And Now, Paiman Decides to Paint the World Around Him
by Anurendra Jegadeva
I first saw Paiman’s initial installments of his scary monsters at Brisbane’s Asia Pacific Trienalle in 2007.
Crisp and unadorned, these humble little scraps of paper, with their exquisite, colored drawings of the heroes and villains of contemporary Malaysian politics was a reality check that was like a swift kick in the groin.
It reimbursed the realization that – in the light of the mostly ludicrous contexts that our national leaders and their opposite sides are quoted in the national newspapers – we were probably not being `best served’ either as a hopeful citizenry or an expectant electorate.
Most importantly as a Malaysian artist with an acute social conscience, Paiman’s works transcend the usual exploration of identity and place through the purely ethno-religious parameters that so many Malaysians invoke to stake their various claims to their Malaysian place or time…
But Paiman is less interested in issues of difference based on these usual suspects and distractions. The artist is much more intrigued by the intricate travails of the human condition within the real-politik, and in the process, on its implications as far as the constant erosion of our rights as a Malaysian citizenry is concerned.
In contexts where the evocation of the race and religion is something we are so used to, that lurks so easily in our collective consciousness, Paiman’s work presents us with new propositions that are – in a way – much more awkward and uneasy for the viewer.
His works reveal to us that irrespective of those sensitive issues that have been twisted and turned and used since Merdeka and then May 13th, we – as a Malaysian people – are being screwed-over on much more fundamental levels – by dishonesty, greed, corruption, abuse of power, a deepening class divide, an abhorrent sense of entitlement and most often a kind of banal stupidity that if we don’t laugh at will make us cry.
And so he embarked on Malaysia 365 Days of 2008, a mammoth body of work made in the aftermath of one of the most prodigious elections in our country’s history.
Continuing in the vein of the first batch of drawings inspired by random quotes by politicians and other public figures in local newspapers that was shown at the APT in Australia, 365 Days was a more concerted compilation – for the public record – of the immediate fall-out of the 2008 election results.
Conceptually, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Paiman’s long awaited solo exhibition is much more contemplative. Unlike the earlier more pointed approach of the political cartoon where satire blends with the surreal to depict specific events and idiotic responses to those events, with these new works, the artist delves into the broad grey areas in the socio-political and economic make-up of modern Malaysia and how it impacts on the every-citizen.
For example, the large J. Dawn Raid Operation, London 1981 commemorates the legend of the 1981 nationalistic coup of bringing home national assets but dwells on the grey murky area of the accepted or expected take-over ethics as far as corporate practices are concerned. Paiman depicts the players in the legendary intrigue as squadrons of marauders, single-minded in purpose, filled with nationalist righteousness but with the usual cynicism of the contemporary brings us down to earth in here and now where that self-same national asset has fallen foul to mismanagement and other sad abuses.
It is a theme that runs through all these paintings. From The Wiseman…, The Auditor flies to Hong Kong…, The Politician’s Backbone, Only Because of their Button…. to little works like The Scapegoat or Pudu Jail VIP Prisoner, M. The CEO with His Partners, he Policy Maker and Pesta Lompat Lompat there is one common strain.
The people we depend on to look after our interests – our leaders, our employers, our elected officials, our public service personnel are only driven by self-interest, their promises to us and our expectations of them quite broken…. Whereas the Malaysia series of drawings were rooted in the hope that we were at the cusp of change, these new paintings seem resigned to the fact that little change of any value has really happened.
Ali Baba, it would seem, is well and truly alive and kicking. He is a constant in every one of these paintings.
To quote the artist – `I wish to study the subtle nuances of the intricate dance between awardee, nominee and the way the economy rolls, rumbles and grinds ever forward.’
Trained as a sculptor and influenced by the possibilities of new media as can be seen in his most celebrated works from his dynamic career, Ali Baba is an interesting encounter with painting.
A consummate maker of things, normally three dimensional complex constructions that dwell on an awkwardness that often borders on the uncomfortable – the Aiskrim Malaysia and ICU works made in the early to mid 2000s are definitely rooted in unconventional ways of making but incorporate the painted object repeatedly.
With his even earlier Journey constructions of twigs bound by red and black cloth bindings, he gave us some of the most delightfully complex sculptural forms he has ever made. The meanings within these three-dimensional linear feats center around art discourses like the use of alternative mediums to create sculptural forms borne from the linear qualities ala-drawing …. In the pursuit of exploring new ways of making, what are the implications, further down the conservation road? Philosophically, for me, they seem explore notions of migration… of coming to a place; of leaving another place and more importantly the implications of those comings and leavings 150 years later.
This sense of making the art object – whether they are complex boxes on wheels or delicate weaves of sticks and clothes – is amply attested to in Paiman’s various bodies of work.
With Ali Baba, the artist takes the unexpected path of the new/old (?) possibilities offered to him by the act of Painting with surprisingly dynamic results.
As with most of his bodies of work, this series boasts the same lyricism of sentiment and a rawness of wit that references everything from non-existent cows, to golf-course negotiations and polka-dotted cronies…. no one is spared and everyone of is culpable.
Aesthetically they are unexpectedly beautiful as well. Not because one doubts the sculptors ability to turn his hand but rather how naturally that hand is at pushing paint and most of all how enjoyably sad are these stories set in real time and in this – our real place.