guest judge – an art lecturer from the University of the Philippines. The panel was headed by Joseph Tan, himself an artist of note and a former part-time director of the Balai Seni. A total of 83 works were received out of which 27 are on display and from which the winners have been selected.

The Judges’ Report draws attention to the fact that the works displayed are dominated by installation and multimedia works; paintings are in a very small minority. This is very evident when one views the works. It is a development upon which globalisation even in art has had a profound impact. The predominance of installations present in this exhibition irrespective of which school of art you may come from is proof enough of that.

Installation art is not new, but it is of recent origin. In the 1970’s it was a newborn term, and did not rate as a term of specialization until the 1980’s. The term used was mixed media; now such works are described as multimedia. For example, the Balai Seni (National Art Gallery, Malaysia) from the very beginning in 1975 has used the term media campuran (mixed media) to describe its prize-winning installation works of the seventies and eighties. In today’s catalogue however the term used is simply campuran (mixed) – no less and no more, but we may conclude that they are in fact installations.

We may, I think take a little pride to discover that our own young artists of the seventies and eighties were already involved in creating their own three-dimensional works which did not fall into the category of painting or sculpture. Specialisation in installations had not yet begun. But the creative process among our young artists was at work. If you will take a little time to browse through that excellent Review of the Young Contemporaries Malaysia – Imbasan Bakat Muda Sezaman – from its inception in 1974 to 1997, you will discover to your surprise that at the second Y.C. Exhibition in 1975 the major award was won by Lee Kian Seng for his installation Permainan Poker or Process in Poker Playing then described as Media Campuran (mixed media). But before that he had won an award in 1973 with another installation work called Mankind (created in 1972) now in the collection of the Balai Seni (National Art Gallery, Malaysia).

This was in the seventies before installation art had acquired its name as such. Lee Kian Seng whom I would describe as the progenitor or father of installation art in Malaysia was already exploring the limits and dimensions of painting on canvas by his installations. He admits in a newspaper interview that at the time he created them he did not know what to categorise his pieces. “I only knew I wanted to create something new” said he. “Art is about discovering the unknown and an artist should be able to work with many types of media”.

Lee Kian Seng was followed in 1981 – the year when the Y.C. Exhibitions were resumed after a hiatus of some four years by another major award winning installation by Ponirin Amin with his Alibi Catur Di Pulau Bidong. The following year 1982 it was Zacharia Awang who won the major award with his installation work Al Rahman. From 1988 onwards both major and minor awards have been given to multi media and installation works. It seems that the entries were dominated by such works. Little wonder then that these developments have culminated – with one exception – in all awards whether major “Jurors” or special mention being won by multi-media and installation works in today’s exhibition.

You will find works which involve groupings of objects in three dimensional space which can be walked around or through or handled and felt. The installations are formed of many components and the materials diverse and complex. Sometimes they are presented elegantly sometimes in ways which are ugly or inelegant as in some exhibits in the Royal Academy's hyped up show last year entitled Apocalypse Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art, but they are always challenging. There are in today’s exhibited works ,a melding or the multicultural ethos in our society in which all the cultures are involved as shown by the diversity of expression and which give room for cultural optimism. Installations which in the early days were often regarded as impermanent are now regarded as collectible and worthy of permanent display.

I congratulate the Young Artists for having participated in this competition and showing us the level of their achievements. By doing so they are making a positive contribution towards the development and promotion of the visual arts. “ ---------- Dato' P.G. Lim / 2001/01/30

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Malaysia Young Contemporary Award: over the years

Here is an essay about the Malaysian Young Contemporary Exhibition which I found at this website. I am not sure if this was written by P.G. Lim or Zanita Anuar -- in any case, the transcription isn't grammatically correct, and I apologise. However, I am not at liberty to make any corrections in case I misrepresent the facts even more.

Regardless, the essay is very enlightening. It talks about how the MYCE was initiated and its development/growth over the years.

I was mentioned as one of the minor award winners here.

Past Tense and Future Stance

An exposition which is centered upon the issue of the greatness of art is often if not always highly dependent upon notions of art historicity.

The element of time, a very crucial factor in legitimizing greatness. While some of us seem to be dwelling too much into the past, some may be too preoccupied with the present, while others just strive for the future.

Hence, only the visionary among us actually take into consideration all three dimensions of time, the past, present and the future in the attempt to achieve such greatness. Among them are the founders of the Young Contemporaries Competition and Exhibition of 1974: Johan Ariff, Farid Wardi, (Mohamed)Redza Piyadasa, Mat Yassir Juli, Joseph Tan, Zuraina bt Majid, Ismail Zain and T.K. Sahapathy. These individuals believed in investing in the future of the present young generation, whom they believe will one day make history.

The actual idea to initiate this program is inspired by a visit to the Young Contemporaries Exhibition in London in the 60s, as mentioned by Suliman Esa . A panel of individuals were called together to discuss the matter and then, a decision was made in which the National Art Gallery is to invite thirteen of the country’s up and coming artists below thirty years of age to compete and win the Major Award of two thousand ringgit.

The thirteen artists below the age of thirty who were invited to participate are: Kok Yew Puah, Long Thien Shih, Chong Buck Tee, Siti Zainon Ismail, Tajuddin Hj Ismail, Zulkifli Mohd Dahalan, Shamsudin Daraman, Normah Nordin, Ruzaika Omar, Omar Abdullah, Adman Salleh, Mustaffa Hj Ibrahim and Lim Eng Hooi. Only seven artists accepted the invitation: Siti Zainon Ismail, Tajuddin Hj Ismail, Zulkifli Mohd Dahalan, Normah Nordin, Ruzaika Omar, Adman Salleh, and Mustaffa Hj Ibrahim. The panel of Judges awarded the 1st Young Contemporary award to Zulkifli Mohd Dahalan. Zulkifli chose to use the award to travel to India.

The event was launched without an official opening ceremony and had attracted 1674 visitors who enjoyed the thirty seven artworks by those who heeded the call for participation.

This competition was also held in 1975 with an open invitation to all artists below 30 years of age. A total of 37 artists entered 93 artworks to win the two thousand ringgit prize money and a roundtrip ticket to any ASEAN destination or to India. The panel of judges which included Farid Wardi, Sulaiman Esa, Ismail Zain, Joseph Tan and Syed Ahmad Jamal selected 19 artists to exhibit 29 artworks.

Lee Kian Seng was nominated the overall winner. His entries for the competition were Process in Consumption and Resumption, and two other works which the title: Process in Poker Game.

This program continued on almost as an the most important annual affair for the young and emerging artists. Aspiring artists were beginning to contemplate entering the prestigious competition while past winners stood behind with full encouragement. Zulkifli Dahalan during his travels in the Middle East, had even dropped a line to wish the next batch of young artist good luck …”Ya! ya! yu! would like to know about the young contemporaries. Congratulations to the winner”.

In organizing the event for the year 1976/1977, the National Art Gallery was given ticket sponsorship by the Malaysian Airlines System. The panel of judges which consisted of Farid Wardi, Yeoh Jin Leng and Sulaiman Othman applauded the efforts of Bahruddin Bador for his serious conviction in attaining a unique visual presentation and Zolkeply Maulana for his graphic skill in visually evocating the social mindset of the ‘Jeans Generation’ of the time.

This competition seem to have ceased to exist from 1978 until 1980. This possible explanation to this could be the fact that the organizing institution had to focus their resources and manpower towards other programs including the National Art and Graphic Competition 1977/1978 sponsored by Esso and the Salon Malaysia.

In 1981, this competition is held once more, attracting 44 artists to present 151 artworks. The winner this time is Ponirin Amin whose work entitled ‘Alibi catur di Pulau Bidong’ in the form of a clever fish net and origami files installation, reflected on the harsh reality of human migration. This work became the first Young Contemporaries installation artwork ever collected by the National Art Gallery. Prizes were also made available to award other fine artists who had won minor awards, they were Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir, Ruzaika Omar Basaree and Syed Shaharuddin Syed Bakeri. The three month long exhibition attracted up to 2424 visitors.

Traditional Syntax, Contemporary Context

The following years seem to reflect a new found consciousness among the judges of the competition. The judges began to show a clear biasness towards works of art which were uniquely local in spirit and in the use of material, yet answered to all the challenges of existing contemporary contexts.

In 1982, the competition rules were amended to allow for artists below the age of 35 to enter. This attracted 78 participants to enter 191 artworks. In the end 97 artworks by 39 artists were shown to the public.

The judges this time established the judging criteria which included: the uniqueness of the works within the context of an evolving modern Malaysian art tradition, consistency in the artists exploration of ideas, maturity in the artist’s handling of his chosen idiom, the relevance of cultural influences presentation and standards of technical excellence in the handling of medium

The judges were unanimous in awarding Zakaria Awang the Major Award for ‘Al-Rahman’, his truly lyrical and delicate installation which succeeded to synthesize east-west sensibilities and incorporate Islamic elements in a complex yet controlled manner. Minor awards were given to the following artists: Fauzan Hj Omar, Amron Omar and Wan Ramli Wan Ibrahim.

Interesting to note that the following year’s rules of entry was again amended to allow artists below the age of thirty and not thirty five, to enter. The organizers felt that it was a necessary move to contain the period of development of younger artists before he/she has settled to a more established line of commitment. The panel of jury based their evaluation on the following criteria: originality and innovative quality, consistency in the use of chosen idiom, understanding in the handling of medium, and relevance in societal / cultural context presentation.

The Major Award winner, Mat Zali was said to make a breakthrough with his presentation of the ‘Step’ series in which he has transposed the banal shoe form to a larger than life art situation representing the vigorous spirit of the youth. The other minor award winners are Muna Musa, Zainal Abidin Musa, Geh Ah Ang and Zakarie Othman. The judges also noted that what was lacking was the sense of discovery in exploring the medium of rattan, wood, clay or other local materials.

Malaysian Tobacco Company began to show interest in sponsoring this competition in the year 1984. That was the year when the judges exclaimed that creativity is the essence of art and hence nominated Thangarajoo s/o M.A. Kanniah as the overall winner of the competition. The judges appreciate his ‘expressive forms and strong sense of human values opening out, positioning greater potentials.’ The artist is the first Malaysian Indian ever to have won this award. The other Minor award winners were Bahaman Hashim, Rafiee Abdul Ghani, Mohd Nasir Bahruddin, Fadilah Abdullah and Zheng Yuan De. The embossed prints entered by Bahaman were so sophisticated that the judges voiced hope that the artist should further develop and enrich the role of printmaking in the Malaysia art scene.

The exhibition was held in the new premises of the National Art Gallery at that time which was the former Hotel Majestic building on Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin.

The competition in 1985 was sponsored by Esso Malaysia Sdn Bhd which allocated a total of eight thousand ringgit for total prize money to be given to six winners. The judges this time set forth to clarify certain terms such as ‘creative’, ‘innovative’, ‘exploratory’ and ‘proficiency’ as was required to provide the conceptual framework by which works could be identified. ‘Creative’ is said to imply certain achievement attained within a given area that can be viewed as being individual and outstanding beyond a point of saturation within the same area. This achievement is arrived at through experiment, awareness and realization.

To innovate meant to change, to modify, to transform accepted norms and conventions into something different or new. Exploratory meant an attitude of constantly exerting to review visual effects and expressive possibilities for oneself. Proficiency mean doing something skillfully with full mastery of material and form.

The judges unanimously selected Jelaini Abu Hassan as the overall winner. His work is said to be provocatively evoking socio-cultural connotations with a hauting patina of nostalgia. The other minor Award winners are Awang Damit, Azimah Ahmad, Rafiee Abdul Ghani, Kasran Mat Jidin and Ismail Ibrahim.

The concept for the following years competitions seem to be organized around themes in conjunction with the International Year of Peace, the theme for the 1986 Young Contemporaries is to explore the ways of understanding the meaning of peace in the visual context.

The 1986 overall winner for the first time in history is a woman. Mastura Abdul Rahman was lauded for her serene portrayal of harmonious forms and space. Her sensitive and detailed floor, mat, screen, pottery and religious books only serve to enhance the Malay cultural context. The other minor award winners are Chang Fee Meng, Chua Cheng Khoon, K. Chandran, Mohd Nasir Baharuddin and Romli Mahmud.

In 1987, the UNESCO theme for the year again became the theme for the competition. Thus, Shelter for the Homeless became inspiration to many young aspirants to produce plastic expressions for the critical eyes of the judges.

The judges were with the opinion that the strong social content afforded by the theme actually provided for interesting works given the wider scope of approach for the artists. Haron Mokhtar was awarded the Major Prize. The judges appreciated his presentation of the local context arranged in a flat space, the negation of three-dimensiality and his incorporation of Eastern perspective. The other memorable entries were the minor award winners which included Wong Hoy Cheong, Mohd Akif Emir, Kungyu Liew, Romli Mahmud and Chang Fee Ming.

The competition continued in 1988 supported by Esso and with the theme ‘Materials and Creativity’. Skill, creativity and innovation were the major criteria in the decision making process of the panel. Quite a few endeavoured to fulfill the principal theme by using local materials such a pandanus leaves, bamboo, wood, tin, batik and other home-made textiles. The organizers achieved the desired: works that challenge the status of oil, acrylic and other Western-based materials in contemporary art.

The dramatic and allegorical work entitled ‘Tanpa Tajuk’ by Zulkifli Yusoff which consisted of black low lying broken bridges and chess pawn pieces, was hailed as ‘a strong sociological work which is abstract yet allows for meaning to be released by subtly allegorical signs’.

The other impressive winning works were by Tan Chin Kuan, Kung Yu Liew, Leong Chee Siong, Mohd Fauzin Mustaffa and Taufik Abdullah. These artists were impressive for the high level of technical achievement and ambitious scale of production: none were less than 120 cm in length.

The next few exhibitions served as an arena for a very interesting competition between two of the more accomplished young artists of the country. The strife and trials of Tan Chin Kuan and Zulkifli Yusoff from 1988 through to 1990 made for interesting observations by art enthusiasts. In 1989, the competition hailed them both as overall winners of the prestigious event.

Sixty nine artists entered the competition in that year in which the theme had been ‘Literacy’. One of the more innovative entry was the one entitle “Passage to Literacy” submitted by Kungyu Liew, who attempted to collaborate dance / drama performance and multi media (audio visual, light and sound) techniques. And Tumian Jasman’s giant Pepsi Cola Drums inscribed with the Malay pantun, surely made the audience re-think about the seduction of commercialism. Still, the judges decided to award two artists, Zulkifli Yusof and Tan Chin Kuan, the Major Prize as ‘their works show continuity in commitment’. The other Minor Prize winners were Chan Chin Huat, Mohd Khalil Amran and Mohd. Azlan Ahmad.

The trend towards a thematic setting to the competition continued in 1990. The theme for the year was ‘Visit Malaysia 1990’. The artists were faced with the problem of painting a wide range of situations: at one extreme a tropical paradise with happy inhabitants in harmony and at the other end a cynical view of the effects of invading hoardes of tourists from East and West upon the values of the local society. The panel was of the opinion that the theme may be less than demanding of the emotional and intellectual capabilities of the young artists, hence the overall standard seem less than satisfactory.

The best effort of the year was Tan Chin Kuan’s ‘Moral means behind Visit Malaysia 1990’ which presented a strong visual statement. The artist sheds light on two aspects of tourism – one ‘veiling’ the popular picture of multi-racial society, the other, the norms and taboos – delivered with iconic significance. The other minor award winners were Ali Mustaffa bin Othman, Chow Chin Chuan, Rohayati Razak, Din Omar and Mohd Azlan Ahmad.

The exhibition continued on in 1991 under the theme ‘Our Heritage’. Although many of the entries were bigger in size, the standard varied considerably. The panel searched for works which questioned cultural identity, authenticity, within the context of our historical, social and cultural matrix.

The Major Award was given to Bayu Utomo Radjikin for his work entitled “Bujang Berani”. The panel commented on how his work epitomizes the collision between two contradictory forces and conflicting desires; that of the individual and that of the society. Anugerah Utama diberikan kepada Bayu Utomo Radjikan yang menampilkan “Bujang Berani”. This tension reflected the Fruedian struggle of the eros and the thanatos. Tan Chin Kuan had not failed to impress the judges that year. His haunting installation entitled “The Sink of Our Heritage” displayed the names of major media institutions like CNN, TV3 and RTM on a white screen which was flanked on both sides by gigantic gold rockets from which were hung black human figures. The other minor prize winners were Mohd Azhar Mana, Din Omar and Ahmad Shukri Mohamed.

1992 was the year in which the organizers decided to discontinue the practice of allocating themes for the competition. That year the entries totaled to a record high of four hundred and twenty five, the highest figure ever recorded in the YC history.

For that year, the major award winner was Azman Hilmi. His work is said to be reminiscent of Jim Dine as evidenced by his formal usage of common tools such as the hammer, saw, chisel etc. The tools serve as metaphor for the spirit of collectivity and interdependency between different members of society. The five minor award winners were Kow Leong Kiang, Eng Hwee Chu, Pang Ngiap Kang, Puah Chin Kok and Nor Azizan Rahman Paiman.

New Awareness

A total of 294 artworks were evaluated in the 1994 Young Contemporaries Competition/ Exhibition.

The panel of judges which comprised of Ponirin Amin, Tan Tong, Rehim Harun and chaired by Zainol Abidin Ahmad Shariff discussed the form of the award and the effectiveness of the show in nurturing artistic practise.

The panel also reflected on art-marketing as a major motivational factor in the contemporary practice of young Malaysian artists. They also commented on the ambiguity of ‘post-modernism’ and how it leads to ‘the total absence of original creativity’. The young artists seem to be influenced by the guru (mentor) and follow in the guru’s footsteps by regurgitating the guru’s art.

Finally, the judges could not find any work accomplished enough to deserve the major prize but agreed to award minor awards to eleven of the entrants. As a result, the total prize money is equally divided among the eleven. The artists were Chuah Chong Young, Hasnul Jamal Saidon, Khairun Nisah Musa, Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, Nur Hanim Mohd Kahiruddin, Pang Ngiap Kang, Rosli Zakaria, Shia Yih Yiing, Tan Vooi Yam, Wan Jamarul Wan Abdullah Tani, and Zakaria Shariff.

The competition ceased to continue in 1995. nevertheless, when it started again in 1996, the organizers took in consideration the comments made by the 1994 judges and introduced one new element: the travel-study grant award. The Major winner of the 1996 Young Contemporary Competition will be given RM 6000.00 and a travel grant worth RM 3000.00 for research in any ASEAN country. Three minor awards awarded will be worth RM 2000.00 in prize money and RM 3000.00 in the form of a travel grant to any ASEAN country.

In 1996, a total of 297 artworks by 222 artists were evaluated. The panel of judges headed by J. Anu proceeded to survey the works by slide review and then to look at the original artworks. The judges considered the relevance of symbols employed like the awareness of the history of media, of contemporary issues in art and the acknowledgement of local history and traditions. There seem to be a penchant for installation works among the budding artists, which were produced in a very crude fashion and neglected the finer points in converting space.

The National Art Gallery had agreed to the judges’ request for an additional award that year. The minor award winners were Syed Alwi Syed Abu Bakar who impressed the panel with his ‘magical’ synchronized lights, Faizal Zulkifli for his delightful art video depiction questioning the legitimacy of art education, Sharmiza Abu Hassan for her innovative miniature train coach constructs, and Chan Wei San who painted the dark world of nightmares. The major winner was Nur Hanim Mohd Kharuddin who produced a carefully crafted spell book entitled ‘Grimoire’.

These artists managed to travel in a group to Philippines where they developed contacts with other Asian artists and returned to Malaysia, to exhibit together in an exhibition entitled Papahayag. This exhibition was officiated by Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, the National Art Laureate, at the Creative Centre.

The structure of the competition for 1996 changed to allow for artists to enter the competition via four categories: painting, sculpture / installation, print / photography, and multimedia / experimental. In that year also the organizers invited a foreign judge form a country in ASEAN to judge this event alongside three other local judges.

The judges decided that it was impractical to categorize entries as it impeded creative exploration and puzzled art judgement. Setiawan Sabana the judge from Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia commented:

Is it necessary to limit the young talents artistic productions into boundaries / definitions like this? Is it not more appropriate that the artworks themselves later define their categories / definition?

After two days of contemplation, the judges decided that the Major Award should be given to Susyilawati Sulaiman. Her installation work entitled 96 & 97 (Kedai Obat Jenun) revolves on the issue of ‘dementia’ and the creative ‘madness’ of the artist. The winner of the painting category is Ong Sing Yeow, winner of the print / photography category is Suhaimi Tohid, winner of the sculpture and installation category is Ahmad Shukri Mohamed and the winner of the multimedia / experimental category is Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman. A special Jury Award was created and presented to Rashidah Salam for her highly engaging mix media collage painting. The winners of the 1997 competition had traveled to the various ASEAN country of their choice and reunited in an exhibition entitled Kembara Tenggara at the new Creative Gallery in 1998. Hence, The National Art Gallery made the decision to spend the next years introspecting and in review of the project, so the project may continue again in the year 2000.

Several factors which should be taken in consideration when evaluating the program are:

1. The Recognition of Emerging Art-Student Artist:

Each year the art schools exercise pressure on the art student to participate in the Young Contemporaries. In the 80s there seem a clear competition between the emerging artists of two main art institutions namely the Mara Institute of Technology and the Malaysian Institute of Art. There seem to be a monopoly by the ‘leading’ art school whose winners were employed by the school to teach the ‘winning formula’. Hence, in the early 90s there grew a small population of emerging artists creating works which mimic their teachers.

Now that the number of art institutions has increased around Malaysia and art teaching methods become varied, we can only look forward to more unique and extraordinary presentations. The art institution must play a role in allowing their students to engage in the event so as to personally discover their true potential and not act merely as promotional tool to the institution. Every emerging artist should be learning from the process of ‘failing and then failing better next time’, to use Samuel Beckett’s phrase.

2. Cultural Reconstruction:

Emerging image makers are often those much anticipated in presenting fresh cultural ideas and messages, in its own way the YC has become the arena to showcase the current generation’s interpretation of the present socio-cultural condition of the country. The young artist’s voice is often regarded as the voice of the young who is still free of influence and hence will speak with much hope and sincerity. This could be the reason why the judges insist in maintaining the entry level age limit of 30 and not 35 years old.

Most artists’ idea is never really isolated from the prevailing socio-political condition. The content of the YC artists in the 80s reflect their awareness of the social condition and realities of the country at the time, with the mention of the ‘Jeans Generation’ and the highlight on the migration complex in the ‘Pulau Bidong’. However, in the next few years, the judges of the competition noticed the lack of social content in the entries and at the end of the 80s started creating themes which were to shape the artists content towards a more pronounced nationalist and cultural preservation sensitivity. The themes included, ‘peace’, ‘protection for the homeless’, ‘literacy’, ‘visit Malaysia’ and ‘heritage’. Whether this has been done to propagate a common focus for young artists as compared to the multiplicity of visions, or acted in a way that it limited the creativity and originality of art making, cannot be fully determined. Nonetheless, the artists were allowed free reign again in the mid 1990s to 1997. This could be due to the heightened awareness among the organizers and judges that these young artists should be allowed to participate in a broader global dialogue related to pluralism within or without post-modernist concerns and thus continue cross-cultural exploration in the arts.

3. Media Exploration:

The exploration of media by emerging artists has become increasingly important. Each competition becomes the stage for the presentation of new manipulation of forms and translation of contents.

Although many believed that on the onset of the 90s, the judges were beginning to marginalize traditional mediums or practices such as oil painting, print and traditional calligraphy, it should be made known that any evaluation of media does not presuppose the greatness of one media / practice over the other, but seek to acknowledge innovative exploration of any media / practice, old and new. Zakari Awang is an example of an artist who succeeded in exploring the possibilities in presenting traditional Islamic calligraphy through his work entitled ‘Al Rahman’ in 1982 and in 1983 the judges had awarded Geh Ah Ang’s ink painting artwork on the same merit. An artist choice of media / practice, whether installation, mix media or multimedia is as equally responsible as ‘traditional media / practice’ in its potential to incite exploration and re-interpretation of current Malaysia art theory and history.

The most important point for re-assessment in the YC is its goal and objectives. Not unlike other mission, vision or policy set by institutions, the program should be evaluated together by past judges, organizers fellow artists, maybe every two years. This is to ensure that the YC does not simply appear as a site for instant endorsement of young practitioners produced according to market trends. Surely, this program should continue as an important ‘rite of passage’ for both artists and organizers in their experience and journey towards artistic maturity. It is hope that the YC can continue as an ‘art laboratory’, an ongoing testing process, a place for reinvention.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Solo art exhibition in Penang, May 2008

Another writeup, this time, on my solo exhibition in Penang, March 08.

Painting more than what he sees

Sunrise on the Water, Tok Bali

IT WAS more than just beautiful beach scenes that artist Zainal Abidin Musa wanted to capture on the canvases.

“Painting is different from photography. It is not only capturing images that one sees but expressing your interpretations of that magical moment when you see it,” he said.

The 48-year-old Perak born artist, who is holding his first solo exhibition in Penang, said his recent trips to many islands had inspired him to work on a series of water sceneries.

“Sunrise and sunset are incredible at beaches. It is amazing to see how the lights play magic on the water and create the most wonderful view,” he said.

Zainal said the beach paintings were a record of his personal ‘dialogue’ with nature.

“Every painting is a unique experience with nature and I must be there to feel the thing before I can put it down on canvases,” he said.

Perhentian Sunset
The art exhibition themed Lights on the Water at a2gallery in Bangkok Lane features 29 seaview paintings by Zainal.

He said the paintings also related to his carefree teenage years living nearby sandy beaches in Kelantan and Terengganu.

The artist said he played a lot with colours when it came to painting as he was influenced by French impressionists such as Monet and Van Gogh.

“In Malaysia, most landscape painters are using the British water colourist techniques but I am more interested in the French style where I can put in the perfect combination of lights and colours,” he said.

Zainal said his love for paintings started during childhood but he stopped painting after he worked in the advertising industry upon graduation in the 1980s.

“Working life in Kuala Lumpur was very hectic and I had come to a point when I needed to take a break from everything.

“I took some time off from work every week to enjoy nature and that was when I started painting again after leaving the art scenes for about 10 years,” he said.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Exhibition in South Korea

A writeup on a group exhibition in Korea in which I participated:

Friday September 5, 2008
A taste of Malaysian art for South Koreans

WORKS by Malaysian artists will go on display in South Korea when the 70th Annual Exhibition of Mokwoohoe With 40 Prominent Malaysian Artists is held this month.

Artseni gallery is working with the Mokwoohoe Fine Artist Association Korea on the exhibition that will be held at the Seoul Museum of Art from Sept 23 to 29.

The artists taking part are Tew Nai Tong, Cheah Yew Saik, Eric Quah, Tan Tong, Peter Liew, Ismail Latiff, Patrick Scully, Azman Hilmi, Lim Ah Cheng, Ng Foo Cheong, Pheh It Hao, Philip Wong, Shahrul Anuar, Tan Bee Him, Tang Hong Lee, Teoh Kai Suan, Zainal Abidin Musa, Zaim Durulaman, Yap Poh Sim, Soon Lai Wai, Ch’ng Huck Theng, Gwen Lim Bee Hoon, Suhaimi A Wahab, Tan Kok Cet, Tan Chee Hon, Loo Suenn Yin, Ho Kee Chek, Kuen Stephanie, Nizam Abdullah, Nurazmal Md. Yusoff, Zulkiflee Zainal Abidin, Khairudin, Haris Hamasani, Samsudin Wahab, Samsudin Lappo, Briget Lee, Yvonne Ou Yong, Tan Guat Ling, Lui Cheng Thak and Wong Fook Liung.

Each artist will contribute one painting for the exhibition. The works are in various mediums, like oil, acrylic, etching, transparent spirit glass paint, crayon, Chinese ink, and mixed medium on canvas, paper, perspex and aluminium.

They are mostly abstract pieces and include impressionist, abstract expression, realism, semi abstract and symbolism.

According to Artseni founder artist Philip Wong, the South Korean art scene is very established.

“There are a lot of people who appreciate arts in South Korea and the government is very supportive, too.

“The association found our art works amazing during a meeting in April.

“They asked if would like to have a show in South Korea as they saw a lot of talent in the works.

“We felt that it was a good opportunity for us and we were encouraged to pursue the idea by Unity, Arts, Cultural and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

“The selection for this exhibition was done with seven senior artists, more than 20 established artists and some up-and-coming ones.

“These up-and-coming artists have been in the industry for many years and they want to be active. They have the skill, but not the opportunity, so this exhibition provides a great platform to showcase their work.

“All the artists have presented their best work for this show,” he said.

According to Wong, the paintings feature different techniques and styles but the common thread that runs through the collection is that most of the works express colours.

“The collection is every bit Malaysian and the subject matter is very healthy, featuring nature and humans,” he said.

He added that the artists were very happy to be part of such an exhibition.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pop! Art for Malaysia...

Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol
What is pop art?
Perhaps the most iconic image of pop art, the one that most people are familiar with, would be Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe prints. Or the Campbell soup can paintings.

Though many artists with fine art background might disagree about its artistic value, pop (short for popular) art became the art movement to define the 20th century.

And this was basically the topic of discussion brought up by Raja Ahmad at his RA Fine Arts gallery on Wednesday evening at an event to celebrate the works of the late Jeri Azhari, Amir Zainorin and Azmin Hussein. The panel speakers for Art Talk: Pop Fiction and Pop Practice was an impressive lineup -- Syed Nabil of NN Gallery, Tan Sei Hon of Balai Senilukis, and Mr. Zabas (from Galeri Petronas, if I am not mistaken).

I attended, curious to know the thoughts of these individuals fronting Malaysia's art industry, and also because I think Raja Ahmad is doing an important job in supporting the art scene with his series of lectures and discussions. I feel that other galleries should follow in his footsteps -- not just concern themselves with the sale of art but also add value to the industry by spreading knowledge to their audience.
There were about twenty guests that day. As always, I saw the usual suspects...Shutter-happy Pakharuddin was one of them. I was glad to see Tan Sei Hon again. We were both lecturing at a private college some years back and I remember he taught my students about art history and appreciation. He is now a curator at the Balai!

It was interesting to observe how the talk progressed. The panel speakers, much to my disappointment, said very little. I was really looking forward to the thoughts of Syed Nabil and the rest, who I am sure are much knowledgeable on the topic. Perhaps it was time constraint, nerves, or a little of both that they suffered.

But still, I had had my hopes. Especially since there is very little that the Malaysian public know of pop art. It isn't exactly a major movement in Malaysia. Quite possibly, Jeri Azhari was the only Malaysian artist who ever really got involved -- and carved a name for himself -- in that style of work.

By the end of the talk, we were none the wiser about pop art. Pakharuddin probably summed it best when asked to give his comments: "I'm confused about pop art. My brain is popping out!"

Back home, I dusted my art history books and thought back to what I was taught about pop art.

Although pop art is mostly associated with American artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns, the art movement actually started in the UK in the 1950s. It probably began with this group of artists, The Independent Group, who challenged the traditions of fine or "high" art by focusing on popular culture that was accessible to the public -- the advertising that was bombarding the society, daily news, comic strips, movies, product design, etc.

Thinking of him by Roy Lichtenstein
Pop art is defined by the use of everyday images in expressing art. It was art based on the things that the popular mass had access to and could relate to -- things they associated with daily, on tv, in the newspapers, at the supermarket, etc.

It came about as a result of post-war consumerism in a more affluent society. The market was flooded with products, the economy was on the rise, it was a happy time for everyone. Therefore, much of what you see of pop art is bold, vibrant, loud, in-your-face images.

In my opinion, pop art became such a huge movement in the US probably because the nation didn't have a strong history in visual art in the first place, and wanted to embrace something so desperately for itself. Perhaps it was a need to create an identity for themselves, an American identity with which they could call their own and with which they could take the lead.

Even if that was so, at least, the Americans could now lay some claim to the pop art movement as theirs. But what about Malaysia? What can we lay claim to?

Love me in my batik by Joseph Tan
I remember in the 1970s, some Malaysian artists like Piyadasa and Sulaiman Esa were concerned about the direction of Malaysian art, the peribumi content. They asked among themselves "what constituted Malaysian art, Malaysian content, Malaysian identity, Malaysian originality?"

Sadly, no one had the answer then, and no one has the answer now.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Around the house

We live on a quiet street, a cul de sac. Just eight houses, fronting a little hill. Most of the homes here are bare and cemented. Electric gates stand guard against trespassers. Then there is our house. So different from the barren rest.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A visit from an old friend

Since we started living in this house, which we call The Art Room, and established it as our home, studio and gallery, my wife and I feel happy to have received many guests over.

Some come for our intimate dinners, some to feast on our kampung cooking (gulai tempoyak, ulam-ulam and rendang Perak), some to chow down on some seriously delicious barbecues, and some, to view the paintings. We've had neighbours, families, friends, artists and collectors over for Hari Raya, for weekends, for no reason! On special occasions, we bring out the acoustic guitar and sing some songs off-key (no karaoke, please)!

It's always nice to have people over, and we've had an interesting assortment of guests...but last week's visit from an old friend was particularly nostalgic.

Ucop, as I call him, used to work for me some twenty years ago. As a boss, those days, I was a very no-nonsense guy who worked 24/7 and was always on the go...Yes, very different from the "Zainal" now!

Ucop came to my office to apply for his first job in client servicing. During that first meeting, I made him wait for several hours as a preview of what he would be facing on the job. He patiently waited for me to see him and my first impression of Ucop was that here was a guy who was smart and willing to learn. But he was also soft-spoken and thought little of what he could achieve. In client servicing, you had to be tough around the edges, I thought.

Anyway, I gave him the job. Taking him under my wing, I taught him everything he needed to know. From the basics of a good handshake to the details of charming a client. I told him that in my book, impossible is nothing, and challenged him to break the ceiling of his pre-conceived abilities.

In the process, we learned that we both liked jazz (I, Michael Franks, he, Sheila Majid), bonded well, and became good friends.

When he left the company to pursue his studies in the UK, I was upset. Some weeks later, I received a long letter from him. He wrote to thank me for all the things I taught him to change and better himself, for being his mentor. I was very touched...the letter is still in my keeping.

When he came to visit me last week, it was a nice surprise. We had not been in touch for many years. He had read about me and my paintings in a local daily and finally came up for a visit to catch up on news and look at my paintings.

Though he is now the president of a big company, I still recall him as that young chap whom I kept waiting for that job interview! He has definitely become his own man and I am happy for him and the success he has found today.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Visiting Tengku Sabri

When I arrived at Tengku Sabri’s (Yi) house on Tuesday evening, I was on a mission. However, by the end of our long chat into the late hours of the night, the meeting had turned into a reminiscence of our teenage years at UiTM, an enlightening lecture on Yi’s views on art, and much more.

Stepping into Yi’s house, you would immediately notice the shelves overflowing with books. Children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, religious books, art books, classic literature, the Quran, the Holy Bible, and whatnot. I am sure that if I looked properly, I would find the original Kama Sutra text too, sandwiched between the Bhagavad Gita and something by Stephen Covey. He is a voracious, unsatiable reader, that man.

His home resembles an academician’s office rather than an artist’s residence. This is even more ironic when you understand that he and his wife are both artists. They are well-read individuals and the initial assumption isn’t all that wrong as both of them do teach at the Multimedia University.

An aspect about this couple that truly fascinates my wife is the fact that they are both Ariens, known, perhaps stereotypically, as dominating, creative, impatient, intelligent people – characteristics that perhaps these two display to varying degrees. My wife finds it a little intimidating to be in a room full of Ariens, and she wonders sometimes, how a Pisces like myself survives the triple fiery vibes of the ram when she, herself an Arien, joins them!

But I digress. They are fascinating characters, these two…but the main point of my visit there was to enquire on behalf of a collector about Yi’s works.

When he heard of this interest, Yi went into a room and came out bearing two sculptures – his early, and now considered, rare works. One was “Pengantin” and the other was “Mother.”

“This is the last piece of Pengantin that I have,” Yi explained. The others in the series were already bought by Pakharuddin and Senator Kamarul Ariffin many years ago.

“I’m not happy to have to part with them,” he said, gesturing to Pengantin and Mother, “but if I do, I’d like to know the person who will treasure it.”

I nodded because I understood his feelings. As an artist, we produce our works and a little part of us is forever embedded into it. Maybe a little bit of our emotional state during that period, our artistic knowledge or level, the things we held dear. Each piece says something about that part or period of our lives. Once it is sold, we know we will never get it back.

A piece of our art is like an old photograph of us. A picture captured of our youth. When we lose that photo, we can never study it anymore and see what we were like as a child. We will never see that raw look in our eyes, the innocence, the naivete…

Ah…sentiments of an aging artist….!

Again, Yi got up to show some other works he had in his keeping, as well as photos of his installation works from his residency in Japan some years ago. So many of them were absolutely impressive…the works of a brilliant mind.

One in particular, the Gunung Daik sculpture, done in the late 1980s, caught my interest. Others in the Gunung Daik series are in the possession of U-Wei, Pakharuddin and the Balai Seni Lukis Negara.

As the hours went by, Yi pulled out his photo album of his days at UiTM. So carefree, so spirited, so idealistic, so in love! So much different from the Yi of today, and yet, in some ways, still the same.

Today, he is more philosophical about art. His views are much bigger, more mature, less selfish. He said, “Beauty is not anymore for pleasure but for thought.”

His role as a teacher has perhaps expanded his views of his role in art. He doesn’t see himself as a creator for the sake of self-expression, but more accurately, perhaps, as a guide to open the minds of the many who attend his lectures. Perhaps even, as an advocate for “art for the masses.” He talks about wanting to “merakyatkan seni” in the belief that art should be accessible to everyone, that it should be part of everyday life, like it once was in the days of our forefathers.

His progress as an artist and maturity in thought has perhaps led him to believe that art should provoke sentiments, challenge pre-conceived notions and thoughts, and even instigate action. His understanding of art is of a higher level, while the rest of us still continue to paint and create for the sheer individualistic pleasure it gives.

There is nothing wrong in either because art, too, is personal. Every artist embarks on his own journey, at his own pace, appreciating different aspects of the journey. Some may have already found their destination. Others, reluctant to end the journey, amble along, or pause at a particularly pleasing location to enjoy the scenery for as long as it lasts.

Yet another sentimental reverie here? Perhaps…

But yes, this is, essentially, Yi’s involvement in art right now. He never left the art scene but was quietly absorbing everything that was going on in his head. His love for and strongly-held thoughts on art still simmer in his mind. When the time is right, we will be fortunate to see his new works, a reflection of the Yi of today.

Until then, we can at least look forward to his solo exhibition some time next year which will be a retrospective of Yi’s past works, They include an archive of sculptures, installation works and various documentations of these works.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lights on the Water at Art Accent, Bangsar

Apparently, every time I do a solo exhibition, it is bound to rain on the launch day, and this time it was no different! It has happened maybe about three times already. But as they say, rain is a blessing from God for what is to come.

The launch of my solo exhibition at Art Accent, Bangsar Village II, was a casual get-together with friends, artists and collectors.

Tuan Haji Hajeedar, generous supporter of Malaysian art with a big heart, was there to officiate the event. I was deeply honoured to have him speak about me and my progress in art. In his enlghtening speech, he revealed our first meeting way back in 2003 when I had my first solo exhibition in the humble premises of Balai Berita, NST, from which our friendship only grew.

Although he enjoyed seeing my development into abstract works, he said that he still had a soft spot for my landscapes.

Another collecter, Bingley and wife Ima, were there too with their children. I was happy that they allowed me to show "Landscape of the Belum Moth" painting, which they bought earlier, at this solo. This particular painting was an important and highly relevant piece to the show not only because it was selected as the first-prize in the Passions International Art Competition 2007, but also because it was the piece that started me on my abstract series, Belantara. A few of the Belantara pieces are being shown at the solo now.

I was also happy to see Pakharuddin Sulaiman as a guest there. He is Malaysia's respected art collector whose inventory of paintings, sculptures, installation works, art books and knowledge, some would say, could easily put the National Art Gallery's to shame.

I'd like to thank Margaret and her team at Art Accent for the opportunity to exhibit my paintings at their cozy little gallery. I also wish to thank my friends and artists (Soon Lai Wai, Lim Ah Cheng, Ng Foo Cheong) for always lending me their moral support, my collectors for believing in my art, and my family for their constant love which has fuelled my passion in art.

The exhibition will run till Sep 2, and I hope that those who missed the launch will find the time to view my paintings there one of these days. In the meantime, I will try to squeeze some time in to post some pictures of the exhibition and the launch.

Thank you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Solo exhibition in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

"Lights on the Water"
21 August - 2 September
Art Accent Gallery, Bangsar Village II, Kuala Lumpur
Official launch: Sunday, 24 August, 3pm

My "Lights on the Water" collection of works was first exhibited at Alliance Francaise Kuala Lumpur in February. Having added a few more works to the collection, it then traveled to Penang for my first solo up north in May. The response in Penang to my works was beyond my expectations.

Now, "Lights on the Water" will make its appearance in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Some 25-30 paintings will be showcased at Art Accent Gallery in Bangsar Village II.

Some new landscapes will be exhibited for the first time there. So, audiences can expect to see my sun, sea and sky landscape compositions of some places around Malaysia. My trip to Langkawi early this year gave me some pretty amazing inspirations.

I've also decided to show some of my latest abstract works which I've not shown before anywhere else. These abstracts are a development of my "Landscape of the Belum Moth" painting which won the first prize at last year's Passions International Art Competition. I'm excited to know how audiences will respond to them.

Well, I don't want to say too much about my works...I'd rather have you come over and view the works for yourself and enjoy them!

I cordially invite my friends, family, collectors and those new to me, to my solo exhibition in Bangsar. I appreciate the time you would spare for this. I will be there myself on Sunday, 24 August at 3pm.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Langkawi Triptych

The past two days saw me working furiously non-stop to finish this latest painting. It is for a show at Artseni gallery featuring XL-sized works by Malaysian artists.

It really is XL! This one is a triptych measuring 7 by 14 feet, done in acrylic. The painting is of a secret place near Kuah town, Langkawi.

I wanted to re-create the sounds and splashes of the sea waves against the rocks. I wanted to show the colours of the dipping sun reflected on the sea, without resorting to painting the sky. I wanted to differentiate the calm of the sea against the frothy surf in the foreground.

Well, at least, I hope that the viewer will see all these from my painting.

Of course, due to the size of this painting, viewing it from a distance is totally different from viewing it close-up. I had a difficult time painting this due to the size. Had to keep on moving back and forth, near and far, to see how my strokes affected the "big picture," so to speak.

I even had to "create" special brushes to do this piece. I attached long pieces of branches to my brushes so they would be longer and help me create the rough strokes for this painting.

The six pictures above show the different stages of the painting. It will be installed on the Muse Floor of Starhill Gallery this Tuesday, 2nd June. To see the final version, do come for the official opening scheduled for 15th June.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The minimalist

This is Hanafiah Waiman. Artist, friend, teacher, Phillip-Morris award winner. His works are defined by his simplicity. Every stroke, colour or line has to earn its place on his canvas. Nothing is in excess.

His subject matter are often things that are going on in the life he knows, in the kampung he lives. You will see the chess player, the telephone man, the girl with flowers.

Then there are the fairytale series, inspired by the stories he reads to his children. All done with a light hand, making the final work an art piece that really shows off his masterly skill and fine talent in drawing.

His works reminds one of those produced by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Raw with an unfinished quality, melancholic yet modern. His works look like they have been carelessly put together with scribbles and patches, but they are the work of a precise artist.

Just a few nights ago, Hanafiah came over to my studio bearing some of his 2008 works. These are new works that bear the same Hanafiah style but with a marked development.

My wife and I have sold some of his works to some collectors previously. The new works are currently at our studio for viewing.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The secret places in Langkawi

Untitled as yet: A painting of the evening scene somewhere near Kuah jetty

I am working on a series of paintings of Langkawi based on my trip there early this year. The painting featured here is just one of them. It will be submitted for a group show at Art Accent Gallery, Bangsar Village II on 24 May.

I remember the trip to Langkawi very well. I was actually torn between leaving my wife who was in confinement at the time, and going to Langkawi to gather material for this year's paintings (I knew that after my son Musa's birth, it wouldn't be easy to just take off). In the end, my wife and I decided that it was best that I go at the time.

Anyway, this piece is of a place near Kuah jetty. If you have been to Kuah, you will know that there is nothing worthy of a second look there. However, on the last evening in Langkawi, my travelling buddy and artist friend, Suhaimi, showed me this "secret" place in Kuah that few people know of or care about.

To get there is an adventure in itself. We had to drive off the main road uphill towards a dead end. We parked the car and made our way on foot down a steep and narrow path lined with bushes and trees. We then came upon a small clearing of rocks and the view of the sea.

I remember being there and waiting for the right moment to come. The sun was dipping into the horizon, the waves were crashing against the rocks, colours were changing by the second, and all of a sudden, the entire scene was bathed in light. The water shimmered, the sky glowed and the rocks were glistening with water and froth.

I took the shot just as the waves crashed against the rock, creating a swirling, frothy surf in the foreground.

After that, the lights diminished colour by colour until it was too dark to see.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What happens after the Belum moth?

People say that when you do something the same way over and over, it breeds familiarity and boredom...but that is not a bad thing really.

In my case, I have been doing landscape paintings for many years, and yet I never bore of it. The opposite happens, in fact. With each landscape painting that I do, I always learn something new from it -- a new colour to introduce, a new technique to use, etc.

When I look at my works from the late 1990s and compare them with those that I do now, I see a definite progress.

Now, after many years of painting landscapes in my usual way, I have become aware of the many opportunities for me to develop my painting style even further.

A turning point in the development of my paintings can be seen in the piece, "Landscape of the Belum Moth," the winning submission for the Passions International Art Competition last year. The piece is a stark contrast from the usual landscape pieces that I have been known to produce.

I was further prompted to explore this style of painting after having received some positive comments from fellow artists and collectors. I am now working simultaneously on several pieces exploring this new direction. The subject matter is based on my trips and captivating scenes of Langkawi, Janda Baik and Pulau Perhentian.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Back from Penang

(From L-R): Ch'ng Huck Theng, artist Eric Quah, me, my former student I-Ming, and Lee Khai

Exchanging thoughts with veteran photographer in Penang

It was nice to see even children appreciating art at such a young age!

I just came back from Penang today. I guess you could say that the trip had a 4-pronged mission:

1. Attend the launch of my first solo exhibition in Penang (you can view the online exhibition here)
2. Buy art supplies
3. Look for the Merc classic rims and caps for my car
4. Makan...

Glad to report that all 4 missions were accomplished!

The exhibition in Penang went quite well (a story on it appeared in the Star Metro, Northern edition). I met some excellent people -- Eric Quah, a respected artist now based in Penang; Ming, a former student of mine who has some good plans for the Penang art market; and Tun Daim Zainuddin who visited the show today!

The Penang crowd was a pleasant surprise for me. Quite a number of old-time artists, water-colourists, self-taught artists, and photographers came to the show. It was a nice feeling to know that all these people came over to see my works and give their support and feedback. Penang has always been known as the venue for modern art and has her huge share of talented and creative people. Having some of these people at the show was quite an honour.

When A2 art gallery approached me to show my works up north, I was happy to do so and share my works with the people of Penang. It was an opportunity for me to explore the market there and see the people's response to my art.

After just three days into the show, I guess you could say that there is a market for art there. Perhaps it is small, but it is growing and I think with more art exposure and education, the Penang people, especially the younger generation, will appreciate art more.

I also replenished my art supplies at the famous art supply shop, Nanyang. I bought more canvas, brushes, and paints. Due to the amount spent, I think they should make me their honorary customer of the year!

I was also very lucky to have found the original rims and caps for my 200T Merc station wagon. I got the lead to the supplier from my wife's uncle who told us to visit the Chin Fook service shop near the jetty. My car will now have some proper, "new" shoes!

Malaysia is known for its variety of food and culture of eating, but Penang is the capital city of food in Malaysia! During my Penang trip, one of the best meals I had was with Eric and Ming at Restoran Kapitan somewhere near Little India. The tandoori and briyani chicken was just fantastic.

After dinner, we made our way to Eric's house and that was also quite an honour for us. We got to see his personal collection of works and art books and taste a mean brew of imported coffee.

I've always enjoyed Penang and this trip was one of the most memorable ones.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Solo in Penang

Pulau Besar, Mering -- Sunset 110 x140 cm,, acrylic on cavas, 2007

This morning, the lorry driver came to pick up 29 pieces of my paintings for my solo exhibition at A2 Gallery in Penang.

Now, my studio feels uncluttered, spacious...empty...a far cry from what it was just days ago when I was running around to meet deadlines for the exhibition!

People always say that it's easy being an artist, but they don't realise that there's a lot of work going on besides painting and "seeking inspiration."

Anyway, the exhibition will showcase pieces from my trips to Penang, Mersing, Perhentian island, and Redang island. The exhibition is kind of an expansion from the one I did early this year at Alliance Francaise. Besides works in oils and acrylic, I have also developed some paintings using pastels on paper. They are sketches developed from my studies of some Penang landscapes at Gurney Drive where I stayed.

The exhibition, "Lights on the Water," will be at A2 Gallery in Bangkok Lane, Penang, from 1-20 May.

If anyone happens to be in Penang during that time, you are welcomed to view my works at the gallery. I will be going up there myself for the launch on Labour Day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Art talk at Starhill Gallery

On 29 March, I participated in an event organised by Artseni Gallery at Starhill Gallery to promote art appreciation to the public. The event was just one in a series of many on the issue which gallery owner, Philip Wong, wanted very much to highlight.

He was interviewed in the papers recently:

ART gallery owner and artist Phillip Wong believes that what people believe about art and how they perceive it changes over time, and art appreciation is not as daunting as it may seem.

“Art is for everyone,” declared the 40-year-old who will be conducting a fortnightly art talk show on How Art Relates To People where he will share his knowledge on how to buy and sell art, how to appreciate good works of art and on how to conserve them.

The talk is open to everyone - from people who are new and who would like to learn to appreciate art, to art lovers, collectors and artists. It's an opportunity to learn and get better exposure, while keeping up with the global art industry,” he said.

For details or to register for the talk, contact 03-2144 0782 or

The event started off with a screening of my NTV7 interview by The Breakfast Show. It was followed by the talk conducted in a Q&A format by Philip Wong. At one point, Philip presented a slide show of my works.

The crowd was intimate and I was able to present my thoughts about my painting and works. When it comes to my work, I guess I just want people to know that I paint because I truly enjoy the act of painting rather than highlight social issues in my works. Yet, in a way, the choice of my subject matter, the landscapes, is a statement of protest in itself -- that I want to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the ugly side of man.

When people come to me and ask me how to appreciate my works, I just encourage them to lose themselves in the colours and the feelings of the paintings. Some things don't have to be over-analysed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In the news

This article appeared in the New Straits Times on 8 March. It was written by my wife's sister who is a writer. I really liked how she wrote the article and articulated my thoughts. In case the link doesn't work, I copy it here (text only) for your reading pleasure:

"Pieces of participation"
by Anis Ramli

Lovely, breathtaking moments are on Zainal Abidin Musa's art works. ANIS RAMLI is enamoured.

At the first meeting with artist Zainal Abidin Musa, he had just completed a collaborative 2008 calendar project with a local non-governmental organisation, themed Paradise, allowing free use of his favourite artwork for charity.

It was the first time his works were immortalised in a calendar and till today, he remains grateful for the opportunity to work on such a collaboration.

“At first it was just the excitement of the entire project,” Zainal began. “It started as a chance to do something good for charity and a way to give back to the community.”

(All proceeds of the calendar sale go towards aiding Pertubuhan Al-Khaadem’s charity home, Home of Hope, a sanctuary for the elderly, orphans and single mothers irregardless of race or religion, while Zainal pledges 20 per cent of sales of the artworks featured to the home).

As the project picked up speed, Zainal began to get excited.

“In terms of the medium and the message, I enjoyed combining art with charity. The calendar had selected verses of the Quran and hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that spoke of the promise of paradise in the hereafter.

“But ultimately, the project celebrates our connection to nature through beauty and metaphor. Whatever beliefs we have, one can not deny that we are undoubtedly the environment’s custodians.”

Zainal has always been passionate about the environment and his works often revolve around natural beauty.

Having grown up amidst the natural beauty of places like Parit and Batu Gajah in Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu, he certainly didn’t lack the inspiration.

Zainal’s landscapes are simple yet rich. Instead of ‘traditional’ scenes of a kampung house in a padi field, he keeps his compositions basic: land, sea and sky. They are often “silent”, peaceful, contemplative pieces. Some may even say meditative.

Yet they are also rich in the sense that they are not boring to viewers. There are a myriad of colours in each little square area of canvas. These are what make everything in that piece of art interesting.

His work, too, captures the present environment through contemporary sensibilities in terms of the use of light, colour and the expressive paint strokes.

“My landscape paintings are simple to understand,” he says. “The beauty that God has created in this world is already there. I am just conveying how I feel towards it and try to translate the aesthetics onto canvas in my own way.”

There is nothing philosophical about it, he laments, except to simply express his passion for natural beauty and to enjoy the pure act of painting.

In maintaining a dialogue with the environment, Zainal captures the light of day and the effect on the changing landscapes.

A play of light and colour congeals into shadows, waters and the horizon. They all interact with the shape and structure, where palm trees sway somewhat and rivers swirl, displaying Zainal’s expressive strokes in describing his work.

In fact, his has an almost impressionistic quality, to which he admits is very much influenced by the French Impressionists like Monet and his peers.

“There’s an emotional resonance between the painting and the environment,”he says, with the two existing independently.

So viewers are invited to look into rather than at his paintings, and experience the dialogue between what’s painted and what’s seen.

Zainal’s mastery in using colour to capture the fleeting passage of light is evident in each painting.

In Sunrise on the Water, Tok Bali, for example, yellow lights glitter against the blue seas, creating a shimmering effect of a peaceful morning.

And in Shadows on the Water, Pulau Besar, Mersing, rough strokes of blue, green, purple, yellow and red come together perfectly to create the effect of shadow and light of a late morning by the beach.

At a time when the market is flooded with abstract and modern art and experimental works, it’s refreshing to see Zainal’s works that hark back to the basics and his mastery of light.

In his Dusk at North Port #8, for example, the reds of a sunset sky flame fiercely juxtaposed against bold strokes of blues, while in Waterlilies at Janda Baik, fluffy white clouds are reflected against a serene pond of waterlilies.

During Zainal’s 2006 solo exhibition, friend and renowned artist Tengku Sabri Ibrahim says, “Zainal chooses to ignore the contemporary excitement of experimenting, exploring and working with ‘modern’ or ‘expressive’ images and approaches as practised by many artists of today. He hangs on to his romantic attitudes in reading and representing landscapes."

Zainal studied fine art with a major in printmaking at Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara, UiTM) in the 1980s under the tutelage of various lecturers who themselves were influenced by different schools of thought.

It was an exciting time for the art scene as Malaysian artists were frantically searching for a Malaysian art identity, experimenting with various styles.

Zainal often describes being fortunate to be a part of that era.

After graduation, he completely left the art scene and joined the world of advertising.

Sixteen years later, without having followed the goings-on or trends in the art world, he started painting again.

“Not because I consciously wanted to start an art career, but because it was a means to de-stress from my advertising work, and the act of painting itself gave me a sense of calm and peace,” he explains.

Zainal would go on weekend trips to the East Coast and the surroundings that “naturally inspired me to paint again”.

Today, one can still find Zainal painting over the weekends, travelling to remote places to capture the essence of a special place and time.

He writes of his travels and artworks on his blog,, sharing with his audience the Malaysian landscape we have so often taken for granted.

His recent travels to Mersing and the islands off its coast are now immortalised in a series of artwork presently exhibited at the Alliance Francaise from Feb 27 to March 12, entitled Lights on the Water.


Friday, February 22, 2008

First show of the year

Well, I've just returned from my painting trip up north which included Langkawi (and all the secret and beautiful sunset/sunrise spots) and the magnificent area in Yan, Kedah, where mountains, padi fields, rivers and sea meet!

The trip was quite productive but I was disappointed that the weather wasn't too great. More on that exciting trip later.

But for now, I'm extremely busy with my upcoming show entitled "Lights on the Water," launching at Alliance Francaise on 27 Feb, at 7 pm. It will continue right up till 12 March and will showcase some of my old and new works.

The featured painting here is titled "Sunrise on the Water - Tok Bali," a three-panel painting, each measuring 135 x 155 cm in oil, available for sale, and which perhaps due to its size, will be the piece de resistance of the show.

The writeup about the show which appears on the Alliance Francaise website is here:

Zainal Abidin Musa, one of Malaysia's up and coming artist, will be presenting at Alliance Française de Kuala Lumpur a series of paintings in an exhibition titled, "Lights on the Water."

The paintings are seascapes and landscapes of places around Malaysia that has inspired the artist. Through his masterful use of colour, Zainal has succeeded in capturing on canvas the fleeting moments of places like Mersing, Perhentian Island and Redang Island, with poetic grace.

His studies of clouds and water are simple and focused. His compositions are "silent" except for the impression of moving clouds and waves, and rippling light on water, so audiences feel as though they are part of the paintings. These impressions of time and place, captured on canvas, are reminiscent of paintings from the French Impressionist period, of which he very much admires.

Some twenty pieces of oil and acrylic paintings will be on display – some of them measuring between seven and 14 feet long.

Zainal recently received the Passions International Art Award 2007 (1st Prize), and was a minor award winner in the 1983 Young Contemporary Artist competition endorsed by the National Art Gallery.
Admission is free.

Opening Hours: from Monday to Saturday from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm
Venue: Alliance Française de Kuala Lumpur, 15, Lorong Gurney, 54100 KL
Tel: 03-2694 7880

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On the road

Painting plein air at Tanjung Rhu, Langkawi

The Impressionist painters of the 19th century often went on trips together to some remote places to do some paintings. On these trips, they would pack their colours, brushes and canvas or sketch books to capture the fleeting light of day on site. It was called plein air or open air painting where they would spend hours outdoors in some field or beach as they sketched live.

The last time I went on such trips was way back in 2002 with my artist friend, Suhaimi. We had gone to the east cost of Malaysia, spending time painting the landscapes of Kijal, Pulau Perhentian and Balok. It's a great experience to be painting with another artist, comparing notes on how each can render different outcomes on canvas, but of the same subject matter! Painting with a fellow artist also allows you to learn from each other and it was an inspiring and motivating experience for both of us.

Suhaimi and I spent many days on the coast, traveling from one kampung to another, just enjoying each other's company and doing lots of painting. It was a simple trip, nothing fancy, financed with only a few hundred dollars, but the experience was invaluable.

When I returned from that trip, the paintings I produced were exhibited at the New Straits Times' Balai Berita, in what was my first solo exhibition after having left the world of art for many years. The exhibition was called "Weekends," and alhamdulillah it was quite successful for me.

In the next few days, I will again make a similar trip with Suhaimi but this time, we are going to Pulau Langkawi and Kedah. The northern part of Malaysia has some fantastic landscapes -- the padi fields, the ruggedness of kampung life, the beautiful beaches and islands. Upon my return, I hope to produce lots of works of northern and rural Malaysia.

I pray that the weather is good up north!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My 10 minutes of fame!

I'm not sure if anyone caught it, but I was on TV some time in mid-Jan. My wife was probably the only one watching...heheh.

Anyway, the Breakfast Show (the show worth waking up for) on NTV7 interviewed me in their arts and culture segment. Daphne Iking and JP were the jovial hosts on that day and totally made me feel at ease as I talked about my art.

However, they made a mistaken comment about me being the first Malaysian impressionist artist which I corrected on the show. With its long history dating back to the 19th century, Impressionism has had many fans and followers, and I'm sure I'm not the first to have been inspired by it.

I hope that my 10 minutes of "fame" on the show managed to shed some light on Malaysian art and helped people appreciate it more. Of course, there is only so much that a show like that could do to promote art.

I spoke about the issue on the show -- how schools and the media can play a more active role in instilling a love and awareness for art (and culture). I remember in the old days when there was only RTM on the TV channels, there were a few programmes on art. The artist, with his brushes, paints and palette knife, would start with a blank canvas and by the end of the show, it would have been transformed into a beautiful piece of landscape.

In schools, these days, art has been relegated to a subject for the not-too-bright students! Subjects such as science and mathematics are given more importance. No doubt they are important, but we do need to balance our knowledge of such "hard" subjects with art which lends some beauty, culture and sophistication to our personalities.

Well, that's my two cents' worth, anyway.

I had planned to thank a few significant people but there was no time to do it on the show. So, I thought I would do it here. Firstly, my thanks to the NSTP group for providing me a space at Balai Berita for my first solo exhibition, "Weekends," in 2003. My appreciation also goes out to the following people for supporting me in my art career:

Tuan Haji Hajeedar and wife
Dato' Azman Mokhtar (formerly from Binafikir)
En. Muhammad Zainal (formerly from Binafikir) and wife
En. Danny (from Binafikir)
En. Rahimi Harun
Bingley and Fatimah

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Passions International Art Competition

"Landscape of the Belum Moth" which won first prize

I haven't entered an art competition in a long time. The last -- and significant one -- was the Malaysian Contemporary Art Competition organised by the National Art Gallery way back in 1983, in which I received an award.

But last year, I was invited to enter the Passions International Art Competition. I remember telling my wife that if I were to enter it, I wanted to enter it to win. She wasn't as self-assured about it as I was. Her argument was that it wouldn't be easy with entries from international competitors.

So, I set to work...mostly to prove her that I could do it!

The theme of the competition was "Conservation of Nature", and I produced two pieces. Of the two, I selected "Landscape of the Belum Moth" to be entered into the competition. It was a piece to show nature's rich offerings and how it could all disappear just easily. I was inspired by some articles I had read about our beautiful Belum forest.

"Ferns at Janda Baik" -- the 2nd piece submitted

The piece clinched the first prize in the competition judged by internationally-recognised artists, Raja Azhar, a well-known Malaysian artist; Eric Quah, an Australian-based Malaysian-born artist; James Sim, a Penang-born artist now based in London; and Donald Smith, founder of Jiiva Fine Arts in Jakarta and Starhill, Kuala Lumpur.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy New Year 2008!

The new year started out great for me...with a new-born son delivered on the last day of 2007. My wife and I now look forward to many exciting -- and exhausting -- years ahead with Musa Hashim! She thinks he'll inherit my passion for painting and I think he'll get his mother's writing style. Well, maybe he'll get the best of both of us.

In retrospect, last year was a great year in terms of my career. Two new galleries approached me to carry my works in their respective spaces. One is Art Accent Gallery in Bangsar Village II and the other is A2 Gallery in Penang. Of course, my works are also still available at Art Case Gallery in Great Eastern Mall and Artseni Gallery in Starhill.

I also made some new contacts with collectors who personally came to my studio to view my works. It's true what they say about the virtues of word-of-mouth promotion. Many of these collectors are friends of friends or previous collectors.

One collector was so nice that he even invited me to show my works to his friends during a Hari Raya gathering he hosted at his beautiful home. Thank you very much to Bingley and wife, Fatimah, for the wonderful opportunity!

Last year, I entered the Passions International Art Competition and won first prize for an abstract landscape piece I submitted. It impressed one of the judges so much that he offered to do a group show of my works at his gallery some time this year.

It was through the art competition that I also made friends with internationally-renowned artist Eric Quah, whose works I have long admired. In fact, at another function to celebrate Eric's solo exhibition in Starhill, I introduced myself to an individual whose opinions on Malaysia's art scene I respect, Pakharuddin Sulaiman. What followed a few weekends later was a personal tour of Pakharuddin's gallery of collected artworks at Ruang Pemula. Fascinating stuff to put our National Gallery to shame!

I also managed to do some pro bono work with a non-governmental organisation by offering images of my artwork for their 2008 calendar.

This year looks set to be another busy year for me, which is good! God willing, I will be participating in some group shows with various galleries, a tie-up event with Alliance Francaise and a solo exhibition up in Penang. I may also show my works in Indonesia along with three other "veteran" artists who haven't exhibited in a long while and whose works, I'm sure, will be something to look forward to.

These things will certainly keep my busy and I will have to make some trips to the coast and islands to gather new material.

Well, happy new year, everyone, and may 2008 be a great year for art!