They lounge in a sea of paint tubes and brushes, watching the artist’s every move and observing each art piece as it unfolds. They meow, mewl and purr. I know they are there not only because everyone I spoke to about the show brought it up, but also because I hear them over the phone.
“She’s in heat, has been for a few days now,” says one artist apologetically, after I commented that his cat’s persistent yodeling in my ear is drowning out his voice. I suppose it is a good thing that I like cats as much as I like the works in this exhibition – which is, luckily, very much.
The Ara Damansara Artists Show features artists who, as can be deduced from the exhibition name, have their studios based in Ara Damansara, Selangor. Geographical coincidences aside, there is another thing they have in common with each other: their love of cats. It is quite obvious, really. Almost every artist I spoke to gave me a headcount, not of their artworks, but of their cats. Plus, these feline companions feature prominently in a number of works.
And why not. The show is loosely curated, and works range from the everyday literal to the fantastical and absurd. It features works from 17 artists.
Saiful Razman’s piece Depress Art is a phone number you can call; Nazlishah Yahya’s Behind Every Man has sleepy-looking clownfish on a bed of green; Azizi Latif’s The Last Cigar pays homage to American artist and musician Jean-Michel Basquiat; Fazrin Abd Rahman’s First Touch looks like a bloodbath on shiny metal weaves.
Here are a few other highlights from the Ara Damansara Artists Show, on at Segaris Art Center in Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur till June 3. Gallery opening hours: 10am to 7pm daily (including weekends and public holidays), closed on Monday. Call 03-6211 9440 or visit segaris-artcenter.blogspot.com for more information.
After Dali Atomicus by Shafiq Nordin
This work is inspired by Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus (1948), which explores the idea of suspension with a bucket of thrown water, three cats, and surrealist artist Salvador Dali in mid-air. In the equally strange and fantastical homage by Shafiq, a distinguished-looking big black cat – a portrait of his beloved pet Maine Coon – is all dolled up in a dotted tie with a halo hovering above its head. In the background, chaos rule. Three other felines are suspended in mid-jump; and a melting clock draped across a tree branch thaws silently in the upper right corner. Just like many famous painters with a fondness for cats – Salvador Dali himself had a pet ocelot who accompanied him everywhere on a leash and stone-studded collar – Shafiq has a special connection with his pets, and they with his paintings. “It is like they understand how much my art means to me. Cats scratch things, but my cats never sharpen their claws on my artworks,” he relates. (153cm x 153cm, acrylic on canvas; 2015)
Industrial Age by Nizam Abdullah
In this wall installation made up of welded metal pieces, Nizam Abdullah presents the world perched on tumultuous sea waves. When lights cast shadows on the work, it reveals a single word – corrosion – boldly spelled out on the land mass.”The oxidation of metal represents the destruction of our world, like the corrosion eating away at it slowly but surely. It rusts and eventually falls apart, so gradually that most people don’t even notice it happening,” says Nizam Abdullah of Industrial Age. Like the text in this work, corrosive elements lurk in darkness and hide from sight, until dragged out into the bright light of stark reality. (127cm x 189cm, mixed metal; 2015)
The Lonesome Painter’s Studio by Azrin Mohd
Paying homage to artists whose works he admires, Azrin has previously recreated Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon’s ateliers in miniatures. His painting is modelled after the work space of fellow artist Fadilah Karim.“I think she’s an amazing painter, a really gifted artist. Her figurative works convey such strong emotions, you can feel what she feels when you look at them,” says Azrin. (93.5cm x 124cm x 12cm. 3D printing with ABS plastic, acrylic paint, and digital print on canvas, silk screen printing and balsa wood; 2015)
Sardines Theory by Nizam Rahmat
His third and final work in his MH370 series commemorates the first year since the plane went missing. In March last year, the plane dropped off the grid less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. Its disappearance remains an aviation mystery till this day.Expressing his dissatisfaction with the numerous theories that have surfaced, he says that we are left with “nothing more than questions”. The Ayam Brand staple that features prominently in this work carries the message of the every man, a household name that most Malaysians are familiar with. “I wanted to use an icon that we all can relate to,” says Nizam. He adds that canned sardines are often a cheap meal alternative, taken just to “fill your stomach”, not unlike “people saying anything just to keep your mouth shut about the plane”. A chilling reminder of this ill-fated flight, Sardines Theory is framed with flightcase material, a signature touch of this artist. (214cm 214cm x 10cm, acrylic, bitumen, ink, polyuretane on jute, flightcase materials; 2015)
Pemimpi by Sabihis Md Pandi
Sabihis reflects on the duality of human nature in this work: the constant fight between good and evil, our personal struggle with the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that reside within us.The wolf is often portrayed as a creature of the night, shrouded in mystery in folklore, and a relentless predator in the wild. “This ganas (violent, aggressive) wolf dreams of being a pari-pari (fairy),” says Sabihis, referring to the unlikely pairing of delicate wings with this creature in his woodblock and woodcut print work. Is the beast taking flight? Or is it transforming into a metaphorical Tinkerbell, where despite having fairy dust that makes you fly, is still mean, petty and prone to bouts of jealousy? At any rate, Sabihis’ wolf looks more majestic than menacing, more beautiful than bad. (155cm x 155cm, woodblock and woodcut print; 2015)
Wilderness@Revolution Is Not a Garden Party by Aswad Ameir
Aswad strives to capture “current concepts” – which include the essence of everyday life and the issues plaguing the modern world – using the Baroque painting style. This particular work features the subject clad in a formal shirt, coat, and a Derby hat, cutting a pensive figure seemingly lost in contemplation. “It reflects my thoughts as an artist caught in the cycle of creating art, which can be so liberating on some days, but suffocating the next,” says Aswad. “You cannot sit around the entire day drinking tea and expect change to happen,” he says, referencing the title of this work, which is based on a book with the same name that features interviews and essays that delve into art, politics, revolution and anarchism. “In the absence of revolution, an artist becomes mediocre. Without revolution, there is stagnation. But with revolution comes change – which we need for progress,” he concludes. (122cm x 122cm, oil on linen; 2015)