Ten years since its inception, the Narratives In Malaysian Art (NMA) series draws to a close with the launch of its fourth and final volume, Perspectives, this weekend.
When the project was initiated a decade ago, Beverly Yong, co-editor-in-chief of the NMA series and co-founder of regional art specialist RogueArt, recalls that the ideas were aplenty and the team dove in with enthusiasm.
“We had many ambitions! We wanted to bring together a multiplicity of voices to share knowledge and insights about art practices, history and infrastructure in Malaysia. We wanted to document and acknowledge the important work of artists and the efforts of the art community,” says Yong.
“Also, to encourage more art writing and for the books to be a resource and inspiration for further research. We wanted to help create wider appreciation and understanding about the potential for art as a means of broadening our learning and understanding of ourselves as individuals and as a society,” she adds.
The result after a decade’s work?
A four-volume series (available in both English and Bahasa Malaysia) that represents over 200 voices from different generations and disciplines, conveyed through writing, interviews, forums and surveys. NMA is published by RogueArt.
“We have really just skimmed the surface in terms of documenting art practice and history, but hopefully the first two volumes in particular capture something of our modern and contemporary art heritage. The books have been cited by and used as a resource for researchers both locally and abroad, and that is something to be very proud of,” she says.
Volume 1: Imagining Identities (2012) considers the intellectual, philosophical and thematic preoccupations that have shaped the local art scene; Volume 2: Reactions – New Critical Strategies (2013), the development of artistic strategies over the past 45 years; Volume 3: Infrastructures (2016), the systems that support art and art appreciation.
Volume 4: Perspectives, divided into three sections, looks critically at how our perceptions of art has evolved, and the forces and motivations behind it.
“I doubt there are many publications on art that attempt to take on this subject in such a broad and rounded manner, from quite this many angles. It is interesting that it focuses on Malaysia’s situation, yet situates this in a regional and also global discourse,” says Yong.
Volume 4: Perspectives, edited by Yong, Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Yap Sau Bin and Simon Soon, is is the first volume in the series to include a significant number of writers from outside Malaysia, including academicians Patrick D. Flores (Philippines) and Lai Chee Kien (Singapore), as well as contemporary artists Ray Langenbach (United States) and Malaysian artist Au Sow Yee, who is based in Taiwan.
“In the past 10 years, we have witnessed a growing interest in the practice of curating, and so there is a section which looks at the ‘invisible hand’ of the curator in shaping what and how we see and experience the art produced in our time and in our past.
“Perspectives is an eye-opening publication that will energise how we look at Malaysian art, and how it may shape the future. As both an artist and lecturer, I am sure it will appeal to both the art and academic worlds, as well as an increasingly culturally-minded younger public, inspiring further conversations on the topic,” says Yap, who is with the faculty of creative multimedia at Multimedia University in Cyberjaya.
Between Practice And Discourse, one of the three sections in the book, includes interviews with art historian and curator T.K. Sabapathy (Singapore), former gallerist Valentine Willie and National Gallery Singapore senior curator Seng Yu Jin.
Co-editor-in-chief Nur Hanim adds, “We hope that this project will cultivate understanding and appreciation for the nation’s visual arts as well as serve as a reference for researchers, practising artists and the art community.”
Together with Yong, she co-edits the section on Art And The Public, which examines he relationship between art and community.
“Audiences today are increasingly curious, open, hungry for interaction, and exposed to global cultural phenomena. Some of the text here reflect the idealism of a generation of artists keen to get out of the studio and on the ground, and art’s involvement with political activism, social design and cultural education,” says Nur Hanim, who is based in Ipoh, Perak.
Soon, who is an art historian and a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s visual art programme, comments that the section on The Writing Of Art History offers a number of essays discuss art history in relation to larger flows and networks around the world.
“We consider the writing of art history through looking back and reflection on influential texts, as well as prospecting ways forward for expanding research and understanding. These essays propose positions that might make for a more meaningful and inclusive art history for the next generation,” says Soon.
The four-volume NMA series is available as a limited edition boxset, with 80 sets each in English and Malay. Volume 4: Perspectives can also be purchased on its own.
“Whether you are a seasoned academic, a researcher, a budding curator, an artist, or simply interested in art’s role and impact in society, and/or art history, there’s something for you. As with all NMA volumes, readers will find a real range of styles and approaches, from wonderfully frank conversations to complex texts you may want to chew on for a long time to get to the great juicy bits. There’s no standard way of writing about art and no standard way of reading about it either,” says Yong.
Although each of the volumes can be read as standalone books, with their own theme and specific structure, as is often the case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“Read together, the NMA series affords a many-faceted entry into Malaysian art which can stimulate many ways of thinking about it. Through this, we hope readers will get a sense of art’s potential for meaning in our lives and in society,” she adds.
To complement the NMA project, don’t miss Walking The Talk, a touring programme of presentations and discussions, that will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, from now till December.
It kicks off with the Art That Makes Malaysia talk, featuring a screening of artist Okui Lala’s video project My Language Proficiency followed by a panel discussion moderated by Soon, at Hom Art Trans gallery in KL on Sept 29 (10.30am to 1pm). Free admission.
The Narratives In Malaysian Art: Volume 4: Perspectives book is available now (RM35) in selected book shops nationwide. The complete four-book boxset is available at RM180. More info: rogueart.asia or narrativesinmalaysianart.blogspot.my. Call 016-308 5037.