Art Radar looks at the work of two young Malaysia-based artists recently showcased at Singaporean Chan + Hori Contemporary.
Spanning various disciplines, Chris Chong Chan Fui and Sharon Chin integrate natural motifs and themes into their works, creating compelling visual narratives on politics and society’s relationship between the material and natural world.
A Botanic Artist: Chris Chong Chan Fui
Sabah-born Malaysian Chris Chong Chan Fui’s artistic practice spans disciplines including photography, installation, moving image and painting. As Sharmin Parameswaran, guest curator of his recent exhibition “Botanic: Endemic” running until 23 July 2017 at Chan + Hori Contemporary explains,
[his work] queries society’s uncanny yet seemingly normalised relationships between natural and manmade constructs of and in the everyday. They suggest a deep-seated appetite for control, inevitably determining what survives ‘human preference’ above ‘natural selection’.
His recent exhibition at Chan + Hori Contemporary was split into two parts: Endemic, his installation, and Botanic, a series of illustrations. His installation, previously commissioned for the “Secret Archipelago” exhibition at Palais de Tokyo, Paris and developed with Chan + Hori Contemporary’s Curatorial Director Khairuddin Hori, focuses on the fabrication of a species of rare, endemic orchids from Mount Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo. Chris Chong Chan Fui’s installation concerns itself with recreating these endemic orchids away from their homeland, reproducing them with materials typically used in artificial flower fabrication, such as silk. These orchids are native to the mountain, relying on its unique climate, temperature and air-flow for their survival. Of the 726 orchid species growing on Mount Kinabalu, 91 of them are endemic.
Using photographic and botanical illustrations, Chan Fui’s work painstakingly recreates these plants away from their natural environment, questioning the term ‘endemic’ as he does so. The word refers to the existence of a specific species to a specific area, which in this context is reinforced by Mount Kinabalu’s status as a symbol of the afterlife to indigenous peoples. As Parameswaran states,
This project reflects the various definitions of the native; the origin; an endemic ‘unmovable’ species that can only migrates through an artificial reproduction within a manufacturing process.
the re-creation of these endemic orchids into their synthetic twin allows for these endemic species to exist elsewhere, however unnatural it may be. They will be forced to become un-native; a forced migration, an especially apt metaphor as it relates to the indigenous communities within the region and the fluid presence of regional migrants. As each race grows generation by generation irregardless of nationality, one’s own stake on ownership and native rights becomes blurred, and the idea of belonging to one group or one culture struggles to be clear.
Chris’ installation also includes his work Botanic, a set of large-scale botanic prints that “presents the viewer with the subtle and jarring discovery that the professionally-rendered botanical illustrations are of a common mass-produced household plastic flower”.
The artist has participated in various residencies and his works have been exhibited internationally, with previous exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA), Toronto. His film work has been premiered at the Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, Vienna, BFI London, and Toronto’s Wavelengths.
Flower Power: Sharon Chin
Sharon Chin‘s work also concerns itself with natural themes, often integrating them into a variety of media. She addresses the political and environmental issues that impact Malaysia, her home country. In her own artist statement on her website, she extrapolates further about her dynamic and multifaceted practice:
She makes all kinds of things in all kinds of places, from galleries to shopping malls to city sidewalks. She’s hung a suite of sails across the lobby of an embassy, listened to strangers’ hearts on the streets of Sydney and gotten tear-gassed while wearing a costume of yellow flowers.
Flora and fauna feature consistently across her work, in her self-portraits, flags and textiles, and most recently, book illustrations. Her solo exhibition in 2013, “Weeds/Rumpai” at Queenslands Art Gallery in Australia, saw her paint images of weeds from her own garden on political party flags she had collected around her remote hometown of Port Dickson. For Sharon, the weeds had an uncontrollable, intrinsic beauty, natural survivors that weather adverse conditions. She states:
We are the weeds… we are in the buildings, the cracks, the fields, the roadsides… we are many and not alone.
By translating the plant stories into images with an applied function, the patterns in “Local Flora” explore how fiction and visual culture weave into the everyday sense of familiarity of shared imaginations. Resulting in a series of patterns sensitive to the background and effects a story creates, sidestepping the loudness of characters or plots.
As well as in Singapore and Australia, Sharon Chin’s work has been shown in Malaysia and Korea, and she has taken part in residencies and festivals around the world, including Hanoi, Birmingham, Berlin and Sapporo. She organises and participates in panel discussions and workshops, co-founded the Southeast Asian art and culture website Arteri (2009 – 2011) and frequently writes about contemporary art.
- Mapping the Multidisciplinary: the inaugural Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur – round-up – December 2016 – the inaugural Gallery Weekend Kuala Lumpur provided audiences with a unique insight into the Malaysian art scene
- Legends, ghosts and feminism: Malaysian artist Yee I-Lann at Tyler Rollins Fine Art – in pictures – June 2016 – in her latest exhibition, the Malay artist explores female power
- Malaysian art comes out of the shadows: gallerists’ view from the ground – July 2013 – Malaysian’s art scene: justifiably overshadowed by Singapore?
- Major museum acquisitions for Malaysian contemporary artists Chong Kim Chiew, Yee I-Lann – July 2012 – the museum collection of two artists points to increasing ties between Southeast Asia and the broader Asian region
- J Anu uncensored: The artist on Big Brother and the future of Malaysian art – interview – November 2011 – Malaysian artist J Anu talk to Art Radar about freedom of artistic expression, after his painting ‘I is for Idiot’ fell foul of religious bloggers and the Malaysian police
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