Four Malaysian artists are currently showing their works at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Italy. This is the first time Malaysia is part of this prestigious international art platform.

The works of Anurendra Jegadeva, H.H. Lim, Ivan Lam and Zulkifli Yusoff can be viewed at the country’s national pavilion at the biennale.

The exhibition, which is a discourse on the concept of identity within the larger context of society at a time of immense political, social and economic change, is titled Holding Up A Mirror.

The exhibit, curated by gallerist/owner Lim Wei-Ling of Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, with Gowri Balasegaram, opened to the public on May 11.

The Malaysia pavilion is located at the Palazzo Malipiero, a palace built in the 15th century.

“It has only been the first few days of the preview opening and we have had such a positive response to the exhibition with so many visitors – curators, artists, cultural commentators and the general public. There is a wonderful sense of euphoria and a nationalistic mood within the Malaysian pavilion, it is a truly great opportunity to share our artistic and cultural production with the world,” says Wei-Ling in a media statement.

H.H. Lim’s Timeframes (mixed media installation; variable dimensions, 2019). Photo: Handout

Holding Up A Mirror, a reference to the phrase meaning “to depict something as it really is”, presents four artists’ take on the concept of identity.

Anurendra’s Yesterday, In A Padded Room offers narratives of history, migration and globalisation in its depiction of a mythic struggle for power and dominance. In this colourful, vibrant installation, he turns a satirical mirror onto the world we live in today, while letting the echoes of 18th century literature reverberate through his story of contemporary culture.

Zulkifli’s Kebun Pak Awang, named after a 1970s radio show about a farming family, is reminiscent of a plantation or an orchard setting in a kampung. It comprises wooden objects mounted on walls and arranged in a geometric pattern. Tropical fruit motifs are printed on the objects – see if you can spot a papaya cut into two, jackfruits and the King of Fruits itself, the durian.

Ivan Lam’s One Inch (multimedia installation; variable dimensions, 2019). Photo: Handout

Kebun Pak Awang is a nostalgic take on transformative plans, belonging and memory – and an ode to a way of life and values that are being eroded today.

In Lam’s multimedia installation, titled One Inch, 19 TV screens are placed at eye level in a dark room, with a compendium of Malaysian films from the 1950s till today played in a loop.

“There is a really amazing atmosphere here at Biennale. It’s great to be part of an international arena where it feels like the whole world is coming together to focus on art and its power to reflect the world we live in – and to also see Malaysia as an art centre to be reckoned with,” says Lam, whose installation reminds visitors to ponder on the need to step outside ourselves, and view the world from the outside, for a new, fresh perspective.

Anurendra Jegadeva’s Yesterday In A Padded Room (2015). Photo: Handout

Lim, on the other hand, gets intimate with his triptych painting Timeframes: Four Seasons, a panorama of his experiences told in symbols and imagery. This piece is complemented by Sitting Sculptures, an installation of 28 chairs; and four short videos. The public is invited to sit on these chairs – most of which have their seats removed and replaced with metal parts upon which words are carved – to ponder on the painting and videos, and the physical and metaphorical role of the chair, both in everyday life and as a conduit linking all parts of the work in this set up.

This year’s Venice Biennale, directed by American-born, London-based Ralph Rugoff, is themed May You Live In Interesting Times.

The inaugural Malaysia Pavilion is supported by the Creador Foundation, BRDB Developments and Big Tree, and endorsed by the National Art Gallery, and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture of Malaysia.

The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia runs till Nov 24.