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.


naser said...

salam yeob zainal
well, i hope this article being read by the people that involved with SUSUR MASA. i think that exhibition totally misguided and no research based.

the people that involved with the production of the show should highlight the important of YC.

m.naser. ...
penderhaka seni dari UPM
teman harap mike kenal lagi teman. boleh melawat studio ke. rasa macam dekat UPM aje...

Zainal said...


Teman ingat lagi mike. Gangster kuala! haha!

Susur Masa, well, at least, they tried.

Nak melawat studio, bila2 masa boleh. Just give a call lah.

visualcrackers said...


sampai bila nak try aje...skrang dah masuk kurun ke 21. biul punya gallery...

namun begitu mike boleh tengok blog teman....visualcrackers.blogspot. bole komen di sana.

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