Love Me In My Batik: Modern Batik Art From Malaysia And Beyond, Ilham Gallery, KL

If you needed style and substance, then Ilham Gallery’s second exhibition Love Me In My Batik, which opened in late February, was a show to remember. Obviously, batik – with all its cultural cool and craft – was front and centre at this exhibition.

Through the actual exhibition and public programmes, Love Me In My Batik gave casual visitors a chance to see how batik has been embraced and reinvented through the generations. The exhibition focused on two intersecting stories – the early days of batik painting in the 1950s and how it became a popular cultural phenomenon from the 1960s onwards.

Love Me In My Batik, featuring 70 batik works from Malaysia, had some absolute gems from masters like Chuah Thean Teng, Tay Mo-Leong and Khalil Ibrahim to contemporary artists like Liew Kung Yu and Yee I-Lann. This love letter (to batik) was full of infatuation and appreciation.

A gallery visitor taking in Yee I-Lann’s work The Orang Besar Series – Kain Panjang With Parasitic Kepala (2010) at Ilham Gallery’s Love Me In My Batik show. Photo: The Star/Azhar Mahfof

Some added contemporary works from Indonesia made things interesting, anything from Bambang “Toko” Witjaksono comic book panel works to Eko Nugroho’s fierce-looking fabric masks. In many ways, the show boasted a more contemporary kind of sublime.

“Batik painting is very unique to Malaysia and we (myself and Simon Soon, co-curator of the exhibition) managed to explore how the medium, with its sartorial and crafts origins, was elevated to a fine art form and subsequently reinvented by succeeding generation of artists,” said Rahel Joseph Ilham Gallery director and show curator.

For the three month-long Love Me In My Batik, Ilham reported that over 5,000 visitors came through the doors. – Sheela Chandran

Mapping: Malaysian Modern Art History, National Visual Arts Gallery, KL

This ambitious – and complex – two-part undertaking by the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) definitely didn’t go unnoticed in the art circles and beyond. As a huge curatorial complement, you could have spent hours at this Mapping exhibition, which spilled into four galleries, and still come back for more.

Here was an exhibition about art, acknowledgement, social history, politics, community, culture, family, all at once. Over 200 pieces from the NVAG collection were exhibited. This year’s show, which started in March, covered the first two periodical segments of Mapping, namely “Formation” (1920s-1960s) and “Transition” (1960s-1970s).

Anthony Lau’s steel sculpture Rimba (1967) seen at the Mapping: Malaysian Modern Art History exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery. — IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star

Anthony Lau’s steel sculpture Rimba (1967) seen at the Mapping: Malaysian Modern Art History exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery. Photo:  The Star/Ibrahim Mohtar

For curious Malaysians looking for traces of their own identity in an increasingly whitewashed culture, Mapping served as a unique overview of the modern Malaysian art backstory – from British colonial rule till the present day.

Mapping revisited the nation’s pioneering art collectives and movements and later on, the visionaries. Of particular interest was the forging of a “national identity” through art, the dawn of batik painting and also the arrival of the abstract masters and conceptual thinkers.

Part two of Mapping, divided into “Assessment” (1980s-1990s) and “Synthesis” (1990s-2000s), is set for April 2017. – Daryl Goh

Local Fauna (In Progress!) by Sharon Chin and Zedeck Siew, Run Amok Gallery, Penang

Departing elephants, moustached macaques, a yearning eagle, silky ghost cat, firecracker crow, eyeless fish owls and tectonic mudskippers – it was one curious menagerie at the exhibition Local Fauna (In Progress!) at Run Amok in Penang in August.

Brought to life in linocut prints by visual artist Sharon Chin, the wild creatures were set to writer Zedeck Siew’s lyrical musings on the fantastic South-East Asian flora and fauna.

Young gallery visitors taking part in the print art activities at Local Fauna (In Progress). — Run Amok Gallery

Young gallery visitors taking part in the print art activities at Local Fauna (In Progress). Photo: Run Amok Gallery

Underlining the works is the artists’ concerns about Anthropocene or Age of Man – the idea that the current geological age that we are living in is shaped by the massive impact of human activity on the planet.

Conceived as a fundraiser for an illustrated book with 75 stories, the exhibition showcased 20 handmade linocut prints (39cm x 29cm) and colouring zines in a kedai runcit (grocery store) set-up, complete with its own “online shop”. Chin has created 50 images since then. Not bad for a collaboration that started as a fun diversion for Siew while working on some “serious short fiction.” – Hariati Azizan

Descent by Nadiah Bamadhaj, Richard Koh Fine Art, KL

Nadiah Bamadhaj’s charcoal and paper collage work carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Her distinctive style of image construction, which makes her work appear almost sculptural in appearance, tells of layered stories of her observations of history, politics, architecture and social intricacies.

Nadiah Bamadhaj at her exhibition launch Descent at Richard Koh Fine Art. — CHAN TAK KONG/The Star

Nadiah Bamadhaj at the launch of her exhibition Descent at Richard Koh Fine Art. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

Her solo show, Descent, at Richard Koh Fine Art in KL, which opened in September, examined the dwindling of power and influence of the Hamengkubuwono royal family over the Special Region of Yogyakarta in central Java. When Sultan Hamengkubuwono X paved the way for his eldest daughter to be next in line for the throne, murmurs of dissatisfaction rumbled throughout the land.

“It is the first time a woman has been titled crown princess in the late Mataram kingdom and there was significant negative reaction to this potential change,” pointed out Nadiah about the show.

It was this idea that this exhibition was based on – an amalgamation of symbolism, imagery and social issues that is at once a social commentary as much as it is a personal take on the matter at hand. – Rouwen Lin

Menagerie by Roger Ballen,Wei-Ling Contemporary, KL

With the legendary Roger Ballen, photography got an international headliner in KL. And Ballen’s black and white photography is certainly unconventional, to put it mildly. They are popularly described as being disturbing, dark and grotesque, but the man behind the camera is convinced that such stirrings are mere reflections of the viewer’s psyche and emotional state of mind, rather than the inherent nature of his work.

Roger Ballen’s Menagerie exhibition at Wei-Ling Contemporary, which ends this month, is a dark and disturbing delight for art enthusiasts. — Wei-Ling Contemporary

Roger Ballen’s Menagerie exhibition at Wei-Ling Contemporary is a dark and disturbing delight for art enthusiasts. Photo: Wei-Ling Contemporary

We got a taste of the unusual world he crafts in Menagerie, Ballen’s first solo show here, at Wei-Ling Contemporary in KL in November.

“There is nothing inherently disturbing about my pictures that is any more disturbing than anything else you see around you. Why people find them disturbing is because these pictures challenge their sense of reality and instantaneously break through repressive networks in their minds,” he shared during an interview in KL ahead of the show’s opening.

The exhibition, comprising over 40 selected works featuring animals from different series (Asylum Of The Birds, Boarding House, Outland, Shadow Chamber and The Theatre Of Apparitions), is a great introduction to his work. Menagerie runs till Dec 31. – Rouwen Lin