After a year of renovations, Wei-Ling Gallery is reopening their space at 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, with ‘M2’, a solo exhibition by contemporary Malaysian artist Sean Lean. When considering the vast variety of influences that can affect our relationship with our cultural identity, none more succinctly encapsulates the struggle and tension of such conflicting experiences as Sean Lean. In this continuation of ‘Motherland’ (2015), ‘M2’ sees Lean dive deeper into the crux of his obsession with his own contradictory cultural past, drawing from the vast toy box of Chinese bedtime stories and Sunday morning comic books to present us with this exploration into his cultural self.
“The treasure trove of imagery is still the same,” says Lean, but how he plays with them now are very different. While ‘M2’ explores many of the same concepts and ideas as ‘Motherland’, Lean treats his subject matter this time with an undeniable sense of play and light heartedness, refusing to get bogged down in seriousness and guilt when talking about his cultural past. Coming from a “traditionally” Malaysian Chinese upbringing, he recounts his childhood in terms of stories, and a lifetime of consuming a variety of disparate media, from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, to Lord of the Rings, TVB dramas to American sitcoms. While these references were more specific and explicit in ‘Motherland’, ‘M2’ sees a much subtler approach, with Lean choosing to emphasize these connections more with colour, technique and materiality.
In the thirteen piece exhibition, the first which catches the eye is the image of a Chinese deity as depicted by an opera singer, on a found door complete with a handle and tiffany blue painted trimmings. A half-fictional character on a half-fictional door.
In the same way, we also see Lean take images of typically East Asian iconography and repeat them three times each on steel with a distinct change in colours. The first in a traditional palette, the third in something bold and unusual, while the second, middle piece sees the combination of both with the birth of a new colour scheme where they meet. The symbolism is easy to follow here, drawing a clear line between that which is traditional and expected, to that which is deliberately other and different. The point where they meet in the centre is where Lean seems to sit. Not in the old or in the other, but somewhere in the middle where the new resides.
It is in these juxtapositions that we see the core of Lean’s exploration into his relationship with culture. It is a struggle that many relate to, particularly in a postcolonial Malaysia, where the idea of a unilaterally Malaysian identity is so vast and varied, and so affected by race, creed and social standing, that the tensions of conflicting cultural identities reveal their urgency.
‘M2’ brings with it an undeniable sense of gravity, interrogating our understanding and expectation of culture, only to turn and undermine them at every turn. It is an introspective, rigorous look into Lean’s own differing identities, and the many ways one can find reconciliation between these tensions. At the core of it, the work teases at our personal stances, and cultural positions towards his interpretation of Chinese cultural icons and relationship to western media. It is something that affects whether we see it as a playful experiment, a sacrilegious act, or simply as lines and shapes and colour.
‘M2’ is featured at Wei-Ling Gallery from 15th January 2020 – 29th February 2020.
Wei-Ling Gallery is located at 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur 50470, Malaysia.
Please call +60322828323/ +60322601106 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
About UOB and Art
At United Overseas Bank (UOB), we believe that art transcends language, culture, geographies and time. Its history gives people a sense of identity and perspective, it informs with the present and it creates a future for the imagination. It builds relationships and unites people. As such and given our longstanding presence in the region, we have been behind Southeast Asian art for more than four decades.
UOB champions Southeast Asian art through its flagship UOB Painting of the Year (POY) Competition which began in Singapore in1982. It is one of the most recognised art competitions in Southeast Asia. Through the UOB POY, we aim to uncover and to nurture the next generation of great Southeast Asian artists in the region. The competition is held at the national level in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The annual UOB POY competition first ran in Malaysia in 2011. Over the years, the competition has seen well-known Malaysian artists compete at both the local and regional levels. Past years’ competition winners include Ms Cheong Kiet Cheng, Mr Chok Yue Zan, Ms Yim Yen Sum, Mr Gan Tee Sheng and Ms Minstrel Kuik.
For more information on the UOB Painting of the Year Competition, visit www.UOBPOY.com.
For further information on UOB Malaysia, visit www.UOB.com.my.