The story of Malaysia has always been one of tolerance, diversity and acceptance. Unity through diversity has always been the source of the country’s strength. But what exactly does it mean to live together?

How different is it from merely co-existing? A group of local artists pay tribute to this ideal in Hidup Bersama: Malaysia@55, an exhibition at Balai Seni Maybank in Kuala Lumpur.

The exhibition title is a nod to the formation of Malaysia in 1963, which makes us a 55 year old nation come Sept 16.

Tan Sei Hon, the curator of exhibition, recognises the fact that now is a particularly good time for Malaysians to think about their history of living together.

“In the light of our recent change of government, it’s a good idea to re-look at the relationships between the different people of this country … and that includes Sabah and Sarawak. Everybody must be represented now. We have a new government, we have a new spirit. We have to think about living together again, but not in a radical way. But sort of in the way of rediscovering a first love,” says Tan.

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Pyan Shariff’s Kuda Kepang Siri V (henna and acrylic on canvas, 2018).

The exhibition, launched on Sept 3, saw veteran poet A. Samad Said reciting his poignant poem Hidup Bersama on the opening day.

Hidup Bersama, the exhibition, features 40 works from 11 artists and one art collective.

The list includes Donald Abraham, Fauziah Yahya, George Danial, Koo Yean Ni, Low Khay Hooi, Long Thien Shih, Lim Anuar, the Pangrok Sulap collective, Rozarina Johari, Sherin Ng Lee Hwa, Pyanz Shariff and Tintoy (Fusion Wayang Kulit).

It is also fitting that the show is being held in Balai Seni Maybank, which restarted its exhibition programming late last year.

“It was one of the earliest corporate galleries in the country. A lot of veteran artists who are famous now, like Latiff Mohidin and Yusof Ghani, had their early solo shows here. So we’ve got sentimental reasons. There’s a very strong feeling for the gallery, from the older generation,” says Tan.

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Sherin Ng Lay Hwa‘s Sweetest Gift (acrylic and mixed media, 2016).

Hidup Bersama, in reflecting the rich diversity of Malaysian culture, features a wide display of art.

If anything, there is a lot to enjoy visually at this show. Take for instance, Tintoy’s depiction of superheroes and a prominent politician (yes, there is a newly-designed Tun M puppet) as contemporary wayang kulit figures and if you want woodcuts, Kota Kinabalu-based collective Pangrok Sulap has four works, showcasing the splendour of Kaamatan, a harvest festival celebrated annually in the state of Sabah.

Another Sabah-born, Donald, who is based in KL, contributes his street art-inspired canvases, which are bursting with characters and colour.

In Donald’s fantastical world, his Malaysia is populated by old school robots and anthropomorphic characters.

Long, a veteran artist, contributes an early oil on canvas work called Joy Of Living, with scenes of Malaysian life in the early 1960s.

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Long Thien Shih, Inza Yin and Jerome Manjat’s collaboration Ling- Spiritus (woodcut, 2018).

His epic woodcut print Ling – Spiritus, measuring 122cm x 244cm is something to behold, especially since it is a collaborative effort with Jerome Manjat (from Pangrok Sulap) and China artist Inza Yin. This work was produced at the First International Art Festival in Shandong, China in August.

“Each of us had to go beyond what we are already familiar with from our personal experiences and to improvise like musicians jamming on one tune,” says Long, 72, about this spiritual-minded print work.

The work appears to depict a celestial sky, complete with shooting stars, butterflies, clouds, and even dragon-like monsters.

“In the grand scheme of things, we humans are tiny. And yet we fight between ourselves all the time! All of life, all of us are interlinked. We should all live together in harmony,” he adds.

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Koo Yeanni’s Beyond Fortune (oil on canvas, 2018).

As a nod to tradition, Ng’s kebaya series is a tribute to Peranakan culture. Her acrylic and mixed media works feature women in elegant and elaborate kebaya. Her art is inspired by her grandmother, who introduced to her to the allure of kebaya and batik (sarung).

“My baju kebaya is all (done) in the vintage style. I try to bring out the old floral motifs on the batik, the ones that have been forgotten. Whatever its vintage, I try to bring back,” says Ng, 51. a Perak-born artist.

Kelantan-born artist Koo Yeanni, on the other hand, has very vibrant, child-like mannerisms in her artworks.

She developed this style from her experiences of being a children’s art teacher for many years. Her colourful works are inspired by batik.Two of her (oil on canvas) works A Story Of Whispering and Beyond Fortune feature a buffalo and horse respectively. For Koo, “living together” is not something that should just be implemented with other people.

“It’s very important that people live together with nature as well. Today, we all live busy lives in the city. It’s important for us to appreciate the world around us,” says Koo, 24.


Hidup Bersama: Malaysia@55 is on at Balai Seni Maybank, Maybank Tower, Jalan Tun Perak in Kuala Lumpur till Sept 20. The gallery is open from 10am-5pm on weekdays, and 11am-4pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. Visit: www.maybankfoundation.com.