BY ZENA KHAN
Zena Khan is an independent curator, researcher and published writer who specialises in Malaysian contemporary art. Additionally, she is curator for The AFK Collection, a seminal private collection of the first generation of Malaysian contemporary art. Her practice is delivered across several curatorial platforms, including the production of exhibitions, publication of books and a series of culture columns for art and luxury publications. Zena received a Master’s degree in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art London in 2017. Follow her on Instagram, @zenaaliyakhan, for global arts news from a discerning perspective.
If contemporary art reflects The Now, then how does the art of young Malaysian artists mirror life today? The answer is found in a delightful constellation of artistic practices that span across diverse mediums and genres, and presentations that engage audiences. As young artists seek ways to visually represent the technological, political and societal advancements that mark twenty-first century Malaysia, their dynamic projects not only build on the foundations of Malaysian art history, which is known as an ecology that has always prized innovation but weaves themselves into our everyday activities. To celebrate Merdeka 2021, I have compiled a list of five exciting young Malaysian artists whose distinct aesthetic signatures and methods of engagement reaffirms this creative desire to describe the contemporary Malaysian condition.
As a country, Malaysia is marked by an incredibly diverse landscape. This ranges from coastal areas and beaches to dense jungles or the concrete urban centres where much of contemporary life is played out. Syed Fakaruddin asked if this diversity of our local ‘scapes could offer a route through which he could record memories? In April 2021, he presented his findings via a body of oil paintings made as Artist-in-Residence at Rimbun Dahan Residency (which was founded by Angela and Hijjas Kasturi), in the incredibly successful solo show ‘Tindih’.
As a series of Neo-Expressionist canvases ‘Tindih’ drew inspiration from scenes found in two landscapes Syed knows intimately. The first was the seaside of Pulau Kapas in his home state Terengganu; the second was the lush forests he was encased in for his six-month tenure at Rimbun Dahan. Syed cleverly brought contemporary ways of seeing into the classical act of oil painting through the use of three distinct layers. These layers mimic the Portrait App on our iPhones by pulling central images into focus while blurring backgrounds. Syed’s clever play of reading and recording imagery indicates that while landscapes are an enduring feature in a country’s identity, the ways in which they are encountered shift with each generation, highlighting the evolution of our outlooks, opportunities and experiences.