Choices. One of the greatest inevitabilities in life. It’s what separates us from the next person. And which choice we make among life’s many paths defines us, for better or for worse. A choice could even initiate the rebirth of a life.
This is the underlying theme of the double-bill exhibition called Unborn x Reborn.
Presented by non-profit art organisation Sembilan in collaboration with Awegallery, the exhibition features 15 artworks by Elena Kravchenko and Aleff Ahmad.
The 13 paintings and two pinewood installations are the result of a residency at Sembilan, which supports local and locally-based emerging artists by providing them with a dedicated art work space in Seremban. Unborn x Reborn is the residency programme’s third exhibition, and will run at Awegallery in Petaling Jaya, Selangor until Nov 8.
The Kuala Lumpur-based Kravchenko and Aleff share that the four-month residency was a journey of discovery and exploration. At a recent interview at Awegallery, the duo enthuse about the time and freedom they were afforded to challenge their artistic boundaries and uncover new ways of expression at Sembilan. Normalcy was discouraged and evolution was a byword.
Previously, both the artists had been part of the Adolescence group exhibition at Minut Inut Art Space, in June.
Kravchenko – who was in advertising in Moscow before accompanying her husband when he transferred to Malaysia – used her fascination with mythologies and fairytales as fodder for her Unborn series.
Though her paintings and two installations are colourful, the hues are soft and soothing. This informed choice by the 30-year-old draws one’s attention to the works’ subject matter immediately, allowing one to follow the story instead of simply blinding the eyes with colour.
Her paintings are Picasso-esque, featuring surreal and abstract forms and shapes.
Talking about her series, Kravchenko says Unborn deals with dualism and the daily struggle of making decisions. Specifically, she says, it has to do with the “pre-decision”.
“All of us have choices to make, between one thing or another. But before we choose, that thing is neither good or evil. It’s neither this nor that. And this is why it’s unborn because a decision still hasn’t been made,” Kravchenko explains.
All the mythical characters that the artist depicts in her paintings and installations are at that point before decision-making.
Take for instance the stunning Dream Of Mind piece. Set atop a cliff, overlooking a blue ocean and green mountains silhouetted against a black night, is a mermaid in a wooden bath. Her long, bubblegum-pink hair entwines the leafless tree branch next to her.
A question emerges from the painting: do I stay or do I go? The mermaid sits bolt upright, showing an eagerness for the deep blue sea where she belongs, but her entwined hair keeps her close to shore, alluding to her reluctance. Anything could happen. Her decision is, at the moment, unborn.
Conversely, Aleff’s Reborn series is all about, well, being reborn. The Universiti Teknologi Mara fine arts degree graduate explains that two incidents during the residency and a lost dream inspired his work.
Like many Malaysians, the 25-year-old’s diet consisted mostly of unhealthy food. However, during their residency, Kravchenko, a vegetarian, challenged Aleff to try a vegetarian diet.
“It was difficult in the beginning but I began to like it. It was an ambitious feat for me,” Aleff recalls.
And so was being an astronaut. Growing up, Aleff had the dream of becoming one. But it proved to be too ambitious. Thus, to represent ambitiousness, he used an astronaut as the protagonist in his paintings.
Aleff also says that he explored the expressionistic style of painting, something he hasn’t truly dabbled in before.
“I challenged myself and tried to be reborn with this new technique. And my lifestyle changed too, by being a vegetarian. This was like a rebirth too,” Aleff points out, explaining why his series is called Reborn.
One of his most striking pieces is called Sure And Uncertainty. Six types of healthy food, ranging from bread and apple to eggplant, are symmetrically arranged in two rows of threes on either side of the panel. In the middle is the astronaut, looking straight ahead. Directly above him is an inverted reflection of himself, the shape and form ambiguous. He is almost a silhouette.
As the title of the piece suggests, the main astronaut represents surety. He is sure of his dietary choices, explains Aleff, while the inverse image represents uncertainty. The backdrop is expressionist in nature, with strokes of blue, red and yellow.
The two artists also created two collaborative artworks. Monster Durian is one of them, and it really stands out for its striking colours, playfulness and its mythical theme.
The painting depicts a pink durian floating on still waters. But this unassuming fruit is revealed to be a one-eyed sea monster, waiting patiently under the water’s surface for its prey. Its many purple tentacles branch out as pink tree branches, the perfect trap for prey looking for respite.
Unborn x Reborn is a celebration of colours, fantastical beings and most importantly, choices. We are always inundated by choices – and, ultimately, we can decide to keep a choice unborn or be reborn through our choice.
Unborn x Reborn is on at Awegallery (No. 21, Jalan 20/13, Taman Paramount, Petaling Jaya, Selangor) until Nov 8. Admission is free. The gallery is open from noon to 5pm daily. For more information, visit facebook.com/awegallery. For information about the Sembilan art residency programme, go to sembilan.com.my.