Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dr Syamir Mohideen /s Collection- Art by Borhann{ 6ftx4ft acrylic on canvas}

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Turkey takes own art path

Art & about: Turkey takes own art path



While the rest of the Middle East have occasional references to Islamic culture, it’s a rare sight in Turkish art

DESPITE the Asian art market making a shaky recovery, collectors are always looking for the next new thing. Should they look East or West? A lot of them are getting both in one reasonably priced package. Turkey is the field of the moment. Turkish contemporary art has been getting more attention in the past year than it has for decades. It may not have caught on as vigorously as Iran, its great rival in Western Asia, but while Iranian art is old news, Turkey has the merit of obscurity. Turkish artists were even left out of the pioneering exhibition, Word into Art, held at the British Museum in 2006. With the subtitle, Artists Of The Modern Middle East, Turkey’s role might have been expected to be greater than that of Tunisia, Sudan or Japan. But this was not the case as none of the 80-plus artists were from Turkey. This was not entirely unexpected as the emphasis was on the written word in Arabic script. While almost every corner of the Islamic art world is working diligently in this field, Turkey seems to have excluded it from its contemporary art. What Turkey does best is art divorced from religion. The exhibition, Without Boundary, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, also in 2006, did include an important Turkish artist, Kutlug Ataman. It also had a suitably outlandish entry from novelist Orhan Pamuk. His two-page essay starts with “Hi! Thank you for reading me...” and ends with “ still don’t understand me but already you’re casting me aside”. Pamuk may be right about the failure to understand, but there’s no question of Turkish art being cast aside. What a happy coincidence that Turkey’s most famous author is also an outspoken advocate of the visual arts. He came up with an impressive novel on traditional Ottoman art (My Name is Red) while creating extraordinary intros to contemporary art shows. All that’s needed now is for a major exhibition to promote the brand. So far, Nigella’s husband, Charles Saatchi, has resisted anything more than a superficial involvement, despite his family name being of Turkish origin. Identity is what collectors want to see in new marginal art markets. Where would China be without its Mao imagery? Or Iran without its rich history and monochromatic chadors? Turkey turns out to be a blank canvas. Its curious geographical placing between East and West makes it a grey area in terms of influences, albeit with lots of actual colour. But just as the Ottoman empire looked west for centuries, modern Turks are doing much the same. If entry into the European Union depended on artistic harmony with Europe, the EU welcome mat would have been presented to Turkey long ago. The most conspicuous feature of contemporary Turkish art is its secular nature. While the rest of the Middle East have occasional references to Islamic culture, it’s a rare sight in Turkish art. Although the veil is as big an issue in Turkey as it is in Iran, the latter has made an entire genre out of it. Turkey has taken its own path, and it’s one that might chill state interventionists. This is a country that has grown from having a handful of art galleries to a couple of hundred in a short time.

It is noticeable how little interest has come from the government. The private sector accounts for almost the entire art patronage of Turkey. Banks especially have also been highly supportive. Most of the best museums and galleries are private foundations.

The other force pushing Turkey into the world arena is Sotheby’s. The second of its ground-breaking sales took place last week and showed a wider range of material than a year ago. This international presence has given collectors everywhere the chance to see what Turkish art is all about, and it has boosted sales at local auction houses. Earlier this month, a local company in Istanbul sold a painting by Erol Akyavas, one of the top Turkish artists, for a record price of 1.2 million euros. The majority of works sold at these auctions are in the RM100,000 to RM200,000 band, which a surprising number of collectors feel comfortable with. It makes the field one of the most affordable around, as these prices apply to some of Turkey’s best-known names. In the latest Sotheby’s auctions were some of the dead masters such as the rare female painter Fahrlenissa Zeid whose works go for almost as much as Akyavas’, along with stars of the future such as Taner Ceylan whose painting, 1881, is one of the few contemporary Turkish works to use the fez — a real Ottoman icon that appalled Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Turkey’s great moderniser would be more pleased to find that Istanbul is this year’s European Capital of Culture and that the Istanbul Biennale is growing in importance. Perhaps the only deterrent to Turkey assuming its rightful place as a Western art centre is the romanisation of the language that Ataturk introduced in 1928. This is still so awkward for non-Turkish speakers — and printers — that it is completely ignored in English-language catalogues.

Mastermind behind art shows

Mastermind behind art shows



Shooshie Sulaiman tells RACHEL JENAGARATNAM about her multi-faceted role in the art scene

IF you had to define the word “curator” in a quiz show, would you opt to “phone a friend”, “ask the audience” or answer the question yourself? After all, it’s a relatively unknown job and very few people know just how important a curator is in the art world.

Major art institutions and galleries are incomplete without curators whose task is to create shows that raise their profile and draw audiences in.

Shooshie Sulaiman, an artist-curator and gallery director of 12, explains: “The curator is the mastermind behind the exhibition. The curator handles promotion, operations, management and does the writing. The curator directs the entire show.” But in this country, Shooshie feels that the curator’s responsibilities have been reduced to just writing tasks. “To me, the job involves many things. You can release a one-page statement for an art exhibition, but there are so many other things involved.

“The budget, for example. Oh, the budget!” she says, laughing. As gallery director, Shooshie has balanced a spreadsheet or two, having curated a number of unorthodox exhibitions that challenge the norm among art galleries in the city.

Priority is placed on the message behind each exhibition, ample documentation and unconventional displays that give audiences the ultimate benefit of learning from the artworks.

Notable exhibitions she has curated include Ahmad Fuad Osman’s Dislocated, Puah Chin Kok’s Art as Photography as Art, and 12’s Archive series, which has seen her and her team excavate and document the life and works of artists with a zeal and effort that archaeologists would be proud of.

Recently, she has extended her role as a curator into other areas, notably managing the private art collection of Aliya and Farouk Khan (AFK).

“My team and I were initially asked to create an inventory for the collection. Then I proposed a few other stages. Photo documentation is first and we also plan to research each individual artwork, but it’s a big task,” she explains.

Today, the AFK collection boasts almost 1,000 contemporary homegrown artworks and is arguably the most formidable in the country. The quality and number are enough to rival that of a bona fide institution’s. Last year, the AFK collection bridged the private-public divide with a showcase at the Danga City Mall in Johor Baru. It was shown as part of the Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show, where Shooshie served as curator.

“Curating that show was really amazing. Never before had an art fair been exhibited that way here,” she says, beaming, referring to the use of vacant shoplots in the mall and the fair’s various fringe programmes that included an artist residency and an art competition that fished out new talents in the growing contemporary art scene.

Puah Chin Kok — Exhibition featuring unique display of photographs
“It was massive, but I liked it because it was challenging,” says Shooshie, an established artist herself.

“Your biggest challenge — as an artist or curator — is to create artwork for the public. In Kuala Lumpur, you still have gallery goers, but in Johor, this isn’t the case!” The AFK collection will be shown again soon together with the launch of a book about the collection’s artists and artworks. Shooshie will once again helm the curatorial duties.

Has it been a tough job managing such an extensive collection? “It’s not difficult, but I consider it a very interesting journey,” says Shooshie, who also speaks highly of the collectors.

“With Farouk, it goes two ways and I really enjoy the discourse we have. We learn from each other.” Matching levels of enthusiasm between the collector and the curator is the key in their relationship.

“Farouk would travel to Kelantan and stay there for 10 hours to be with an unknown artist and then travel back to KL. I like this obsession. It matches my own passion,” says Shooshie.

She and her team — Fatina Alfis and Farah Alwani — have been around long enough to see the collection grow.

“Farouk’s collection started with two-dimensional works, but he’s moved into other mediums such as installations and drawings,” she says, adding that this lends another fascinating dimension to the AFK collection.

For Shooshie, the personal gains of being a curator are obvious. She says it is the perfect balance to her fine art practice.

“The best experience for an artist is to create something, be it an exhibition or artwork,” she sums up.

Still confused about what a curator does? Well, if you are ever in the hot seat in a quiz show, you know who to call.

Embracing matters of art

Embracing matters of art


By Mazlina Mohd Noor(

MY first brush with fear occurred in 1987. Like the other little boys and girls in my class, I had to digest all my Year One lessons in a building facing a Chinese cemetery.

We often stared at the tombstones from our classroom window. Sometimes, we even tried to count the number of plots only to lose track through the sound of our own quickening heartbeats.

I had classes in the afternoon, so dad would usually pick me up by 6.15pm, latest. But on one particularly cloudy day, that didn't happen.

Dusk was approaching and my dad's trusty old Civic was nowhere to be seen. Buses and cars zoomed by, leaving only a few kids behind, including me, standing miserably at the porch. There were staff members scattered about, but when you're 7, hungry and in close proximity with the undead, you don't see what you should be seeing any longer.

I felt horrible. My initial feeling was that something terrible had happened to my parents. By 7pm, I had properly lost the will to live. I sobbed uncontrollably while trying hard not to look north. The sky turned yellow and I knew that once darkness took over, evil spirits would come out and grab me.

Suddenly, a familiar sight screeched to a sudden halt. Grinning from ear to ear, mum and dad swiftly packed me into the back seat of our car, completely unaware of how paranoia had almost paralysed their last born. Waving a rabbit-shaped pencil box as a token of apology, Mum rattled on about how they got delayed in traffic. But it was too late. My 7-year-old nerves had been shot to ribbons and I remember not wanting to ever feel that way again.

Yet as life would have it, fear would continue to plague my existence. It would accompany me throughout that ridiculous journey of achieving the idea of perfection that was mostly in my head. This persisted until I came across a painting which affected my perception. It was the inventive work of the eminent Spanish Catalan artist, Salvador Dali.

The Anthropomorphic Cabinet depicts a man burying his head into one of the many drawers attached to him, searching for an explanation of what is happening within.

Shadows of people lurk in the distant, and although the man seems to reach out as if telling them to stop and wait for him, he is still more interested in peering into his chest of drawers.

Dali had cleverly used bizarre imagery to illustrate the secret compartments within human beings and how they spend too much time smelling the odours that emanate from each.

Too often, I have done the exact mistake of focusing on my own inner fears and flaws. I used to draw comparisons with my peers, wondering if I was as smart or as competitive and as talented as them. I feared the unlikely and everything that was beyond my control. I blamed myself for what I thought I lacked, yet never fully addressing it. I was far too intent on being crippled by negativity.

Being self-absorbed in the most excessive manner only promotes a weaker mind and a dangerous sort of self-indulgence. When humans tend to overestimate or underestimate their own value, reality takes a dimmer view.

Dali, in his painting, had dissected this through a looking glass with a language of innocence that floats between genius and madness.

He showed me that being exposed to your deepest fear gives less power to the fear itself. I am no longer so wary of my limitations or take too much pride in my accomplishments, as if the state of my person solely depended on them.

To be too afraid, or conscious, of anything and everything certainly diverts you from what truly matters: the enjoyment of life and appreciating your loved ones.

The way art feeds minds and heals hearts never ceases to amaze me. Absorbing a painting, with its stiff, passionate dignity and moral demands can smash open a person's blocked-off sorrows.

The incredible works of Dali, who had dabbled in almost every artistic medium imaginable, from furniture to sculpture, greatly fascinate me.

He defied all conventions and charged forward with a spirit unmatched by others. The way he painted his dreams and moods in a precise illusionistic fashion produces thunderous revelations about social character.

Dali's brand of surrealism destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision, and the ideals which it expounds are nothing short of an eye-opener.

Through art, I discovered a new kind of adrenaline rush not found in pure arithmetic or fast cars. I realised that real education lies in the simplest form of aesthetics. It holds the power to change the way one views the world.

The Anthropomorphic Cabinet has reinforced my belief in the importance of being kind to myself and being brave.

As Ernest Hemingway said: "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

For the love of art

For the love of art

RICHARD Wee Guanlee, a Singaporean, went to London in 1975 to start a branch of Singapore's United Overseas Bank (UOB).

Two years after leaving UOB, Wee assisted DBS Bank to open a branch in London in 1982.

But Wee was not destined to remain a banker for long as he would sneak to the City of London Library during lunch -- whenever he had time -- to go through the volumes of art books.

Then he started going to evening classes in London to learn to paint in water colours. By then, there was no turning back. Wee had rediscovered his first love -- art.

The self-made artist says: "My attitude was that of a student pursuing a university fine arts course which I missed in my teens.

"I have always loved and have been interested in art since my A level days when I did my art exams without the help of a teacher as my school did not offer the subject at that level.

"The University of Singapore did not offer a fine arts course, so I pursued a degree in Business Administration instead."

To Wee, any education is never wasted. However, he is quick to add that he does not overtly encourage anyone to take up art just because of great interest unless the particular student is a prodigy of sorts. Then it is a different matter as the student becomes almost a national treasure. Wee laments that Asian education is generally by rote which would render studying art less useful to society especially if it has not reached a level to appreciate and pay for it.

He admits that when he first discovered that he could produce good saleable work he toyed with the idea of early retirement to become a full-time artist.

However his pragmatic instincts told him that it was possible to enjoy both worlds at the same time: to continue having regular income and enjoy his art work without any pressure to pay for his keep.

In time Wee managed to participate in public exhibitions in North London. His work was one of the first pieces sold on one opening day.

At his first and only participation in a British Amateur Art Society exhibition, Wee received a merit award for an effort in his first year of painting.

Since then, Wee has participated in several art exhibitions. Last year he did some umbrella art which exhibited in China, Italy, Kenya and Germany. The artwork will be exhibited in the United States later this year.

The umbrella painting, which he entitled World Disarray After Global Warming, went on a global exhibition together with other society umbrellas. What is unusual about Wee's umbrella painting is that he swapped the positions of Australia and England to illustrate the topsy-turvy effects of global warming.

"I have some shoe art which are now on exhibition on the Isle of Wight. The Cleopatra or snake slipper is one of my five sculptures on exhibition.

"I am also planning a porcelain patina sculpture to be completed soon."

As in the lives of most artists, there is always a moment of truth. A revelation of sorts.

For Wee, that significant moment happened in 2004 when he underwent cataract operations on both his eyes and had to stop water-colour painting for two years to enable his brain to regain its proper colour values.

It was then that he realised how beautiful the world is in all its colours. Undaunted by the handicap, Wee experimented with painting in Chinese ink which is in monochrome.

"But not the usual Chinese paintings of mountains and bamboo. Most of my works are of life models.

"I also started to learn to sculpt in clay and have now become good friends with teacher Frances Segelman, a well-known celebrity sculptor, who recently unveiled her sculptures of The Queen of England."

Today, Wee is retired from work and spends most of his time between art and personal investments plus dancing three times weekly. He does ballroom dancing and ceroc -- a mix of jive and salsa -- which is robust and, therefore, good exercise.

An avid skier for the last 27 years, Wee's personal achievement occurred in the mid-1990s when he went with a few English friends to Italy for his annual ski holiday.

He skied down Vallee' Blanche from Aigulle du Midi (at an altitude of 3,880m) near Mount Blanc. He skied on a glacier of 17km and a further 5km of frozen ice slope to Chamonix, a village in France. It was an adventure that he lives to tell his grandchildren about.

So should a student pursue art as a major?

Yes and no, depending on the level of social advancement of his country. There are certainly more opportunities for budding artists overseas as the market is clearly bigger than in Asia.

Take, for example, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in the United States. There is a sculpture gallery in the museum where artists are allowed to do their drawings there and are even provided with paper, pencils and an easel bench.

When Wee visited the Getty Museum, he did a 20-minute pencil drawing. The museum officers saw the finished product and put a stamp "Produced at the Getty Museum" on it. Wee was chaffed as the stamp had put a special value to the drawing.

Wee summarises it neatly by saying: "Only after our stomachs are satisfied can we think of other pleasures in life.

"And of course if the child is a savant, then it's a totally different issue. It is also a chicken-and-egg problem.

"I am still a long way from lucrative fame. An artist needs a lucky break, and this means that good connections are essential too."

Associate Professor Koh Soo Ling is with the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA. Email her at

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the side of truth and justice

On the side of truth and justice

What is the biggest difference in the art scene today compared to the past?

I have seen the art scene progress from Merdeka to now. I witnessed the British flag come down and Malaysian flag go up. In terms of art, you could say I am a child of Merdeka.

A year after Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman set up the National Art Gallery to preserve Malaysian art. There were groups of people in power, mainly government servants, who supported the arts and wanted to see the art scene grow. The support given to nurture the arts was healthy and fantastic. Artists like me had more freedom and were not hampered by tradition.

Art was seen as an expression of society.

The government encouraged and supported artists to take part in international exhibitions.

Malaysian art was travelling all over the world. International audiences and critics were impressed with our work and praised it. I was only in my 30s when I got such exposure and responsibilities.

But slowly the exposure of Malaysian art in the international art scene declined.

Why do you think this happened?

The focus was on the economy, culture and politics. The emphasis was more on science and technology. There was a period when the government was even suspicious of artists.

I believe we should have continued our effort to expose our art outside Malaysia. We should have taken part in more international exhibitions.

Are you saying the government doesn’t support the art scene any more?

The government is still giving support. But it is not on a big scale. There are more artists now and the artists are more successful economically. They can paint and still survive. In the old days, artists like me could not make a living as an artist. A lot of us had to become art teachers. Now, there are art patrons such as banks, various organisations and individuals who are willing to buy art works. The art scene is healthier.

If we had continued to actively promote our art outside Malaysia, by now our art would have gotten international recognition. Right now, there is no vision of bringing Malaysian art outside Malaysia.

Why do you think the emphasis is more on science and technology?

It is not for me to say why the government decided to do this but I would like to see an equal emphasis on the arts. It is still not too late to get international recognition. We have the artists and the work to impress international audiences and critics.

Are you sad, bitter and de-motivated that the government has given less emphasis to the arts?

I am not. If I was sad, bitter and de-motivated, I would not have carried on. If you look at my body of work, you will know I have been producing art works despite the condition we were in. I believe everything that happens is God’s will. We must make the best of any situation. We cannot protest so much. We cannot be mourning always. Besides, I have never created art just to get fame and fortune. I create art because I need to express myself as a creative individual.

Is the government doing enough?

It is never enough no matter how much they do. I will always wish for more. (We laugh).

Are artists respected in Malaysia?

I do not know about respect. But I think there is recognition. People are willing to pay RM200,000 for a painting. It goes to show there is recognition. When I became an artist, it was never about the money. If I thought about the money I would have done something else. In my early days, I could not survive as an artist. I became an art teacher so I could paint in the afternoon.

Some people have this impression the art in this country caters to the elite. Do you agree?

It has become such a cliché. I never paint for the elite. I paint because there is a compulsion in me to express myself as a creative person. Sometimes I give a free talk on art because I want to give back to society.

There are organisations who would love to buy some of my works at any price. But I am not willing to part with those works because they involve the history of this country and it should belong to certain organisations where everyone has a chance to see them. If I had painted for money, I would have parted with those works a long time ago. There might be some artists who create art for the elite only. But that is not my concern.

What is your advice to young painters?

You must be honest and sincere in your work. If you paint for money, you might be successful for a while. You create art because you are compelled to … it is part of your existence.

What is the constant message in your work?

There is an aspect of truth and reality in my work. My work reflects my relationship with the world I live in ... my relationship with my country ... my relationship with my environment … and the political situation. I am not envious of people in power. But I am not fond of pretentious politicians. I have addressed unpleasant issues on canvas such as Palestine, Reformasi and the May 13 riots.

Has your work offended anyone?

I held an art exhibition where I had painted Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was the prime minister then) and Musa (Tun Musa Hitam, the former deputy prime minister) on one canvas. My work showed the 2M (Mahathir and Musa) factor in political scenario. Obviously, Mahathir was not happy with the piece. But I didn’t paint for him. As an artist, I study the situation around me and put it on canvas.

Much later I had another exhibition that showed the country’s progress over 50 years. He (Mahathir) was smiling moving from one canvas to another. He stopped smiling when he came to one work that reflected the Reformasi period (Anwar Ibrahim being sacked as deputy prime minister). This time around, he was not so angry. My wife and I even bumped into him at Starbucks after the exhibition. My wife wanted to take a picture with him. He obliged. He even took a picture with me and jokingly said he could use the picture against me and show that ‘I am on his side.’ (He smiles). I didn’t create those pieces to offend him. I paint to reflect the situation around me.

Have you come to a stage where people are afraid to criticise your work?

I do not expect people to praise my work all the time. But if you criticise my work, you must have valid reasons to support your views. You must have some knowledge of art before criticising my work.

But are you ready to face bad reviews?

So far nobody has said anything bad about my work. Are you going to be the first to give me a bad review? I am ready to face any review. But it is must be constructive criticism.

There is a belief that Islam forbids Muslim artists from drawing figures and portraits. What is your stand?

It is not forbidden. If you look at Persian, Turkish and Moghul paintings, there are figure drawings and portraits. As long as you do not create an image with the aim of worshipping it, you are not going against Islamic teaching.

What is the greatest misconception people have about you?

People believe that I belong to a certain political party. But I do not. I stand on the side of truth and justice.

Why do you think people jump to this conclusion? Is it because you created the logo for Parti Keadilan?

I created a few paintings about Anwar and the Reformasi period and I would not deny that I created the logo for Keadilan. I called it Adil (Justice). But they modified it and called it Keadilan.

So people jump to the conclusion I belong to the opposition camp. But that is not the case.

I have also painted on other issues. I paint what I see. I have done logos for other organisations.

PAS asked me to join them. But I refused. I do not want to belong to any political party. Like I said earlier, I want to be on the side of truth and justice.

Were you disappointed when the party changed your logo from Adil to Keadilan?

Why should I be? It is their organisation. They have the right to modify my logo. They have every right to do what is best for their organisation.

What is your view on 1Malaysia?

There has always been 1Malaysia and there will always be 1Malaysia. Since independence, we (all of the different races) have always worked together peacefully in every aspect. Of course there will be hiccups and we will not always be perfect. It is the same with any other country, including the United States and United Kingdom. The idea of us working together should not be a deliberate effort. It should be a natural process.

Do you have any dream as an artist you want to accomplish now?

Yes. I have a few projects in mind. These art works are large pieces … huge sculptures and art designs. One of my projects is to show the Malay culture from the past to the present. It will be like mini-museums where you see the influences that shape the Malay community. People tell me that these dreams are difficult to materialise because of the size. I will not stop trying to make this dream come true. I believe as long as there is hope, there is a chance that these dreams will come true, God-willing.

Do you remember what inspired you to become an artist?

I was 10 or 11 when I saw some artists in Johor Baru (his hometown) painting in water colour and I thought these works were beautiful. I was inspired to create similar works.

Who are the artists you admire?

Titian Bohicelli (Italy), Picasso (Spain), Braque (France), Matisse (France), Truner (Britain), Monet (France) and many more. They were innovators and ground breakers who gave shape and form to the manifestation of human spirit.

If you were not an artist, what would you have become?

Most probably a writer. In school, I actively took part in writing competitions and won a few. I have written several articles and a few books on the arts. My memoir Kunang-Kunang: Kenang-Kenangan Syed Ahmad Jamal was published in 1997. It was in Malay. I have plans to write a memoir in English.