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Highlights from Seni Negaraku
Take a crash course in modern Malaysian art classics at Balai Seni Negara’s latest exhibition.
Balai Seni Negara has rolled out its Seni Negaraku exhibition featuring over 80 of the country’s most essential modern art pieces, touching on the subjects of our country’s landscape, history, culture, socio-political issues and religion. Below are some of our picks from the exhibition.
Bumi Yang Bahagia – Lombong Bijih Timah Malaya by Abdullah Ariff (1960)
Watercolour art played an important part in the development of modern art in Malaya as it usually documented landscapes, offering a glimpse of the not-so-distant past. Abdullah Ariff’s artworks have been said to have a clear western influence – his works are more detailed as opposed to other local artists at the time who incorporated Chinese influences. A self-taught watercolourist, Abdullah Ariff was involved with the Penang Impressionists, an art group in the ‘20s that only accepted two locals into their group (because colonialism). The bahagia in this particular artwork might have been a silent irony, a jab on the consequences of industrialisation towards the land.
Ibu by Georgette Chen (1960)
Georgette Chen is a significant contributor to the Nanyang style of ‘50s Malaya. She became the first female teacher of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore and worked there for the rest of her life. As a result of getting her art education in France, her paintings have a chic, Parisian flair to them. Georgette’s subjects are mainly landscapes, still life, and portrait – such as this one exhibited.
Lang Ngindong by Bayu Utomo Radjikin (1992)
In terms of sculpture art, Bayu Utomo Radjikin is a pretty well-known name in the local art scene. The Sabahan artist’s ceramic and iron figure Lang Ngindong features a fierce Iban warrior, seemingly in the middle of a battle cry. Fun fact: a similar sculpture, Lang Kacang made by the artist around the same time, is incorporated onto local rock legends Search’s cover for the album Rampage.
Subuh, D’Zuhur, Asar, Maghrib, Isyak by Fatimah Chik (1993)
One of the featured artworks for the Islam section of the exhibition is made by one of the country’s important batik artists, Fatimah Chik – a series of batik cloth paintings named after the five prayer times in Islam. The positioning of all five pieces, whether deliberately or not, interestingly seems to be placed in accordance to the respective solat times. This can be seen especially through the gap between Subuh and D’Zuhur, as well as the height at which each cloth is hung from. The geometric shapes of the prints are also reflective of Islamic design and motifs.
Pre-war Building for Sale: The Gold Rush by Chuah Chong Yong (1996)
Gold is wealth and wealth is possibly the deterioration of heritage buildings in the name of progress – tragic. In this painting, an old pre-war building is aggressively washed in liquid gold, damaging the windows and walls, an apt metaphor for whenever heritage is torn down in the name of skyscrapers (and maybe some highways). The Gold Rush is part of Chuah Chong Yong’s Storeys series which highlights pre-war shophouses in Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur.
Running Indians and the History of the Malaysian Indians in 25 Clichés by Anurendra Jegadeva (2001)
Anurendra Jegadeva’s artworks have always been socio-political in nature – the kind that opens insightful discussions, and not to merely shock viewers. This particular artwork features a series of Malaysian Indian stereotypes including a Thaipusam procession, a barbershop and the elephant god Lord Ganesha, among others.
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