It Ain’t Over Yet:
Re-membering the many 2008s that were.

The terrain of memory is a treacherous one, not least for the simple reason that our memory often has a will of its own, and exhibits the curious tendency to make us forget things when we need to remember them the most. Perhaps this is because the immediate present is and can only be multiple, fractured and discordant; and as such reacts to the process of re-membering the present as a rude intrusion of sorts. If the present resists the grasp of the all-encompassing gaze and forecloses any attempt at hermetic closure and arrest, why would the present in the past be any different?

Yet this exhibition that brings together the works of Hamir K. Soib, K. Azril Ismail, Marvin Chan, Jaganathan Ramachandram, Juhari Said and Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman is an attempt at such a re-membering of our recent past which many still see as being part of the present. Documentation or retrospection, The Year That Was attempts to go beyond the parochial and all-too-comfortable surroundings of a familiar nostalgia and homeliness. Looking back at the events of 2008, the artists have conveyed their own impressions – all admittedly subjective, and justifiably so – of the year ‘when the people spoke’ (Marvin Chan) and to capture these ‘flash memories’ (K. Azril Ismail) before they recede into the hazy background of the past.

In bringing together the works of this assembly of artists, the exhibition has made the first concession to objectivity and truth-telling: Namely, that history can only be recounted in the plural and that the narrative of history has to be read as a cacophony. No, there is no singular narrative account, no matter how inclusive it tries to be, that can fully encompass even the most mundane of moments; so what more a year like 2008?

Here we retreat momentarily into nostalgia and recall the manifold reactions to the tumultuous years of our recent past. Perhaps some of the best art that has emerged from Malaysia over the past decade or two were produced in the heat of the moment, in response to the call of crisis and the anxiety of our society. The financial and economic crises of 1998 opened the way for such an intervention, when the collapse of the East and Southeast Asian tiger and dragon economies proved that myths – even those propounded by the sages of Bloomberg – are merely fairy-tales meant to keep us quiet and safe in the middle of an economic storm. The shattering of the myth of a resurgent Asia, of the nascent Asian economic powerhouse, brought home the fact that the economic miracle of East Asia was all fluff and froth, signifying nothing.

Then in the wake of 11 September 2001 another flurry of artistic activity was seen, leading to yet another mournful call for soul-searching and introspection; bringing into question many of our settled assumptions and (to be honest) biases and prejudices that had been neatly tucked into the closet for perhaps too long. Crisis and terror woke us up, and art was there to receive the calls for recognition and representation.

If 2008 is to go down in history as one of those historical moments of change, then it too deserves to be given the comprehensive wide-angled technicolour treatment it deserves. Yet this nation has grown wiser; we no longer believe in ghosts (though we maintain the fiction of heroic politicians and noble kings), we no longer believe in slogans (though we are prepared to tolerate those from the opposition, for now at least) and we no longer believe that the present is singular.

It is this incredulity towards politics and anxiety of the political that has contributed to the maturation of our nation in some way, and in the process adding a few hairline cracks as well. The national narrative is a tattered patchwork that seems to be unravelling at the seams and all the soothsayers and soap-box orators we can muster at a moment’s notice seem unable to prop up this well-patinated canvas that we call the national story of Malaysia .

So perhaps this is where art makes its timely (heroic?) intervention as chronicler and wise man of lurid Kung-Fu epic films. The impossibility of rendering 2008 in terms of a singular monological narrative fitted into a linear teleology that brings us eventually to a happy ending opens the way for the artist who walks into the middle of the crowd (or more likely demo these days) to pause and reflect on the foibles, ironies, absurdities and poignancy around him/her.

In the works that we see presented before us here, we gauge the manifold reactions of a myriad of different subjectivities, with each artist offering his or her own reading of what is an overdetermined text that begs to be read and re-read again and again. 2008 is not even over but we know that it will remain with us for some time, in the same way that 1969 remains an eternal present to those who lived through it. The artists themselves, like cautious jurors, have withheld their verdict and no simple judgements are offered pre-digested on a silver platter.

These works challenge, question, interrogate, offend and propose simultaneously; and credit has to go to the organisers who were able to bring together such a motley crew of disparate voices under one roof. We simple need to evolve the eyes and ears that are necessary to understand them; and to understand that at times understanding means having to live with incomprehension. Wisdom, one hopes, will be our consolation prize.

It ain’t over yet: Re-membering the many 2008s that were will take us sometime yet. Perhaps we will only come to understand the myriad of implications and repercussions of 2008 in 2012. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Dr Farish A Noor
Senior Fellow and Director of Research for the Research Cluster ‘Transnational Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia’;
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS),
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

November 2008

Jeganathan Ramachandran

The year that was

Indeed every citizen of this land would have something to say about the year it has been. It is easy to blame someone else for all that is happening. I have always believed, if I can see and sense mistakes around me, then it must be in me too for me to recognize it. I have expressed my innermost feelings in the three paintings that I have done. It starts with the donkey man; a character chosen to represent the way we have been made to believe we are, by the think-tanks within and around us. I chose ‘graffiti’ as the tool of communication here. As art has always been interpreted by the viewer and sometimes his point of view might totally differ from the message intended by the artist, i wrote on the canvas to create a definite objective in this work. The title is ‘Who am I?

The second work is my comment on the structure of this time. We are slowly moving away from reality, a truth, that cannot be written otherwise. We are all connected and here in this work I painted a head of a bird that becomes the head of a fish. The fish becomes the head of a donkey and the donkey, the head for a snake. Then a lizard, then a small man and a big man and finally held by an ice cream stick. What we fail to see is that we are all connected, software and hardware. No decision can be taken by an individual. The world is becoming much smaller and until we realise that we are here together, we will be lost in the evolution race. The child held by the big man represents our tomorrow, the globe, our environment; it is placed out of the spotlight to depict the casualness and lack of seriousness given to our future world and children.

The third painting, I will not let go is the piece closest to my heart as it is about a solution that already exists but that we are not paying attention to it. A nation is judged by the state of its cultural progression. Traditions that are intertwined with culture, need to be protected and preserved and most importantly understood. This painting is about the sensitivity of each culture that makes up Malaysia. Being a Tamilian, I used a girl, who to me represents the community. The container, a lunchbox which she is holding is an antique, and comes from a time when the early Indians started working in the estates. The intensity of her look, the container in hand and the ‘mehndi’ design which shows images of the Indian immigrants’ journey into this country is done to remind us of the importance of our culture.

Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman

Cleansing Ritual

Conceptually ‘CLEANSING RITUAL’ is the continuation of my early work entitled ‘SKY KINGDOM’ (2005).

‘CLEANSING RITUAL’ is an artwork response with the quotes from the mass media,(texts and hypertexts) taken verbatim from the mouths of important figures . Conceptually there are nine pieces (one titled), where I have used the concept of ‘samak’(purification):

The concept of ‘samak’ in Islam is explained as:
“The purification of the vessel of one of you, if a dog licks it, is to wash it seven times, the first time with soil,”

I am not interested in religious arguments, but I am deeply interested in the concept of ‘samak’ (purification).
I have used the concept where I believe it is relevant to contemporary political events. There have been many ‘truths’ and ‘confessions’ this year, where important figures may have told the ‘truth’ as they believe it to be, but: ‘Craft must have Clothes, but Truth loves to go naked’
THOMAS FULLER (1654-1734)

I have used the concept of a diagram of images to show the process of ‘samak’ in this artwork.

‘CLEANSING RITUAL’ is an artwork which uses open-ended perception and it is dependent on the viewer to interpret the artwork. Whatever the viewer interprets has come from their world-view. They can believe in heroes or anti-heroes. I consider myself a backdated reporter and a layman who has used an alternative view to see Malaysia’s social history without power. Where “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,”
LORD ACTON (1834-1902)

Marvin Chan

2008, has seen a multitude of contentions in this country. It is a year where realizations were made apparent and the people spoke.
The year that was, is an accumulation of aspects to one period, one issue or one location. It carries some kind of historic significance to me, to be able to at least offer a visual prose on what was.

The key note to me is the apparent dissidence between truth and what is true. It is a time of questioning what it is to be a people.

The works are about incidents that have happened over the course of the year. I kept the visual elements direct to navigate what is hugely an obtuse territory, designing the painting to do what it is supposed to do,?pose the situation and point the question to who or what, did or caused it.
What I feel is important is in the act of careless alterations to a painting that represents a specific incident. It forms a parody to the incidents which occurred and were eventually altered to hide or to cause ambiguity.
Drips scowl the paintings giving a sense of haste and urgency. Which mimic the manner in which most “cover-ups” would have been made.

All the artworks are finished pieces that are then crudely altered, with the exception of the “blank” piece, which sets up the game for the viewers to figure out. The signature symbol of a bottle of liquid paper is repeatedly placed in every painting to make the works look like tear sheets of advertisements for successful living.This image is repeated to make a dogmatic problem and solution scenario for the successful living brand of Liquid paper.
How cheap human life has become(The girl that was not), how easy it is to get in trouble(Raja Petra), how there is really nothing we can openly talk about (The year that was), and how the judicial system was altered and used as a tool to navigate the political landscape(Disregarding Themis).

Azril Ismail

Artist Statement & Explanation of Bodies of work

In early 2008, my work evolved from photography towards the creation of conceptually based sociopolitical objects and installations. I have begun to re-interpret the methods in presenting my works in a more visually vocal way, which have become a formulation towards the artworks being able to interact with the viewers on a stronger visual plane.
Often times such combined installations with imageries would feature a reflective “mirror” of the viewers. They establish a dream-like, surrealistic quality of the reflection, suggesting notions of purity and safety, and formally unifies the disparate objects in each installation. The images provide clues to content and interpretation.
Such definition relies greatly on the form of new media; photography or video, which entails a perfect rendition of the representation of the human presence, which become the perfect vectors for translating what cannot be said… or even mentioned.

My work is about creating a visual journal of my memories, an autobiographical means of saving and re-telling stories. By physically saving my memories within the works by capturing moments in a form of “flash memories” I am able to do this. And as our perception of memories changes over time, the work speaks of the aging process of thought.
By contrast, I have always wanted all my stories to be saved for the future, rescued from the aging process. My work displays a sense of futility in the constant struggle to save what is inevitably forgotten or destroyed.

The lightbox form remains one of my preferred formats to work with, as I have begun to realize its full potential in my interest in visual communication, for it defines the preferred medium of the “ideal” world of today, ranging from cosmetic advertisements to mass (mis)communication…
Using large scale imageries and presenting them with current day materials did play as a challenge in my presentation of these pieces… to move from flat passive planes of imageries to “active” artworks comes as a point of negotiating the depiction of now, the importance of utilizing artificial energy, which seems to have more needs from the mass, as to compare to the real raw source of energy, the sunlight.

These bodies of works neither provides the questions of the current political and sociological affairs of this country nor the answers, but “clues” to the search of what the year should had been…

Juhari Said

Siri monoprint yang terbaru ini bertajuk “potret-potret yang kita pangkah”.Potret ini cuba membawa immiginasi kita kepada rupa paras calon- calon yang dipilih umum.Potret ini juga pernah menjadi simbol kepada kepada harapan dan impian bersama.Tetapi penampilan rupa mereka begitu kabur,samar, kusam dan cair.Ini adalah gambaran pelukis terhadap senario politik masa kini yang begitu peribadi perjuangannya.