Travelling to a foreign country is always interesting. Yes, there is always the thrill of exploring new places and trying new things.
However, adapting to different customs and cultures can sometimes be a challenge. Visual artist Khairudin Zainudin can definitely vouch for that.
Over the past few years, he made several trips to Hong Kong and Taiwan for exhibitions or to gain artistic inspiration.
His encounters with these foreign places are stylistically expressed in his latest solo show Oriental Express: Beyond Identity, which is showing at the G13 Gallery in Petaling Jaya this month.
“Oriental Express: Beyond Identity is about myself, a Malaysian and Muslim, being in a different country. It’s about being an alien, or feeling different, in another country,” says a friendly Khairudin, 29, at an interview at the gallery earlier this week.
“A lot of my art in Oriental Express: Beyond Identity, they tell a similiar story. They are about language and words. And also about food! They are the usual two challenges I face when I’m overseas,” he adds.
Khairudin is certainly no stranger to international travel. The Kelantanese-born artist has had his works exhibited many times, both locally and abroad. Some of his shows include the solo exhibition Senyap Dalam Gege (2014), right to group show contributions at Art Kaohsiung (2015) in Taiwan and Young Malaysian Artists III (2016) at Galeri Petronas.
The artist travelled to Taiwan for the first time in 2014 for his slot at the Young Artist Discovery series at Art Taipei.
Khairudin, captivated by foreign culture, made a trip to Hong Kong the following year, eager to check out art galleries and art fairs there.
His mission was to take notes and absorb as much culture as possible in both these countries.
Khairudin has since made four trips to Taiwan and two to Hong Kong.
“I like the people in Taiwan. They’re very relaxed, not very stressed. And the scenery is very nice. But most Taiwanese people cannot speak English and it’s hard to find halal food there. Although it’s easy to find vegetarian meals!” says the burly, bearded artist.
“As for Hong Kong, it felt very nostalgic to me. I like watching Jackie Chan films, so a lot of places looked very familiar. Interestingly, there are a lot of Indonesians in Hong Kong, so there are more mosques,” he reveals.
His early adventures in the Far East, however, were not always fun and memorable.
One of his works, Ha Ha Ha, contains the faces of some Malaysian Chinese travellers who were with him on a trip to Taiwan.
Khairudin recalls an incident when they were chatting at a local restaurant, and he couldn’t join in as they were speaking in Chinese.
“I was depressed. We were all hanging out at one table, and I couldn’t speak anything. I thought, if you all can speak Malay, why are you speaking in Chinese?” asks Khairudin.
“But when I thought about it, it was not their mistake. I was a person coming into their culture … I had to learn about it.”
Khairudin, however, realises there is one sound he will always recognise: the sound of laughter.
“For me, ‘ha ha ha’ works in many languages, it’s very global. Whether you go to India, or Singapore, or Germany, it’s bound to be ‘ha ha ha’. That’s the universal choice for laughter.”
Many of his works represent his cross-cultural experiences. Four of Khairudin’s paintings, including Tonkatsu Flavour and Vegetarian Flavour, are stylised representations of different instant noodle flavour ingredients, a depiction of his struggle to find halal food abroad.
It is a task made harder by the fact that everything is written in Chinese characters. Oriental Express: Beyond Identity isn’t a show to exhibit the artist’s frustrations. Instead, it channels Khairudin’s curiosity and ability to adapt.
Feeling Displaced features a backdrop of two patrons at a noodle shop in Hong Kong’s Java Road. Overlaid over them are menu items, written in Chinese. In a twist, the words are reversed, representing how abstract Chinese characters look to Khairudin.
Elsewhere, Security Of Familiarity shows a man in deep thought, his image splashed over with bars sporting a convenience store logo.
“Whenever I go somewhere, I like to find similarities between my original space and an alien space. It gives me a sense of security,” he says.
“Most countries have a 7Eleven. In Taiwan, they became like a hangout spot for me. I’d sit there with a drink and have some vegetarian noodles. I’ll also sketch the people passing by,” he mentions.
Indeed, many of his sketches can be viewed in Scatted Memories, a parade of Khairudin’s drawings finished in a notebook.
Fans of the artist might notice a difference to his style this time around. While many of the works in Oriental Express: Beyond Identity feature Khairudin’s trademark figurative lines, a lot of them now feature secondary images, or have words or characters overlapping them.
Khairudin says this is his way of evolving his art, while still maintaining his trademark style.
“This exhibition is a continuation of what I’ve been doing in my earlier solos. It’s still about me observing the people around me. The (Chinese) wordings scrawled on some of them, however, is my way to express my views on language,” he explains.
Oriental Express: Beyond Identity is at the G13 Gallery, GL13, Ground Floor, Block B, Kelana Square, Jalan SS 7/26, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till Sept 17. For more info, call 03-7880 0991, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.g13gallery.com or www.facebook.com/G13gallery.