Works of art have a new and rather unexpected place to be showcased rather than in museums or art galleries. They’re now popping up in shopping malls. Somewhere located past the winding maze of shop lots, gleaming escalators and buzzing restaurants within the cavernous shopping mall 1Utama lies the Ledge Gallery.
Nestled strategically on Third Floor Highstreet, it’s a contemporary concept of how space can be cleverly utilised to offer a dedicated space for artistic expressions. “It’s remarkable that the gallery is right here,” shares Shahroom Ahmed, who along with a group of fellow artists, co-organised the current exhibition that’s being held at the gallery, called Language of Colours.
The Ledge is unique; the concept allows all works on display to be visible, even to the floors below. The artworks displayed are beautiful, diverse and different as they come – a collective by eight passionate artists comprising Lin Daud, Elly Nor Suria, Kay Loo, Ley See, Li Mar, Ibnoo Jalil, Nancy Lau and Shahroom herself.
“We didn’t have an overarching theme. We decided to simply do what we do best – express ourselves on canvas in whichever way we wanted,” explains Shahroom, “That’s why we’re calling it Language of Colours. We’re all colourful, different and varied,” chips in artist Ibnoo Jalil.
The artists come from diverse backgrounds and age groups, each with their own painting styles and choice of medium including watercolour, acrylic on canvas, mixed media and naïve art. Ten percent from the sale of the artwork, Ibnoo adds, will be channelled to Cancer Research Malaysia.
History matters because it reminds us who we are, what we've done and what we might do better. It's central to our sense of place and identity – whether we learn from the past as we go forward into the future. For artist Mohd Rosli Md Salleh, better known as Li Mar, history isn’t merely captured in written traditions or tales of the past, but can be conveyed through contemporary art. “I’m empowered to cover events and moments that ought to be preserved, which is why I love capturing scenes and heritage buildings in my works.”
His body of work on display mostly depicts the typical Malaysian kampong environment and are among some of most compelling displays in this exhibition. “When our children and grandchildren grow up, these scenes will not be there anymore,” says the 51-year-old self-taught artist wistfully as we stand before his Sungai Malawi Bachok Series. Leaning coconut trees, a perahu in repose, coconuts in a pile with a family of chickens in the foreground – a scene most Malaysians can identify with, but one that’s almost fading from our landscapes today.
Much of his subject-matter is pastoral and unassuming, and he’s a virtuoso at capturing everyday scenes and little details from the Malaysian provincial life. “Such landscapes are getting rarer these days. Perhaps it’s a reminder that we need to preserve our cultural heritage before it fades away altogether,” says Li Mar thoughtfully.
Artist Giorgio deChirico said it best: “To beсome truly immortаl, a work of art muѕt escape all hυman limits… But once theѕe barriers аre broken, іt will enter the realms of childһood visions and dreams.” The keyword here is childhood.
Naïve art takes the ordinary and adds enchantment. It turns the reality of adulthood into the weightless joys of youth. Portraitist/caricaturist Mohamad Zulhilmi Ab Jalil or Ibnoo Jalil, as he’s known in the art circles, confides that naïve art helped him explore his innermost feelings and translate it onto canvas.
“I can express directly from my heart, and every painting of mine tells a story. This is called Santubong,” he says, waving at his painting. At first glance, Santubong looks simplistic. But the intricate, painstaking detailing on the canvas tells a fantastical tale. The painting is inspired by the legend of Santubong and Sejinjang.
The most popular version of this legend is that Santubong and Sejinjang were princesses from Kayangan (Heaven). These two princesses had wonderful talents. Santubong was famous for her weaving skills while Sejinjang was known for her talent in pounding rice. The two beautiful princesses fell in love with Putera Serapi. Soon they started quarrelling with each other to be the prince’s only wife.
Sejinjang hit Santubong’s cheek with her pounder, and Santubong retaliated by hitting Sejinjang using her belidak, a tool to weave clothes. The force of the belidak shattered Sejinjang’s head into a million pieces.
The King was angry with the princesses for fighting over a mere mortal so he cursed them into Mount Santubong and Mount Sejinjang. The broken pieces of Sejinjang’s head scattered into the sea and become small islands which include Pulau Kerak (Monkey Island), Pulau Satang (Satang Island) and others.
“Art is for us to be happy, and it’s a kind of therapy for ourselves,” says Ibnoo before adding: “I like the philosophy behind naïve art. There’s so much beauty out there and naïve art is one way of showing beauty in its purest form.”
Newcomer Adlin Junita Daud, or better known as Lin Daud bubbles with glee as she shows me her works. “This is my first exhibition!” she confides. “I’ve always loved art, but it’s only recently that I picked it up again.” Her collective features artistic styles that are varied but the recurring theme in all of her works features her family, travels and experiences. “I often paint scenes from the places I’ve visited, and those that my children have visited!” she confides.
The beautiful rendition of the scene at Pantai Penarik, Terengganu has me particularly riveted. “This was the location of the film Pulang, and it’s really as beautiful as it was in the movie. I took the photo of this scene and painted it last year long before the movie was out. When Pulang was released this year, we saw the movie and I recognised the place immediately,” says Lin, adding impishly: “That’s why I entitled this Pulang as well!”
The housewife shares that she has been active in art only since last year. “When my husband was studying in the US, I did enrol in a community college and studied commercial art. I never did work in this field professionally though. Life happened… I had my children, raised my family and this passion had to take a backseat,” she recalls, shrugging her shoulders.
Continuing with a smile, she confides: “It’s only recently – after my children are grown up and independent – I picked up the passion again and enrolled myself in an art school where I’m taught by renowned artist Yeo Eng Peng. I’m enjoying this season thoroughly!”
ELLY NOR SURIA
Artist and children’s book illustrator Elly Nor Suria shares that most of her works are based on her memories of the kampung scene while she was growing up. “My works are based on happy moments,” she says before revealing that her style of naïve art evolved once she became a mother. Her whimsical paintings, she adds, can be described as “decorative naïve art with a semi-abstract twist.”
The use of colours, lack of perspective and ‘unrealistic’ shapes make naïve art a straight-forward and innocent approach which Elly finds freedom in. The 35-year-old mother of three has sought to capture scenes around the kampung especially in the different types of houses and the life around them. Her children and life are a big influence on her paintings, and she continues to develop her skills through exploring different techniques and mediums. “They’re not conventional traditional landscapes,” she says of her paintings of kampung houses. “I love colours! I’ve studied fine art, but naïve art enables me to use colours without boundaries or limitations. The sky’s the limit for this style, really.”
Since embracing naïve art, the UITM art graduate has delved into visual narration and published two children’s picture books. Her art has also been exhibited in various art galleries across Malaysia.
Veteran artist Nancy Lau is a graphic designer by profession but her passion for art emerged after she found herself battling the onset of depression. “I was juggling so many roles at one point in my life. I was a caregiver, a mother, a wife with a full-time job as a founder and director of two art centres,” she recalls, adding: “I had so little time to myself, and suddenly I found myself dealing with negative emotions which I recognised as early signs of depression.”
She decided to take up art as a hobby, enrolling herself in an art school run by artist Yeo Eng Peng. “I took up activities that helped me released my stress. I exercised and I painted!” she says. “It helped and I recovered fast. There are many others who had the same issues but it took them years to come out of it because it wasn’t dealt with.” Art, she tells me, gave her the platform to express herself in complete freedom.
Her stunning landscapes feature beautiful Malaysian sceneries, sunrises, sunsets and forgotten scenes that most of us take for granted. “This lady is resilient. I can see how much she’s gone through in her face,” says Nancy as we look at her stunning rendition of a vegetable seller of her Local Market painting. “I find inspiration through people like these, and nature,” she adds. “As our country progresses, nature has taken a backseat. That’s why I’ve focused my works on nature featuring highlands, mountains, padi fields, old streets and beaches – to remind Malaysians that there’s much to preserve for our future generation.”
LOO LEY SEE
Penang housewife Loo Lei See’s stunning body of work, including the Blossoming Series, features the harmonious relationship between humans, animals and flowers. “I’m not good in expressing myself in English,” stammers the artist in halting English. She’s clearly nervous but she has no reason to be. Her work is breathtaking. Each one has the same running motif through it – intricate Batik motifs. “I love Batik,” she says smiling.
Loo, a full time artist, is currently a member of the Penang Art Society and various other art groups. Her impressionist and semi-abstract works are meticulously detailed while her colours are bold, strong and lively. “I never had the privilege of being educated like others,” she confesses. “Back in those days, women weren’t educated. They were married off at a young age and had to immediately start raising a family. It happened to me.” It was only much later when her children were grown up did Loo finally find the freedom and confidence to venture into what she loved most – art.
“While you’re mindfully painting, it frees up your personality that had maybe been buried. It takes you away from whatever is bothering you, just for a couple of hours,” she explains, adding after a pause: “In a way, art has given me a new lease of life. A chance to express myself and be heard.”
“I love colours!” declares Shahroom Ahmed, adding: “Every time I draw something, I must have a design to complement my colours.” Shahroom, who’s been passionate about art since young, started experimenting by creating art pieces on glass, metal, paper and wood which she put up for sale at craft and flea markets during the weekends.
“The response towards my early pieces was encouraging and that gave me the confidence to move on to the canvas,” she says. The self-taught artist shares that when she finally retired from the working force, she wanted to move on to a bigger canvas. “I joined artist Yeo Eng Peng’s classes at Inspire Academy to fine-tune my techniques and hone my creativity. There I discovered the freedom and boundless creativity the canvas offered.”
She confesses to being a designer at heart. “Every piece has a design element blended to it. It’s my signature,” she concludes with a smile.
LANGUAGE OF COLOURS
Where: The Ledge Gallery, 1Utama Shopping Mall, Petaling Jaya
When: Until Oct 31, 11 am to 9 pm daily.