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centuries.

The story of a modern Malaysia art tradition has, as such, been characteri"ed by multiethnic artistic engagements and endeavours. Its origins are traceable to the early decades of the +,th century. It may be rightly claimed that the excitement of modern Malaysian art lies in the fact that this relatively young artistic tradition has continued to mirror aspects of the diverse cultural realities and also the inevitable societal tensions that might be expected from this progressive, dynamic -outheast 'sian nation.

Modern Malaysia Art An Introduction


The modern Malaysian nation state is a multi-ethnic and multicultural entity. It is also a postcolonial nation where traditional religious beliefs and values constantly overlap with modern, secularistic influences. Malaysia is a complex nation made up of multiple, overlapping cultural realities. Malaysias heterogenous population of about twenty one millions inhabitants includes the Malays, the Daya s, the !ada"ans, the #hinese, the Indians, the $a%aus, the Murut, the &rang 'sli, the (urasians, and other minority ethnic groups. The official religion of the country is Islam but freedom of religious worship is guaranteed by the nations constitution. The arrival of the non-indigenous peoples, namely, the #hinese and the Indians, in large numbers, too place during the )*th and +,th

.The #hinese Mills. #apt. /obert -mith )0)0

It will be useful to loo at the historical origins of the modern Malaysian nation state. The presence of non-indigenous peoples in this country today can be attributed to the )*th century $ritish effort to bring in large numbers of immigrants into the country to help develop it. The #hinese and Indians, arriving initially as indentured labourers and later, as tradesmen and artisans, brought with them their own languages, customs and cultural forms. They thereby added a new, complex social dimension to the hitherto indigenous Malay-Islamic

ambience of the place. It was during the )*th century that the $ritish had also introduced a new 1estern-oriented educational model through the newly-started (nglish language schools. The conse2uence of this development was the introduction of new modes of cultural perception that had slowly but systematically changed the country and its people. The new 1estern-derived educational model, founded on pragmatic, scientific and individualistic underpinnings, resulted in the introduction of moderni"ing influences. $y the early +,th century, the place had been transformed by the growth of the new, urban town centres. 3ew inds of imported architecture had emerged, heralding a new way of life and a new modern era in the nations history. There was a new urban environment and culture, 2uite distinct from that of the earlier, unhurried, rural settings of the Malays and other indigenous peoples. 'nd in this new urbani"ed environment, a new cosmopolitan cultural atmosphere emerged. Initially, these transformative developments too place in the so-called -traits -ettlements which were the new centres of trade, education and social change. It was in the -traits -ettlements of 4enang, -ingapore and Malacca therefore that the new modern art activity initially too root.

.-elf 4ortrait. 5ong Mun -en )*6)

7or those who wanted to find employment within the colonial government service, the mastery of the (nglish language became an essential 2ualification, achieved via attending the (nglish language schools. 3ot everyone, however, went to these schools. The $ritish colonialists, in their attempts to ensure their political dominance over the pluralistic populace, had also introduced a complex .divide-and-rule. educational population policy, whereby different language schools were systematically established for the different ethnic groups as well. ' linguistically fragmented populace, separated by deliberate colonial political design, was the result. The overall $ritish thrust was, nevertheless, towards modernising the country, in order to ma e it a viable contributor to $ritishs industrial ambitions. These moderni"ing processes introduced new modes of cultural perception. Ideas about the physical world changed radically. 7rom the more traditional, religious and symbolic modes of perceiving and interpreting reality, a more scientific and rational appreciation of nature and reality emerged. '

conse2uence of these moderni"ing developments was the emergence of a new ind of creative visual artist in this country. This new artists, initially imbibing the tenets of 3aturalism, new ideas of artistic individualism as an experimental mode of selfexpression, derived from the 1est, differed from the more traditional craftsmen of the place who functioned within strictly religious, symbolic and culturallyrestricted systems and contexts. This new ind of secularistic, modern artistic activity was not restricted by religious or ethnic demarcations.

.4ortrait of My 1ife in 1edding Dress. & Don 4eris )*88

'lthough the beginnings of our modern art tradition is dateable )*+,s, the actual introduction of 1estern-type art forms into this country must have ta en place much earlier. The 4ortuguese had initially introduced #hristian-type imagery into the #atholic

churches in Malacca. The Dutch who replaced the 4ortuguese in Malacca must have also brought into that historic town some examples of naturalistic landscape and portrait paintings for which they had become famous in (urope. 1hat we actually have with us today, in our art museums, are the )*th century scenic topographical views produced by the $ritish traveler-artists, employing an approach founded on the naturalistic 9pictures2ue: treatment. #ompared to the Indians, the Indonesians, the 7ilipinos and the Thais, who had began their modern art movements during the mid-)*th century, Malaysians were late starters. 1hy was this so; ' few reasons may be ventured. The $ritish colonialists had not envisaged a political role for art here and they had not encouraged it. The local ethnic groups were initially also disinclined towards 1estern-type artistic expression. The religious Malay-Muslims were initially suspicious of 1estern education and cultural influences and did not readily ta e to 1estern educational influences and cultural forms during the )*th century. The #hinese and the Indians, having come here as poor immigrants, were more interested in their economic upliftment and certainly not in imbibing 1estern cultural forms. They were initially busy establishing their own cultural edifices and forms. It was only in the early decades of the +,th century that the conditions were right for 1estern-type art commitments. The emergence of small amateur art groups, by the )*+,s, within the -traits

-ettlements, mar ed the humble beginnings of our modernist art commitments.

idiom initially. ' new involvement with easel-painting commitments had been put in place.

.The /ich <and. 'bdullah 'riff )*=,

The uni2ue, intra-ethnic dimension of the story of Malaysian art was already obvious I its beginnings. 'mong the more significant pioneer artists who began the movement may be included 5ong Mun -en, a -arawa -born #hinese, settled in 4enang, &. Don 4eris, an immigrant artist from -ri <an a, who had studied in 4aris and initially come to -ingapore and later settled in >ohor $aru, and 'bdullah 'riff, a 4enang Malay school teacher teaching art in the 4enang 7ree -chool. There were others but these three artists should suffice to illustrate the multi-ethnic beginnings of the new modernist art tradition during the pre-1ar era. There was no support system for artistic activity in those days and our pioneering artists had wor ed in relative isolation and exhibited in school halls and the various community halls. The earliest efforts were mar ed by attempts to record the salient features of the place and its peoples. <andscape paintings, portraiture and still-life efforts had featured in the early days. The favoured mediums were oil painting and watercolour painting. 3aturalism was the preferred

.-till <ife 1ith >ugs. #hia 5u #hian )*=?

$y the late )*8,s, influences from the -chool of 4aris, such as Impressionism, 4ostImpressionism and 7auvism were gradually introduced. The role played by the #hinese immigrant artists during this time was especially significant. Many of these #hinese artists had arrived from mainland #hina, where a historic social and cultural revolution had ta en place, inspired by the May 6th 4ai @ua literary movement of )*)?. There was a new acceptance of the spirit of moderni"ation and realism in literature and art in mainland #hina. The artists had come here to teach in the newly expanded #hinese language secondary schools as art teachers. &ne of these early immigrant artists, <im @a Tai, started the 3anyang 'cademy of 7ine 'rt A3'7'B in -ingapore in )*80.The 3anyang 'cademy was the first proper fine art college to be started in $ritish Malaya. The medium of instruction was Mandarin hence, #hinese Mandarin-educated school leavers

from mainland Malaya as well as -arawa and $ritish 3orth $orneo, went to study there in large numbers, after the -econd 1orld 1ar. It was in the years after the -econd 1orld 1ar that the significant contributions of the 3anyang art movement would be made. During the )*C,s, the 3anyang art movement witnessed the rise of many significant artists such as #heong -oo-4ieng, Deorgette #hen, #hen 1en @si, #hung #hen -un, <ai 7oong Moi, #heah 5ew -ai , Tan #hoon Dhee, Tew 3aitong, #hia 5u-#hian, !hoo -ui-@oe and others. -everal graduates of the college proceeded to 4aris and <ondon to continue their studies and later returned home.

multi-cultural approach can be seen in the wor s they have left behind. ' case in point was the distinctive #hinese-derived pictorial formats and the stylised figure types created by the late #heong -oo-pieng, during the )*C,s, derived from the regions tribal .hampathong. sculptures and styli"ed $alinese wood carvings. The 3anyang artists had set the groundwor for more serious 2uestions to be as ed regarding artistic identity in later decades.

./ice 7ields, Trengganu. 5eoh >in <eng )*=8

.Tropical <ife. #heong -oo4ieng )*C*

The 3anyang artists contributions, among the most sophisticated at that time, revealed interesting experimental attempts to grapple with the 2uestions of cultural and artistic identity. The fusing of #hinese technical influences and pictorial influences and the depiction of #hinese, Malay, Indian, Daya and even $alinese sub%ect-matter, reflects conscious attempts made o produce artistic forms reflective of a multi-ethnic cultural milieu and also, to the larger -outheast 'sia contexts. Their eclectic,

The distinguished Malaysian critic and cultural historian, !rishen >it, has suggested in the boo Eision and IdeaF /e-loo ing Modern Malaysian 'rt A)**6B that a good way of understanding cultural issues in Malaysia would be to adopt an approach that demarcates our post-colonial history into the pre-May )8, )*=* period and a post-May )8.)*=* period. @e had suggested that the May)8, )*=* event may be viewed as a watershed in the history of post-independence Malaysia. It was a traumatic period when the new nation state lost its innocence and began to painfully grapple with the more complex issues of nationhood and national cultural identity. The preMay )8 period had mar ed the

gradual rise of !uala <umpur as the new administrative, economic and cultural capital of Malaysia, a process which had initially began during the early )*C,s. The emergence of two significant art groups in !uala <umpur, namely, the 1ednesday 'rt Droup founded in )*C+ and the 'ng atan 4elu is -emenan%ung in )*C=, signaled a new ma%or venue for artistic activity. !uala <umpur became artistically significant with the formation of the 3'TI&3'< 'rt Dallery of Malaysia by the Malaysia government in )*C0, one year after independence. 4ost-independent Malaysia was then still an agrarian, under-developed nation, selling her natural resources to the world. The country had not yet embar ed on the road towards industriali"ation. Malaysian artists were, understandably, still beset by the post-Merde a euphoria and idealistic visions. 'nd this earlier sense of idealism is clearly detectable in the approaches of the artists who began to exhibit within the new !uala <umpur art scene and elsewhere at that time.

even if new formal approaches were being pro%ected. The nations tropical landscape, with its luxuriant vegetation, became a veritable symbol of nationhood. The land was celebrated as is witnessed in the accomplished earlier landscapes produced by -yed 'hamd >amal and 5eoh >in <eng. The humanity portrayed then was one that existed within an idyllic, happy world of daily chores, happy childrens games, %oyous festivals and seasonal fruit seasons. 'nd this was reflected in the wor s of artists such as Mohamad @oessein (nas, D"ul ifli $uyong and #huah Thean Teng. &ur visual artists had, nevertheless, continued to address the 2uestion of artistic identity, a tendency that had begun with the 3anyang artists. 's was to be expected, in a situation where there was, as yet, no officially prescribed definitions about what the national culture should be, the artistic approaches were open-ended, varied and eclectic.

.4aper $oat. D"ul fi $uyong )*=6

.1oman 4ounding /ice. Mohd @oessein (nas )*C*

The involvement was still largely with the idyllic and the pastoral

The rallying artistic call, during the pre-May )8 days, was centered around the aesthetic search for a distinctive Malaysia art form. This broad-based search for a .Malaysian-ness. had, in fact, started during the )*C=s,

when local anti-colonial intellectuals and university students at the university of Malaya in -ingapore, during the pre-independence period, had as ed the vital 2uestionsF .1hat is Malayan culture;. and .1hat is Malayan identity;. These were indeed complex 2uestions but nevertheless very relevant considering the countrys pluralistic cultural realities. The artistic assumption during the )*=,s had therefore been that artists should arrive at a distinctive .Malaysian. style of painting, immediately recogni"able as .our own. art form. 7ormal experiments and the use of past cultural references, Malaysian, regional and even pan'sian, had featured prominently in the artistic experiments.

.7ishing Eillage. #huah Thean Teng )*C=

.-pirits of the (arth, 1ater and 'ir. 4atric 3g !ah &nn )*C0

-ome interesting attempts were indeed made by the multi-racial artists at that time. $ati painting,

initially introduced by #huah Thean Teng, was deemed a move in the right direction and was hailed as a significant formal brea through. It spawned a number of technical exponents who included Tay Mo <eong and !halil Ibrahim. $ati painting had certainly allowed for a sense of artistic continuity with the craft traditions of the Malay and regional past. -imilarly, 3i Gainal 'bidins interesting efforts at depicting the 1ayang !ulit stories on two-dimensional surface, was an attempt to employ iconography derived from a wider Malay and regional source. 4atric 3gs ambitiously complex metaphysical wor -pirits of the matter, styli"ed Thai and $alinese dance movements and $alinese decorative effects. -yed 'hmad >amals initial introduction of abstract expressionist influences into local art scene in )*C*, was mar ed by interesting syncretic attempts to fuse #hinese and 1estern influences as is noticeable in his highly calligraphic wor , The $ait. 'bdul <atiff MohidinHs effort to arrive at a notion of artistic identity, as reflected in his expressionistic 4ago-4ago series, was to create tropical biomorphic imagery by %uxtaposing various plant shapes derived from the tropical flora as well as utili"ing iconic built forms, derived from the region. Ibrahim @usseins pop art inspired figurative wor , 1hy 're 5ou <i e That;, produced during his 3ew 5or so%ourn, had, however, tended to reflect a more cosmopolitan, mass-culture frame of reference, uni2ue at that time, in Malaysian art developments.

.The $ait. -yed 'hmad >amal )*C*

1hat was discernible from these art wor s was the new degree of technical and ideatic sophistication that had emerged within the art scene. There was also, in many instances, the new employment of international artistic frames of reference in the wor s of some of the new abstract artists. 'bstract (xpressionist pursuits had begun to feature within the local art scene. The art scene had become more sophisticated with the emergence of properly-trained artists returning from 1estern art colleges in (urope and the Inited -tates. The emergence of the 3ew -cene artists in )*=*, advocating a non-personalised, neo#onstructivist art orientation mar ed another aspect of the new international abstractionist commitments. These varied, amorphous artistic approaches clearly mar ed individualistic preferences and personali"ed definitions of artistic priorities. 'nd the spirit of modernist art experimentation had allowed for these varied individualistic approaches. <oo ing bac at the period, one notices too that whereas many of the support systems vital for more serious artistic activity were already falling into place during the )*=,s, there was still the general

absence of serious art critical activity and more serious polemical debate within the art scene. 'rt writing, largely attempted on a %ournalistic and reportorial level, for the most part, had not seriously highlighted or addressed the more serious issues related to the young nations more complex, socialpolitical and social-economic contexts.

.4ago-pago. 'bdul <atiff Mohidin )*=6

The obvious difficulties of arriving at a commonly recogni"able artistic solution or a Malaysian 9style: of painting was perhaps only to be expected, bearing in mind the inherent complexities of this multi-ethnic nation. -till, as modernistic experiments, these artists had contributed significantly to the on-going evolution of the relatively young modern art tradition. Their artistic experiments had been made, however, with little reference to the larger, more complex, real world existing outside the art museum and art gallery contexts. 'nd it was a Malaysian world heading towards an intra-ethnic explosion by the late )*=,s. If anything, one is able today to note the essentially apolitical approach of Malaysian art

movement as a whole, at that time. (thnic tensions were already emerging in the young postindependent nation during the late )*=,s. @ence, when )8 May, )*=* racial riots too place, our visual artists had actually been caught by surprise. 1hat finally became clear to the more serious artists now was that the young Malaysian nation had indeed been built on very fragile foundationsJ

delicate reflective mirror. These two disturbing wor s, inspired by the traumatic racial riots, clearly heralded a new, somewhat belated artistic consciousness of the pertinence of contemporary socio-political contexts and a new possible role for art, which was to address more directly the more complex societal issues besetting the young nation state. The prevailing interest in abstract art and conceptual art concerns by many leading artists, at that time, had, however, discouraged a more serious confrontation with the deeper, intra-ethnic, societal issues for 2uite some time to come.

.1hy 're 5ou <i e That;. Ibrahim @ussein )*=*

The May )8, )*=* intra-ethnic riots between the Malays and the #hinese had indeed mar ed a wa e-up call for Malaysian artists. 'nd two wor s produced in the immediate aftermath of the May )8 event, aptly illustrated a new ind of artistic imagery never seen before. Ibrahim @usseinHs somber wor titled May )8, )*=* A)*?,B featuring a blac ened-out Malaysian flag and the tragic number .)8. inscribed below it addressed the riots. The other wor was /ed"a 4iyadasaHs installation, also titled May )8, )*=* and produced in )*?,. It featured an upright, life-si"e coffin, draped standing on a

.6* -2uares. Tang Tuc !an )*=*

'n immediate conse2uence of the May )8 riots was the 3ational #ultural #ongress which was convened by then governing 3ational &perations #ouncil at the Iniversity of Malaya in )*)?). During this historic #ongress, it was suggested that the nation had to have a common unifying culture and national identity in order to hold it together. It was also decided that affirmative action for the indigenous peoples was a necessary prere2uisite, to correct the existing economic disparities between the races.

'fter much deliberation and debate at the #ongress, it was decided that the nation had to officially lay down the basis of an official national culture. It should be founded on Malay core values, Malay cultural forms and the Malay language as official national language. This must be the unifying basis for the construction of a common official national cultural identity. The other cultures could exist but on an unofficial basis. The resolutions were passed at the #ongress and they were presented to the government to be implemented as soon as possible. The implications of this historic decision was that it altered the cultural contexts within which the nation has operated in ever since. The government had introduced a politically-defined cultural vision and more importantly, it now reinforced the hegemony of the Malay nationalistic forces. The mass narrative would henceforth be founded on a Malay-centered discourse and dominance. The implementation of the Malay language in the universities and schools was thus speeded up and there was now an officially prescribed and politici"ed definition of national culture that would be given priority and adhered to at all official national functions. 'nd this policy has

been use ever since then.

.May )8. /ed"a 4iyadasa )*=*

@ow did this new policy affect the visual artists and the art scene in the post May )8 era; 4erhaps, the one group of artists that as most directly encouraged by the new official, politici"ed vision of national culture and identity were the Malay artists connected to the ITM -chool of 'rt and Design, The art school had been started only in )*=? as part of the effort to upgrade educational opportunities for the Malays and the other indigenous peoples. The Mara Institute of technology Apresently IiTMB, was an integral part of the nations new experiments in social engineering. The ITM art school was filled with Malay staff and students for the most part and it was here that the new Malaycentred artistic vision found its strongest adherents and its manifestation. It was here that some of the more interesting Malay-Muslim experiments began to happen. 1e may be reminded that for the Malay intellectuals and creative artists, the new officially-sanctioned cultural policy was, understandably, a real emotional need now for the Malay

intellectuals, including artists, to rediscover their cultural roots and highlight their notions of 9Malayness:. 1e may also notice here the shift from an earlier artistic search for a broad-based multicultural Malaysian-ness to a new notion of Malay-ness, as the new defining cultural paradigm. This new shift in emphasis inevitably caused the emergence of a new Malay-dominated force within the Malaysian art scene. This new Malay-centred artistic energy found its initial impetus from an important exhibition curated by the painter Datu -yed 'hmad >amal at the Iniversity of Malaya called /upa dan >iwa, which was staged in )*?6. In this exhibition, for the first time ever, all manner of Malay artifacts and visual arts, were brought together from all over the country, analysed and presented authoritatively as a coherent, distinctive cultural manifestation of the Malays. ' boo on the exhibition was published as well. The richness and complexity of Malay art and design was impressive and undeniable. It was certainly an eye-opener. It was, especially for the Malay artists, a revelation and it set off the beginnings of a strong, Malay-Islamic revivalist art movement within the local art scene. These Malay-centred proclivities had began initially in the late )*?,s and lasted well into the early )**,s, before its motivating impulses began to diminish.

./ebab 4layer. Mad 'nnuar Ismail )**)

The Malay-Islamic art movement affected not only the artists connected to the ITM art school but other non-ITM Malay artists as well. Their growing sense of their Malay-ness was further reinforced when the government, in introducing and implementing the 3ew (conomic 4olicyHs affirmative action policy, had demarcated the peoples of this nation into two distinctive groups, namely, the indigenous natives, now to be called the $umiputeras and the non-indigenous immigrants, now to be called the 3on-$umiputeras. This was the new scenario following in the wa e of the May )8 event and a new sense of a cultural schism had inevitably begun to creep into the art scene. These new developments mar ed a more difficult phase indeed, signalling also the beginnings of ethnic tensions and ethnic selfconsciousness within the societyat-large.

.Dunung <edang. -yed 'hmad >amal )*?0

1hat is interesting about the Malay-Islamic art movement referred to above,was that it was motivated by politicised, ideological considerations rooted in the new post-#ultural #ongress governmental policies. There was an undeniable ideatic cohesiveness and a sense of purpose about this new revivalist Malay art movement which differed from that of the earlier ) *=,s artistic efforts discussed earlier. There was also now an attempt made to intellectually explicate the Malay cultural and artistic issue in a number of Malay-Islamic centred seminars and in a number of significant essays that were published. The movement seemed more ideologically centred and had a definite ideatic core. 'nd, the movement had two distinct phases. The initial phase had been mar ed by a conscious search for Malay .roots. and a Malay essentialism or flavour. The artists initially returned to the Malay and -outheast 'sian world and appropriated influences from both Malay and regional sources. Malay cultural forms are, as is well- nown, connected to the overall history of the region. (xamples of this earlier Malay-

centred commitment are evident in 'mron &marHs -ilat paintingsK /u"ai a &mar $assareeHs Dungun -eries L 1indow, Mad 'nnuarHs wood arving /ebab 4layerK -yed 'hmad >amalHs Dunung <edang seriesK Mastura 'bdul /ahmanHs ornately decorative, aerial perpective views of the interiors of traditional Malay housesK Tenh u -abriHs vertical wood columnade sculptures evo ing sensibilities of the region and Ismail GainsHs decorative abstract paintings. The Malay revivalist attempts constituted, in any case, a rich and rewarding foray into the Malay and -outheast 'sian past, consciously underta en, in the search for Malay-centred artistic influences and a Malay artistic essentialism.

.Interior 3o +*. Mastura 'bdul /ahman )*0?

The second phase of the MalayIslamic revival in art, beginning from around the early )*0,s, was mar ed by the introduction of distinctive Islamic values and a mar ed Islamic overtone. The art historian, Gainal 'bidin 'hmad -hariff, has suggested, in his

essay published in the boo Eision and Idea L /eloo ing Modern Malaysian 'rt, that this new Islamic dimension had been partly inspired by the successful Islamic revolution in Iran of )*?0 and the emergence of the Islamic state there. The Malaysian governmentHs Islamisation processes, begun in the early )*0,s, had also given an added impetus th the Islamic dimension that appeared within the Malaycentred artistic movement. The pro%ection of Islamic culture and civili"ation now became the rallying cry within the larger Islamic world as well as and many Malay-Muslim artists lin ed to the ITM art school responded emotionally to new impulses, which saw the introduction of radical new ideas about an Islamic religious world-view being introduces. ' larger philosophical debate ensued. -hould Muslims re%ect the 1estern materialistic philosophy and 1estern idea of modernism; 7or the Muslims intellectuals, 1estern modernism was now viewed as essentially hedonistic, not moralistic but decadent and had thus to be re%ected. It was seculistic and individualistic in orientations and not religio-centred. In short, the 1estern-derived modern artistic and literary movements, founded on humanistic individualism and self-expression, therefore also needed to be re%ected. 'rtHs real function was to highlight the worship of 'llah and his divine laws. &nly religiously inspired art forms were valid for Muslims. 7or the local Malay writers the new rallying call had now become the search for a -astera Islam AIslamic literatureB and for the Malay artists it was -eni Islam AIslamic

artB. The idea of an Islamic .renaissance. gad became the new catch phrase. It was clearly lin ed to a new, globalised Islamic resurgence. The first calls for an Islamic state by certain extremist 2uarters, began to appear in this country around the early )*0,s.

.&ppositions. 'hmad !halid 5usoff )**8

'nd this was the case with some of the ITM artists who embraced the new Islamic consciousness. There was now a re%ection of the underpinnings of the modernist movement in art and the 1esternderived idea of modernity and secularism itself. 't the ITM art school, figurative art was now discouraged and a new prescriptive, abstract approach to art ma ing, founded on Islamic religious and design principles, began to be encouraged, in earnest. The ubi2uitous Islamic >awi script inevitably featured. 'nd this Islamic consciousness

was reflected in the wor s of -ulaiman (sa, 'hmad !halid 5usof, /a%a Gahabuddin 5aacob, @amd"un @aron, and others. In retrospect, it may be stated that the Malay-Islamic approach adopted by the Malay-Islamic visual artists toward creativity, had been founded on the fabrication of cultural forms that owed their sudden appearance to the new ideological and politicised considerations rather than to any natural, historical, evolutionary processes that had ta en place here. It was, in essence, a selfconscious revivalist art movement attempting to evo e the past glories of the 'rab-Islamic past. That these abstract Islamic wor s had emerged within the secularistic confines of the ITM art college, and exhibited within the secularistic contexts of the art museum and the art galleries, rather than in the contexts of everyday-life religious contexts, is a moot point that is worth considering, in hindsight. The movement, nevertheless, had reflected the new politici"ed sentiments that have emerged within sections of the MalayIslamic community in this country since the )*0,s. The on-going, strident calls for the formation of a theocratic Islamic state by the Islamic 4as political party and other local Muslim fundamentalists, mar s the most extreme manifestation of these new Malay-Islamic political impulses within the country. It is posing serious political problems that the present, more liberalised IM3&-led, multi-ethnic $arisan 3asional ruling coalition is having to downplay.

.Tomb -tone. @am"un @arun )**+

The present day Malaysia that has %ust entered the new millennium is indeed a far cry from the Malaysia of the pre-May )8 era. The nation has been successfully industrialising since the )*?,s and Eision +,+,, an idea inspired by the 4rime Minister, Datu -eri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, mar s the target date for possible arrival at fully industrialised nation status. Malaysia is today the eighteenth largest trading partner of the Inited -tates of 'merica and is being held up as a rare model Islamic country that is fast ma ing the transition into the postmodern globalised economic culture, There has arisen a substantial multi-ethnic middle class population. Malaysia is an international success story which is the envy of the other Islamic nations. There is intra-racial harmony and a tolerance of the

nations multi-cultural religions, values and forms. @ow have these radical socio-economic developments affected the local art scene and our other more serious artists in recent years; 1hat are some of the more serious issues that artists are tac ling these days; It may be useful to dwell a little longer with the Malay creative artists. #learly the rise of the new urbanised, consumerist, supermar et culture here in recent years, has affected the older, traditional way of life. These new cultural developments have affected everyone, irrespective of race or religion. It has signaled a new ind of altered cultural environment and has introduced a notion of a new urban identity that has largely overta en the earlier, laid-bac Malay rural contexts and its concomitant sentimentalised visions of a monolithic Malay cultural identity.

.$etween Two -ervings. Din &mar )**+

. My 7ather 'nd The 'stronaut. Ibrahim @ussein )*=*

7or the new Malays of today, it has been mar ed by an especially drastic shift environmentally. 'nd, interestingly enough, not all Malay artists have tended to turn bac the cloc and return to a religious world of the idealised MaIaylslamic past or the 'rab-Muslim cultural past. The new Malay confrontation with the technological age has indeed been a complex transformative process, as it is for everyone else in this country. The inevitable implications of this larger, new global cultural reality was, in fact, initially hinted at by the artist Ibrahim @ussein in his prescient painting My 7ather and the 'stronaut, )*?,. The old, shirtless Malay peasant Ahis fatherB is %uxtaposed standing against the ultimate symbol of the modern machine culture, an 'merican lunar astronaut. -imilarly, Ismail Gain in )*08 had hinted at this new Malay dilemma in his aptlytitled The De-tribalisation of Tam binte #he <at. 'n old Malay woman from the ampung, pictured in the foreground, is surrounded in a new urbanised middle-class home environment, amidst the trappings of the new cultural life-style of her children,

that she now co-habits with uncomfortably. It is a world of new dislocating realities for the older Malay generation. The noted photographer Ismail @ashim has also often commented on the changes happening within the local Malay rural environment. @is 4ema%uan, )*0= is a statement on the disappearance of the authentic rural ampungs, as a result of new developmental and modern housing pro%ects. The image of this particular ampung, stripped bare, has to do, ironically, with the creation of a new golf course in 4enang. The social dislocations have also been commented on by the younger Malay artists as well, often with humour and sometimes with acute pain. &mar Dins $etween Two -ervings, )**+ alludes to two culinary habits in the new Malay world nowadays, namely, that of the nasi lema stalls and older habit of eating with hands and the contrasting for and spoons and slee wine glasses of the new coffee house culture of the new, posh hotels and the new middleclass Malay life style. The impact of the global popular mass-culture and pop culture on the Malay psyche has been commented upon by the late Ismail Gain in his computerised print showing the (rwings of the TE -eries Dallas, posing before a traditional Malaccan Malay house. /a%a -harimanHs depictions of the Malay -ilat warrior, as portrayed in his metal sculptures, are depersonalised, dehumanised entities, nearer to the cyborg world of the science fiction movies than to the older, flesh and blood, feudal world of the legendary Malay warriors @ang Tuah and @ang >ebat. The new urbani"ed

realities of unmarried mothers, abandoned babies, abused children, drug addiction, and the problems of young disaffected Malay urban youth, in more recent times, has been commented upon realistically and powerfully by $ayu Itomo /ad%i in and other Malay artists. These wor s pro%ect another view of the contemporary Malay socio-cultural dilemma. Malay cultural identity is oviously not monolithic. <i e the other ethnic cultures in this country, it is undergoing radical changes as a conse2uence of rapid progress. The issue of defining cultural identity is obviously getting even more complex for all Malaysians, including the visual artists, as they all arrive at the new portals of the wired-up and computerised, post-modernist Dlobal Eillage of the new century. 'nd, an essential part of this new postmodernist, globalised cultural paradigm, ironically enough, is that it is founded on the new, more challenging notion and recognition of multi-ethnic and multi-cultural realitiesJ

.The 'buse Eictim. $ayu Itomo /ad%i in )**6

1hat is becoming clear about the Malaysian art scene today is that it is a very much more complex

and sophisticated scene, when compared to that of the immediate post-3ational #ultural #ongress period of the )*?,s. There are many local art colleges today, so many trained fine artists, many serious art boo s and art critical publications, many commercial art galleries and many art patrons and art collectors. The wor s of our artists are also being collected by foreign museums and people outside the country. &ur more serious artists are now also winning international awards. 1hat seems interesting is the emergence, since the early )**,s, of a new generation of younger Malaysian fine artists. These younger artists have been exposed to the new, more radical methods of art teaching that have been introduced in the art colleges. Their perceptions clearly differ from that of the older generation of artists, educated during the -ixties and -eventies. These new artists reflect new creative approaches. 4ostmodernist ideas have permeated art colleges everywhere in the world and altered the very idea of the artist. -yllabuses have been dramatically overhauled in art colleges and a multi-disciplinary, comparative approach of cultural and liberal studies has been substituted. 'nd, the very notion of artistic activity has ta en on new meaning, as a conse2uence. 3ot the least of these is the consideration of historical, societal and linguistic influences as vital ingredients of the art ma ing process. The earlier mythification of the artist as a uni2uely inspired self-centred genius, has been debun ed today. 'll historical and cultural myths are sub%ect to re-2uestioning

today. The new artist must now understand the nature of cultural discourses and the way cultural signs and mythic values are manipulated by hegemonic power groups. Discourse rather than style has become the big defining word in artistic activity today. 'rtists must intervene in the value-ma ing process and in the re-defining of socio-cultural contexts. 'nd, if necessary, the creative artist should attempt to deconstruct entrenched cultural systems in order to liberate thin ing processes. ' more conceptual approach has, as a result, emerged within the local art scene today, challenging previous definitions of what art and artists should be about. ' more socially committed artist has clearly emerged in this country since the early l**,s, employing provocative, confrontational and re-2uestioning approaches in his creativity. -imilarly, the new interest in multi-dimensional artistic installations and electronic video presentations signal new, significant areas of artistic exploration and expression.

.-ing ' -ong 7or 'h !ong 'nd 'h Ma. <iew !ungyu )**6

The emergence of these new younger generation artists during the )**,s has also signalled a

new, healthy, regenerative return to figurative art concerns and realism. 'bstract art impulses, which had dominated the art scene for so long, are now on the decline. 5ounger artists are loo ing at the real world, dealing with it realistically and also re2uestioning it. Diven the nature of the multi-ethnic reality of the contemporary Malaysian situation, it is only to be expected that alternative artistic perceptions and re-definitions of the issue of national cultural identity will emerge. 'nd these perceptions may not be in tandem with politically dominant officiallysponsored Malay-Islamic perceptions. They may be reactionary and in &pposition to the officially prescribed idea of cultural identity and an officially politicised version of Malaysian history even. Marginalisation will and does encourage reactions on the part of those artists who feel ethnically marginalised. 'nd this has happened in recent years with the emergence of a significant number of younger non-Malay artists who have consciously pro%ected non-Malay themes and issues in their art wor s.

The beginnings of this impulse is traceable to the early )**,C and after. It was initially connected to the Malaysian Institute of 'rt, Aor MI'B a private art school set up by the #hinese community. The MI' art college is filled with a #hinese staff and #hinese students for the most part. The presence of the newly-returned I.-. trained artist, 1ong @oy #heong, at the MI', during the early )**,s, as a teacher, proved conse2uential to the search for a more assertive #hinese-ness. This search for a 3on-Malay point of view may be viewed as a counterpoint to the Malay-Islamic impulses. 1ongs initial ma%or wor , a video installation produced in )**, untitled Sook Ching dealt with the atrocities of the >apanese occupation, suffered by all Malaysians. The artists attempt to construct a more composite, multi-ethnic history was very obvious. 'll the races were featured in his video installation. &ld men and women, of all races, recounted their painful experiences. It pro%ected a historical narrative that was multiethnic in its orientations. 'll Malaysians had suffered. 'll Malaysians are the real heroes of modern Malaysian historyJ

.!de , !de , &ng. @asnul >amal -aidon )**6

.-oo #hing. 1ong @oy #heong )**,

1ong @oy #heongHs Migrant -eries produced during the mid)**,s was a tour de force, consisting of more than fifteen large blac and white paintings documenting the rich history of the #hinese community in this country. It was clearly the younger #hinese generationHs call for a reconsideration of modern Malaysian history itself. The Migrant -eries had highlighted the drama of the #hinese diaspora and the indelible #hinese contributions to the building of this modern nation. It highlighted the contributions of the .&thers.. &ther younger #hinese artists belonging to his generation have also reacted to the overt MalayIslamic tendencies and the sense of being marginalised by the new politicised processes. They have made attempts to pro%ect the #hinese point of view. (xamples include !ung 5u <iewHs @ungry Dhost 7estival and #hengbeng 7estival. Tan #hin !uanHs To !now Malaysia Is To <ove Malaysia depicts a !af a-li e, haunted, depersonalised landscape of images featuring the faces of young alienated #hinese youth. The paintingHs title was ta en from a popular Malaysian tourist campaign %ingle, boasting a happy, multi-racial Malaysia. The emergence of angst in the wor s of the younger artist is telling. <eong #hee -iongHs 1ho are 1e, 1here do 1e come from and 1here are 1e going; is another recent wor by a younger #hinese artist raising 2uestions about identity in this country. The artist appears in the wor , standing alongside another marginalised figure, an &rang 'sli. The stream of life separates the two. $oth

figures confront the viewerHs eyes frontally. -ylvia DohHs nostalgic recreations of the vanishing $aba3yonya world are founded on her own rich memories drawn from her own life experiences . (ng @wee #huHs feminist painting titled $lac Moon is a subtle statement of two inds of Malaysian womenhood. @er teeshirt clad self portrait, in the pose of undressing herself, is %uxtaposed against a fully veiled, woman clad in blac , in the bac ground, seated %ust behind her. It is a poignant, younger female artists view of the countrys complex ethnic and religious cultural problems today. 'round the same time, a younger generation Indian artist, >. 'nurendra had produced star images about the Indian condition. @e has produced images of Indian festivals and also of a more star picture of the poverty and social ills that have beset the marginalised wor ing class Tamil community me of the most powerful figurative art wor s in the story of modern Malaysian art, to date. 'nd they also include powerful images of that other usually forgotten half of our nation, namely, the (ast Malaysians. These new images celebrating the rich culture of the Daya s especially, have come from Malaysian artists who have come to !uala <umpur from (ast Malaysia. 'mong these artists may be included $ayu Itomo /ad%i in, !elvin #hap, and -hia 5ih 5ing.

.Immunity. Gul ifli 5usoff )**8

growing decline of the nation state as a self-contained, selfdefining entity and the emergence of new ideas pertaining to alternative regional .centres. as the new "ones of economic and cultural influence Ai.e. the The Inited -tates, the (uropean Inion, /ussia, the 'sia- 4acific, 'sean etc.,B such a proposition may not seem so far-fetched even, given the new realities of the shrin ing, borderless Dlobal Eillage.

The earlier strident Malay-Islamic artistic impulses generated by the ITM artists, in the wa e of the 3ational #ultural #ongress period, are clearly already on the decline. (ven the earlier strident calls for a -astera Islam, by our Malay writers have become less heard today. Interestingly enough, a number of Malay Muslim artists, ex-students of the ITM art college, have turned to tribal, non-Islamic regional influences for their artistic sources and visual effects. 1or s by artists such as D"ul ifli 5usof, 7atimah #hi , >ailaini 'bu @assan and Mohd. '"har Manan employ influences that are clearly rooted in the authentic, indigenous -outheast 'sian cultural milieu. 'n artist who has persistently involved herself with the region and its political developments is 3irmala -hanmugahlingam. This is an area that needs to be investigated more closely by Malaysian artists as indeed the peoples of the -outheast 'sian region have a commonly shared prehistory and have parta en of the various ongoing civili"ational exposures and cultural transformations that have shaped the complex, regional history of -outheast 'sia. 1ith the

.Eietnam. 3irmala -hanmughalingam )*0)

Malaysian 'rtistF 5ong Mun -en. Tsai @orng #hung. 'bdullah 'riff. <ee #heng 5ong. #heong -oo 4ieng. >ehan #han 5ee $ing. <ai 7oong Moi. <u #hon Min. Tew 3ai Tong. Deorgette #hen. #hia 5u-#hian. 'nthony <au. Tay @ooi !eat. -yed 'hmad >amal. 5eoh >in <eng. <im (ng @ooi. Mohd -ani bin Md. Dom. >ohan Mar%onid. &. Don (ric 4eris. Doh 'h 'ng. 3i Gainal 'bidin bin 3i -alleh. -yed Tha%udeen. 4atric 3g !ah &nn. Teng u -abri bin Teng u Ibrahim. 'bdul <atiff Mohidin. 7atimah #hi . Mastura 'bdul /ahman. 'hmad !halid 5usof. -ulaiman @%. (sa. 3oraini 3asir. /a%a Gahabuddin /a%a 5aacob. @a%i @ashim @assan. 'mron &mar. <ong Thien -hih. >ailani 'bu @assan. !elvin #hap !o <eong. $ayu Itomo /ad%i in. Gul ifli Dahalan. Mohamad @oessein (nas. D"ul ifli $uyong. -am%is Mat >an. Ismail Gain. Ismail @ashim. 3irmala -hanmughalingham. Ga aria 'li. /ed"a 4iyadasa. -ylvia <ee Doh. -hia 5ih 5ing. 1ong @oy #heong. <iew !ung 5u. 3orma 'bbas. > 'nurendra. (ng @wee #hu. Tan #hin !uan. !o 5ew 4uah. 1ong 1oan <ee. >olly !oh. 'wang Damit. -harifah 7atimah Gubir. 7au"an &mar. Tan Tuc !ang. #hoong !am !ow. <ee !ian -eng. Tan @on 3yan. >oseph Tan. Mad 'nnuar Ismail. /a%a -hahriman /a%a '"idin. Ibrahim @ussein. @asnul >amal -aidon. Gul ifli 5usoff. '"nan &mar. 1ong 4e 5u. Mohd -uhaimi.