Padi, boxes and discarded toys are amongst the items used by six Malaysian artists to reinvent the Christmas tree.

Every year, during the Yuletide season, shopping malls are decked to the roof with magical resplendence. They transport us, albeit momentarily, to an enchanting world of happiness and joy.

Kuala Lumpur’s Publika shopping gallery, however, decided to embark on an artistic and experimental adventure this Christmas.

Five Malaysian artists (Adeputra Masri, Raja Azeem Idzham, David Wong, Jasmine Kok and Nizam Abdullah) and artist collective Malaysian Artist Intention Experiment (MAIX) were invited to create their very own versions of the Christmas tree.

For this project, says Sunitha Janamohanan, MAP Publika’s manager, the only brief given to the artists was to “create a Christmas tree, but to create something that was in their vision.”

“It could really be however they interpret Christmas to be, or even serve as a social commentary, and that is the result you see here,” she adds.

The six reimagined Christmas “trees” lining Publika’s central boulevard may not strike you as the emblematic tree you are accustomed to during the Christmas season.

But you can trust these homegrown artists, mostly in their 30s and 40s, to approach this tree project with a youthful and thoughtful mindset.

Raja Azeem Idzham’s (or Ajim Juxta as he is better known) “tree” is one that is free of ornaments. It is not even green to begin with. Called Poko(k)otak, Ajim’s commanding structure is an ingenious installation constructed with, as the name suggests, recycled cardboard boxes.

With Lego-like modular designs, lighting and imagination, Ajim’s creation makes the public wonder about the function of boxes during the holiday season.

“Usually below the Christmas tree, you would have boxes of gifts. I think that’s the common image of the season, not just the tree,” says the Taiping, Perak-born artist, who is an architecture graduate from UiTM. The 31-year-old also has a diverse career spanning art, animation and being a gallery co-owner (Galeri Titikmerah in Kuala Lumpur).

Poko(k)otak by Ajim Juxta (pictured) manipulates the form and function of boxes to create a Christmas with recycling in mind. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star

“Of course, when you open the gift box, there’s the present inside. But the box itself is kept aside. Why not recycle them? The material is monotonous in terms of colour and material, and it is very rigid, but you can manipulate it,” explains Ajim, who spoke about “balance and composition” in his Poko(k)otak installation.

“So I thought, why not create something from simple boxes? You can explode the form and expand and subtract it,” he adds.

Sculptor Nizam Abdullah, from Kuala Lumpur, wanted to portray the idea of “purity and freedom” in his metal mountain of festivity called White Doves.

“All the doves were made through metal laser cutting and they were welded to the structure,” says Nizam, 33, who revealed that 650 doves were made for his version of the Christmas tree.

Adeputra’s Pokok Kehidupan (Tree Of Life), features wayang kulit characters (some curiously look like the Blue Meanies in the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine). They are called “gunungan” or characters based on a tree in full foliage. The 44-year-old artist’s piece also talks about social status and values of self and station in life.

Another installation, the poignant Toys, Once Again, by theatre set designer David Wong, serves as social commentary on materialism and wasteful behaviour.

The poignant Toys, Once Again, by theatre set designer David Wong, serves as social commentary on materialism and wasteful behaviour.

“When I was walking along the Malacca beach some time ago, I noticed a lot of toys were cast ashore.

“These were discarded toys. So when this project came along, I thought it would be great to use unwanted toys to construct my version of the Christmas tree. After all, it is during Christmas that a lot of toys are given as presents,” shares Wong, 44.

Carrying on the theme of the beach where he discovered the unwanted toys, Wong’s “tree” is a conical structure made of green fishing net. Spiralling around this construction is a pathway, of sorts, replete with discarded toys Wong acquired from various families.

It looked as if the toys were marching upwards to the skies, parading themselves, as it were, for one last time.

Wong’s tree also allows one to interact with it. Shoppers can enter the tree and play with the many toys placed inside.

Another work that embraces interactivity is the 44-year-old Jasmine’s Kok’s I Believe In Christmas, which invites visitors to write festive greetings and hang them on the tree.

But the most innovative of the lot is the (group effort) installation called Oriza Satyva Xmas (Padi Xmas) by MAIX. Shaped like a Mayan construct, this version of the Christmas tree, which involved 15 artists, has padi (from smalltown Sekinchan, Selangor) arranged like a unique pyramid. It also features a sound art piece called Nafas Padi.

“The Christmas tree is something that is surreal. Visually, it’s nice to look at – but it is very foreign to us,” says Shooshie Sulaiman who initiated MAIX in August this year.

“We know every shopping mall will have the (artificial) tree but it is still foreign to us. That was the beginning of our discussion and thereon after, it was about using something local to replace the usual fir tree,” she adds.

Calling it an experiment, Shooshie, 41, expressed that she would like the visitors to question the whole notion of the Christmas tree when they see MAIX’s construction.

“I want them to question if it’s practical to have the Christmas tree in our environment. I want the public to question if it is suitable in our culture. Is it necessary to buy a live Christmas tree or could there be alternatives?” concludes Shooshie.

The trees will be up till Dec 31.