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