The final exhibition for the year at KL’s Richard Koh Fine Art is a group show featuring the works of four strong-willed Malaysian artists, loosely linked by the issues they address.
In Here We Are, Bibi Chew, Minstrel Kuik, Nadiah Bamadhaj and Tetriana Ahmed Fauzi, all with vast artistic experience between them, delve into identity and other related concerns. Themes of belonging, memory, history and the effects of social conflict on society are ever present.
Jogjakarta, Indonesia-based Nadiah returns with her monochromatic charcoal collages, this time focusing on “cungkup” – small tomb structures made of wood and ceramic tiles – she saw in small villages in East Java, that are “no bigger than a doghouse, only large enough to cover the gravestone.”
Her pieces examine the destructive conflicts surrounding power, religion and governance.
Her work is very much influenced by her fascination with local history and architectural forms, especially those that could be read as a site of power. With these cungkup, for instance, she is particularly interested in how their existence reflect the current of political movements there, as well as the perceived conflicts between belief and practice.
The East Javanese cungkup that is the subject of her work here is an architectural structure whose scale denotes “a complete oppression”.
“A house that was only big enough to squat in was a metaphor for the complete subjectification of the human form. It was only after interviews with several custodians of cungkup gravesites did I discover other cultural conflicts that swirled around this simple structure,” she says, referring to the religious rituals practised at the gravesite, or lack thereof, and its implications.
These charcoal works are accompanied by a new video she completed during her recent feature at Asia Contemporary Art Week New York earlier this year.
At the other end of the gallery, 100 cast resin eggs with Chinese silk cord knots embedded within, lie scattered in a lightbox.
Chew’s installation from 1996 had been exhibited in Australia and Thailand, and is showing in Malaysia for the first time at Here We Are, with an updated presentation format. The lightbox is a new addition.
The eggs, each one slightly different from the next in shape, texture and opaqueness, are suggestive of embryo simulations, and of birth and memories, with the silk knotting a play on the umbilical cord (of sustenance).
“These eggs were made when I was in Australia doing my masters. I remember it feeling like a breath of fresh air then because it felt like I had all the freedom in the world to tap into my artistic side. Most of my art practice has revolved around the issue of identity, but it was then, in the 1990s, when I started to express my ideas through installation work instead of just paintings,” shares Chew.
Also at Here We Are are two works from Chew’s Landed and Where Have All The Rivers Gone? series, inspired by ideas revolving around imposed boundaries and our relationship with the land, as well as the complementary role of rivers.
If land borders divide us, then rivers must serve as connectors that traverse borders and link the divided, making the segmented whole again.
“I have come to realise that the notion of identity cannot be constrained to the individual. It is bigger than that, it is intertwined with surroundings and society, and our perspective on how these aspects affect us,” she says.
Kuik also has a few works here, including two large charcoal drawings that immortalises a moment in time from the past, and a series of photographs depicting villagers in her hometown of Pantai Remis in Perak riding their motorcycles along the street by the family home.
“When I look at my older work and compare that with what I am doing now, it becomes clear that place has been a major concern all this while. This includes my relationship with a specific place, how I engage with the place, and in the case of this series, how we are connected with each other simply by existing in the same space,” she says.
The title Home Series – The Villagers is a reflection of human relationship connected by social bonds such as kinship and society. Kuik shot these images as people of the small town zoomed past on their motorbikes, mostly strangers to her, and her to them.
“To juxtapose old photographs from the family album with how people cross a frame, or a space, in present time, is to put public space and private space side by side. We exist in the same space, but how am I connected or disconnected with these people on their motorbikes? So my question is what is our relationship with the people who are sharing the same space with us?” she says.
Tetriana Ahmed Fauzi’s installation is composed of items from around the house, studio and office, and informed by the interrelationship between the various identities governed by the environment. In recent years, her creative practice has revolved around personal space, condition of residence and metaphors related to it.
“At times, the spaces and their orientation get mixed up because of how I treat and operate within it. The coinciding situation creates opportunities in making these activities and objects from within these spaces as my tools and medium of practice,” says Tetriana.
Things In Between comprises several components of modular art pieces, which include everyday objects such as plastic containers, mop strainers, doilies, rugs and sticky notes, which are arranged in an geometric motif.
It is a large format work, best viewed from afar, perhaps not too different from the process of finding oneself, where clarity sometimes comes only when you take a step back to look at it.