Everything is so cute. That’s the first thing that probably strikes your mind upon first looking at young artist MeiKei Ho’s works.
Her large paintings, featuring rows and rows of small, whimsically coloured images of people, household items, plants and symbols, are all done in a slightly cartoonish manner. They are almost perfect as a sticker package in a candy shop.
But do not be fooled. There is some seriousness behind this adorable facade.
Ho, a music and art teacher by trade, uses art to explore themes that are close to her heart.
“My art incorporates the notion of child’s play. As an art teacher, I have seen how drawings, doodles and sketches can have an impact in storytelling. It’s how you get the message across, to have a visual language you can share,” says Ho, 25.
The KL-based artist debut solo exhibition 100 Marks=A+?, currently on at Taksu Gallery in KL, is part art, part personal experience. It is based on the numerous encounters she has had with the parents of her students.
It is, roughly, a broader exhibit taking on themes first seen in her college diploma show #Buku Latihan in late 2016.
As her school teaching experience grows, Ho continues to create art that isn’t afraid to confront topical subjects that need more attention, including discussing the pressures of school life, the state of national education and its cultural characteristics.
“The exhibition is about things I’m curious about, namely education. I teach young children, and sometimes, parents tell their children that if they score 100 marks in their exam, they will buy them a smartphone. Or they will take them somewhere (for a holiday). And it made me think, what exactly do we get, from scoring this 100 marks?” she wonders.
“I’m not a perfect student. But my mother never offered to give me things in exchange for getting top marks. But nowadays, this seems to be a very common phenomenon.”
Ho, a graduate from the Dasein Academy of Art in KL, has showcased her work, including print making, in various group shows in Malaysia and Indonesia.
At the Taksu Gallery, she is more than game to chat about her curious-looking art. Fittingly, the 100 Markah=A+? exhibit also has a school classroom feel. The 12 paintings, with white and green backgrounds, remind you of the whiteboards and blackboards in school. Each work is allocated a set number of marks, with “textbook” instructions to be followed. The goal is to score 100.
“If you look at the way education is going, it’s all about scoring top marks. A lot of artistic, cultural and creative activity takes a backseat,” says Ho.
If anything, her art is closely tied to works seen in children’s picture books.
“I have gained a lot of inspiration by flipping through children’s books,” she says.
In this show, her works are colourful, whimsical and relatable to the people.
“The hope is, I can draw people in, and get them to talk about issues beyond the art.”
For a hint of the familiar, Siramkan Tanaman Yang Anda Suka features blossoms of all kinds, while Bulatkan Aplikasi Yang Bermanfaat contains the logos of various phone apps, which millennials can identify with.
Ho can get rather pointed on canvas, which is more than welcome. Her Bulatkan Sesiapa Yang Berpakaian Tidak Sopan is a work addressing conservative rules constraining the actions and attire of women.
“In the news, we still hear about how some women get penalised for not following a dress code. There are so many guidelines on dress codes, but are these rules made by women? Most often it is not the case,” she elaborates.
In the official-looking Pilihkan Sekolah Yang Sesuai Untuk Anak Pat Mat (Choose The Best School For Pak Mat’s Child), you find a jumble of school badges, an illustration of the options available for education in this country: vocational or traditional, government or private.
The exhibition also cleverly revisits some “race-based” school exam and textbook questions, which infamously made the social media rounds. Here she references several stories and news reports of prejudices in the education system.
“In the end, art is a good way to challenge a person to think differently and be inventive in finding solutions to problems, or to raise questions. If people see humour in my art, they can also interpret the ‘cuteness’ in several ways,” says Ho.