Between the flight of creaky stairs and the wooden beams overhead are nine colourful pillowcases hung out on the line to dry. Except that these are not really pillowcases, and this is not somebody’s home. They are also not really in need of being dried.
This is an installation piece that takes centre stage in Minstrel Kuik’s first solo exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery at Jalan Scott in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, that will run till the end of this month.
This work, titled Domesticated Politics, is at once a snapshot of the everyman, as well as a “making of …” documentation of sorts of another installation work, Colouring Flags, where flags of political parties from the last general election are coaxed into different shapes and forms with thread and needle, and a hot iron.
Coloured lights change the appearance of these folded flags on display – effectively asking: can we really trust what we think we see?
A world viewed through rose-tinted glasses surely looks rosier than one without.
“It serves to challenge our stereotype of political parties and their identities,” says Kuik, who completed her bachelor degree in fine arts, specialising in oil painting, in Taiwan, before furthering her studies in France where she dabbled in painting and photography for seven years.
The Perak-born Kuik returned to Malaysia in 2007.
This latest exhibition from her, titled After-image: Living With The Ghosts In My House, is as unambiguously political in nature as it is ambiguously opinionated.
Spring Cleaning has political pamphlets sticking out of a bucket surrounded by neatly-folded used clothing. These items are placed on a pedestal, unabashedly prompting the suggestion of a shrine or an altar of sorts.
Out with the old, in with the new? Is it easier said than done?
The objects used to create these works were originally election paraphernalia collected by graphic design students for a project Kuik assigned them when she was lecturing at New Era College in Selangor. They eventually found their way into these works, emerging transformed, but still recognisable for what they once were.
Banners, flags, leaflets gathered during the election campaign in 2013, as well as photographs taken by Kuik, 39, herself during the Bersih rallies, were tweaked into new perspectives for this exhibition.
Unsurprisingly, this series would hardly be considered decorative art by most, although admitedly this was never the artist’s objective to start with anyway.
Instead, it subtly weaves a story, a tale of our past that merges into the present – and very likely the future.
“Beauty is not the main consideration in creating these works,” says Kuik. “But as a visual artist, finding a suitable form to fit the context is very important. Striking a balance is just as critical, to not say too much but at the same time ensuring the message comes through.”
However, it is not like the message is plastered in full view across the canvas of her works, and she does concede that “indirect works” tend to be more passive in nature.
“I hope it convinces the audience to spend a little more time with the work, almost like spending time with a stranger and getting to know the other person better and finding a way to relate to each other,” she says.
After all, still waters run deep.
And the “ghosts” in the exhibition title does seem to suggest lingering concerns, perhaps even a haunting of sorts, that affect all Malaysians.
“There are many issues that have an impact on people, but each time something that is considered ‘sensitive’ comes up, we tend to turn our head away and keep silent. We don’t know what is the truth behind, and we do not discuss it on a national scale. That’s why we cannot move on as a country,” she says.
Kuik is no stranger to creating works with an underlying sense of historical nostalgia and identity, discussed within the context of this place we call home.
In 2014, her painting, titled 16 Sept 1963, won the UOB Painting of the Year award. Inspired by a photograph of a group of schoolgirls performing the Viennese Waltz, the painting showed each girl bearing a letter that, when put together, formed the name of the then newly-formed Malaysia.
In After-image: Living With The Ghosts In My House, Kuik deliberately tackled the subject matter addressed in her works in a “personal and feminine” way, in which she pointed out that patience was a virtue that would serve one well while dealing with such things.
“Art provides a platform for me to think about life and the situations we find ourselves in. It gives me space to breathe, a room for independent thinking. And in patience, you become more sensitive towards time and its transformation,” she says.
Unlike many people, Kuik has no issues describing her works succinctly.
“Personal, poetic and intimate,” she offers, before adding that for her, being personal is also strongly related to being political.
“I am very aware of my living in this country in this period of time. We are all linked; and in Malaysia, our destinies bring us together. I am not alone,” she says.
Which then inevitably leads to asking about her hopes and dreams for a better world. What is the picture she paints?
As it turns out, reality isn’t always a bed of roses.
“We always hope for the better,” she acknowledges. “But if I were to look at the history of human civilisations, I would be quite pessimistic in my outlook because humans don’t seem to learn.”
Despite this – or could it be precisely because of this – she believes it is all the more critical that we cling on to hope and strive to make a difference.
Perhaps not everyone has what it takes to laugh in the face of futility. But is it true that hope dies last?
With Kuik, it certainly seems so.
After-image: Living With The Ghosts In My House is at Wei-Ling Gallery till Feb 29. For information, call 03-2260 1106 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org