Created for Festival Filem Meowlaysia 1, Malaysia’s first Cat Video Festival, which premiered at Art For Grabs on 24 Sept 2016. Here is the story in BM and English, with notes and tips at the end (in case you want to make your own).

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BONTOT PINK

Ini kucing belaan kami. Nama dia Mini-PSB.

Bulu hitam, bontot pink. Ekor pendek sahaja. Seperti udang yang dikupas kulitnya, sudah busuk lalu ditumbuhi kulapuk beroma.

Boleh kata kami berdua manusia belaan si dia.

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CAT-BUTT

This is a cat’s butt. So pink!

Sometimes – because our cat is so black – when she has her back to us her butt is the only detail we can pick out.

This is our cat. She is black, and has a stub-tail. Her tail is like a fishhook, or a cooked prawn, that has gone busuk and sprouted black fungus fur. When our cat is nervous her cooked-prawn tail twitches-twitches-twitches.

Our cat is called Mini-PSB.

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MINI-PSB

Rumah kami sering dikunjungi kucing liar. Banyak sangat, sampai kena guna nama kod.

Yang ni adik kepada yang tu. Yang tu, boyfriend kepada yang ni. And so on. Ada yang seekor tu, nama kod dia PSB: Penyu’s Sister’s Boyfriend.

Kucing hitam. Dia ni selalu resah gelisah. Gementar. Kalau nampak kami intai dia, dia cemas. Cepat-cepat lari.

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MINI-PSB

Explain for you, okay? Our house in Port Dickson attracts a lot of strays. We name our strays after cats we used to have.

This is Penyu’s Sister. She was a white cat with a grey-stained face, and she looked like a cat called Penyu, a cat we used to have.

Penyu’s Sister had a boyfriend. We called him Penyu’s Sister’s Boyfriend, or PSB. He was a tail-less black cat, quite small.

He was a very, very shy cat. He only ever came to visit at night. We’d see him creep up the driveway – and then he’d see us, spying on him. He’d freeze. And then he’d zoom off.

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CEMAS

Nama Mini-PSB sebab rupa dia bulat-bulat macam PSB. Tapi saiz mini sedikit.

Dia ni pun cemas-cemas. Dah bersama kami setahun. Dari kecik lagi. Tapi masih takut manusia. Baru hari tu I jumpa dia duduk kat depan pintu.

Rasa macam nak bermanja dengan dia. Jadi I sentuh kaki dia. Dia panik! Kuku dia keluar. Dia cakar kaki I, calar sampai berdarah-darah.

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ANXIOUSCAT

Mini-PSB looks like a miniature, female version of PSB. We used to feed her mum, and her mum abandoned her here.

She is just as shy as her namesake. She is scared of humans. She’s lived with us for more than a year. But sometimes, if we aren’t careful, aren’t mindful enough to announce our presence, we spook her.

She jumps! Her hook-tail puffs! Her claws come out and scratch-scritch-scratches the floor as she runs.

More than once she’s run in between our feet and sliced open our toes.

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TIGA SEKAWAN

Sebelum Mini-PSB kami ada bela kucing lain. Tiga sekawan, adik beradik.

First sekali, Pingu: kucing hitam-putih, macam burung penguin. Dia ni suka duduk dalam pasu, dalam tong sampah.

Yang kedua, Prospero: dia ni suka panjat kat dapur. Habis pecah botol, pecah gelas semua.

Ketiga, Lord Nelson: yang paling cool sekali. Bulu dia panjang, perangai dia zen. Suara dia kecil: iu iu~

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CATLY TRINITY

Before Mini-PSB, we had three cats, our catly trinity:

Pingu the silly, with his tuxedo and propensity for sitting in rubbish bins; Prospero the fat-bellied, who loved pushing glass things off shelves; and Lord Nelson, coolest and fluffiest, tufts of fur between his fingers.

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SEMUA PERGI

Lord Nelson teman Sharon tiap malam apabila bekerja di studio. Dia ni baik hati. Steady. Tapi mati diserang anjing liar di kawasan sekolah, belakang rumah kami.

Satu hari Pingu keluar rumah, tapi tak balik-balik.

Prospero yang first sekali hilang. Bila dia hilang, kami ada buat notis, lekat kat serata taman. “ADA NAMPAK KUCING KAMI?” Kucing kesayangan kami. Masih rindu kat dia.

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HOW WE LOST THE CATLY TRINITY

Once, Pingu got stuck up a tree. He wandered off and never came home.

Lord Nelson would sleep in the studio, keeping Sharon company as she worked through the night. He died to a pack of straw dogs living in the school next to our house.

Prospero was the first to go. We printed out “HAVE YOU SEEN OUR CAT?” flyers. Somebody called us, saying they saw her. It wasn’t her.

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CHICKEN

Kucing kami yang keempat, nama dia Chicken. Sebab jumpa dia kat tengah-tengah main road kat pekan Port Dickson. Nasib Sharon tak langgar!

Chicken ni gila. Betul! Perangai dia ada dua mode. Mode pertama: tidur, tak bangun-bangun.

Mode kedua: gila degil nak mampus. Cakar-cakar, gigit-gigit. Teruk I diseksa. Sampai tahap rasa macam nak buang dia.

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CHICKEN

Our fourth cat was called Chicken. She was a dirty calico with crazy eyes.

She was called Chicken because we found her as a kitten in the middle of the main road. Sharon almost ran her over. When Sharon stopped the car Chicken climbed into the engine. We had to see a mechanic to get her out.

Chicken was legit crazy. She had two modes. Murderous – to toes, fingers, soft-toy mice; and dead-to-the-world asleep.

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CHICKEN MATI

Tapi dia mati dulu. Jangkitan Feline panleukopenia virus, atau FPV.

Virus ni menyerang sistem pencernaan. Usus-usus dia lebur dibaham penyakit itu. Muntah-muntah, mati kesakitan.

Jenazah Chicken dibalut pakej empat segi, tapi ada satu kaki terkeluar, macam drumstick. Doktor kata sebab kaki dia ni degil sangat. Oh, Chicken.

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HOW WE LOST CHICKEN

Chicken died of feline distemper. She caught it, fighting other strays.

The virus attacks a cat’s digestive tract, dissolves its intestinal lining. A cat dies starving, and in pain.

We cried when Chicken died. We buried her underneath our mangosteen tree. I dug her grave myself.

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PENYU

Penyu kucing kami yang kelima. Pagi itu, Sharon jumpa dia dalam rumah. Mengiau lapar. “Hello,” katanya. “I lapar. Makanan di mana?”

Lepas makan, dia akan mengorek-ngorek keliling mangkuk. Macam nak menyimpan makanan yang berlebihan.

I ada baca: perangai ni sering dilihat pada anak kucing yang kebuluran.

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PENYU

Penyu was a kitten who Sharon found indoors, one morning. “Hello,” it said. “I’m here now. Please feed me.”

Sharon tried to kick it out, but it kept re-appearing. “Hello,” it’d say. “Please feed me.”

It was mangy and starving. After eating at its bowl of kibble, it’d paw around the sides, as if trying to bury the food. Later, I read that this behaviour is common in strays, when food is hard to come by.

So Sharon fed her, and we named her Penyu, and that was that.

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PENYU MASIH ADA

Satu pagi Penyu hilang. Entah kemana, tak pulang-pulang.

Tapi roh dia masih ada. Tiap malam sebelum tidur, di ruang antara bantal kami, tempat dia selalu lelap. Semangat dia masih di ruang itu.

Pingu dalam pasunya. Prospero di rak dapur. Lord Nelson di dalam studio. Chicken pengsan tengah-tengah lantai, tak bangun-bangun.

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GHOST CATS

One morning Penyu left, and didn’t come home.

She is still with us, though.

Whenever we go to bed, we look at the gap between our pillows, that little nook in the middle there, and we see her white furry body. Her head, heavy-lidded, slowly nodding off, as she always did. Purring, purring.

Lord Nelson in his corner, Prospero on her shelf, Pingu in his bin. Chicken, conked out, belly up, sleeping.

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KEMANA KUCING MATI PERGI?

Syurga untuk kucing macam mana?

I rasa tempat itu penuh dengan flora berbentuk tangan manusia. Jadi bila kucing lalu dia akan sentiasa dibelai.

I rasa tempat itu ada tikus, burung dan serangga kecil. Ada tupai dan cicak. Takut-takut, tapi tak mati-mati. Dijadikan mainan si comel. Sebab kucing ni memang haiwan kejam.

I rasa tempat itu mesti ada hasil-hasil laut yang disediakan atas dulang emas, ikan dan udang yang berbau tapi tak pernah busuk.

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THE CAT AFTERLIFE

What is the heaven for cats like?

There must be rows of catnip, and fields to frolic in, with green grass shaped like human hands. The grass will scratch you behind your ears if you lay in it.

There must be stocks of mice and hopping birds; insects, squirrels, lizards. These must be afraid and immortal. Because cats are really quite evil.

There must be wet kibble served on silver spittoons that never goes dry and stinky.

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BONTOT PINK LAGI

Mini-PSB sudah lompat atas meja, depan komputer, atas papan kekunci. Dah memanggil-manggil, mengiau-ngiau manja.

Jadi kami berhenti di sini, okay? Sorry. Faham-faham la kan? Si kucing ni tak boleh ditidakkan.

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CAT-BUTT

Mini-PSB has climbed on our keyboard, a sign we should stop now, and pay attention to her.

So we have to, you know? Sorry and bye-bye.

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NOTES & TIPS

1. I saw these two animations on the internet. Both times, I turned to Zedeck and said: let’s make something like this, give ourselves 3 – 4 days limit, see what comes out!

The first is by master Iranian animator Noureddin Zarrinkelk:

The second is ‘Bat and Hat’ by Becky James:

2. Hazri Haili and Amanda Nell Eu asked us to be part of Festival Filem Meowlaysia, so we decided to make something about our cats. Zedeck wrote a script, and I did a rough storyboard:

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3. For each scene, I drew the background first, then the moving elements, or ‘assets’, which were cut out. The backgrounds I did in color pencil, and the assets with crayon so they would stand out.

4. I did everything freehand, no sketches. This was hard, because I am a perfectionist. But I like the result of my imperfect hand making imperfect marks.

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5. This is the DIY lightbox we made. We taped Zedeck’s Samsung phone to the the top of the box which had a hole cut in it. To animate, we moved the assets a little, took a picture, and repeated until we got the motion we wanted. Afterwards we put together the photos in Photoshop and made animated GIFs. Here is a simple tutorial on how to make animated GIFs in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use Gimp, which is free and open source.

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6. Some advice from our friend Choen Lee: use LED bulbs instead of normal fluorescent bulbs, and you won’t get the different coloured stripes you can see in the GIFs above.

7. Here is Zedeck performing ‘Bontot Jambu/Pink Butt’ at Festival Filem Meowlaysia 1. He read the story in BM while the animated GIFs played on screen.

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Can’t believe we made this silly thing. So happy we did.

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On 8 Sept 2016, a reporter from Malay Mail Online contacted me on Whatsapp. He’d gotten my contact through a friend I trust and respect. He wanted to do a story about political art, focusing on the contradictions when artists collude with the establishment despite making anti-establishment artwork. When I told him I live in Port Dickson, he suggested an email interview, to which I agreed. This is what transpired:

1) This reporter did not write to me from an official MMO email address, but a personal one.

2) He sent me a series of basic questions, to which I replied in detail, with links that I contextualized and summarized.

3) When I requested that he be specific in his questions, he stated he had no specific questions to ask.

4) I replied that the generalist critique would have to address how every human on earth is currently compromised by power and capital, because ‘art, like journalism, or medicine or international aid, is not separate from the social conditions that produce it’, that such a conversation was beyond this interview, and once again requested specific questions to respond to for the purposes of his piece.

5) In a one-two of self-justification and professional insult, he defended journalism’s complicity in the status quo because it is more ‘relevant and accessible to the common people’ than art.

6) I told this reporter that if he had no specific questions, I had no more to say. He followed up with a question about my position on commercial galleries to which I replied at length. He also asked for my permission to quote, which I gave, indicating that the entire email exchange was on the record. I have attached these emails in full at the end of this post.

7) Zedeck, my partner, upon reading our emails, felt outraged on my behalf, and posted a rant on his Facebook detailing our exchange. I did not stop him from doing so. He does not name the reporter, but identifies him as being from the Malay Mail Online. This is Zedeck’s post:

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8) The reporter identifies himself in a comment on the post, and over the course of several hours, posts a series of insults, gendered slurs and veiled threats. He scolds Zedeck and myself for revealing what he deems a ‘private conversation’. In fact, earlier, he referred to our interview in a Facebook post (now deleted), giving me credit for being an artist who cops to her middle class privilege, ‘something you cant say about the rest of em sadly’. This is the post:

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9) He exchanges private messages with Zedeck and posts the screenshots of this actual private conversation on his Facebook. This is the post:

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10) Overnight, he deletes the comments he left on Zedeck’s original post.

11) As of writing, he is threatening us with a police report and legal action.

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I want to make clear that I believe these events are reflective only of the actions of one individual and in no way representative of the Malay Mail Online and how they operate.

This exchange is still ongoing and no doubt will blow over – if it hasn’t already! – to be replaced by some other social media storm in a teacup. Personally, I am deeply irritated at having to spend my limited human time on a ridiculous spat, which creates nothing of use but more clicks and views that drive up Facebook’s valuation.

I have the highest regard for journalists and their work. Having tried my hand at independent journalism, I appreciate the craft, labour and difficulty in navigating the ethics and moral positions of reporting on other people – especially in these times, when anyone may disrupt your narrative even before you’ve had a chance to construct it.

The power of forming a narrative about the world and other people is a huge one to have. For better or for worse, the internet has given each of us a bit of that power, turning all of us into potential independent publishers. I bless the internet everyday for this reason, and I do my best to use it well. Who knows how long it will last.

If anything good can out come out of this kerfuffle, here is a commandment to everyone, and my fellow artists especially. Do with it what you will:

Write before you’re written about. Write about yourself, and if you can, write about your friends. Do not wait for other people to tell the narrative. Create a body of work and context around yourself that you can refer others back to when needed. Always treat journalists with respect, but a healthy dose of skepticism. Question their agendas. The good ones are here with a specific job to do, the bad ones can harm and misrepresent you. They are not your friends, and they’re not meant to be.

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This is documentation of the email exchange between myself and the reporter:

 

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Image: Detail from Local Fauna linocut series, 2016.

Here is a taste of what I’ve been working on for the past few weeks, in a little attic studio at the top of Hotel Penaga, where I’ve been artist/parasite-in-residence since mid-May.

These linocut illustrations for Zedeck’s ‘Local Fauna’ story collection have been in progress for two years. I checked the date of the very first sketch I made, and it was 2 Dec 2014:

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In 2015, we pasted the first 10 linocut designs that I finished on bus stops around Jalan Pudu, and later some of them were collected in Little Basket, the new anthology of Malaysian writing published by Fixi Novo.

Now, I’m at 20 linocut designs, and we printed editions of all of them! There is no part of these prints that my (and Zedeck’s) hands haven’t touched. We pulled them by hand, with pitch-black oil-based ink on handmade Thai mulberry paper, and a ton of elbow grease. Both ink and paper are beautiful. I caught myself wondering if making linocuts was just a way to show off the raw beauty of those age-old materials… you get weird thoughts during the long hours of printmaking.

So we are doing an exhibition! It’s at Run Amok Gallery in Georgetown, which is an art space and collective run by friends we love. It opens tomorrow. There are 20 linocuts, and we’re selling some editions to raise funds for a book. Yes, we are making a book, tentatively called ‘Local Flora, Local Fauna’. It will have 50 animal stories and 25 plant stories by Zedeck, and each of them will have an illustration by me… so 20 linocuts down, 55 to go…

Here are some of the prints in the exhibition. Interested in buying a print? Email info AT runamok DOT my for the full catalog. We’re taking international orders too. 

Update 25 July 2016: The full catalogue of prints is now online. Please visit: http://runamok.my/localfauna/

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Maybe after all the prints are gone we will finally be able to get some sleep? Until the next round of printing…

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1. Ten Weeds and Ten Thoughts On Revolution

2. On Turning 35

3. How To Look At an Art Exhibition

4. Thoughts On Boxing: The First Time I Sparred

5. Mother Tongue, Daughter Language

6. How I’ve Been Using Readlang to Study Malay

7. Ten: Ten Friends and Ten Things They’ve Learned By Doing A Thing for Ten Years

8. Thoughts on Boxing: Hurting and Getting Hurt

9. Thoughts On Boxing: Fear

10. On Hearing My Own Voice

(Blinking cursors)

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On 20 Feb 2016, I sat down to have a conversation in public with Sze, my friend and cohort. I’d been wanting to do a talk about taking part in APT8 (8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art), but was tired with the usual slideshow-followed-by-Q&A format. Sze suggested doing the talk as an interview, which she’d experienced and been inspired by while studying in the UK. I loved it immediately.

We’d actually been conversing for months – since the middle of last year, when she interviewed me for her Masters thesis about politics, art and public space in Malaysia. Talking with Sze – in bars and cafes, on gchat or email or SMS – has been like getting into a trolley cart with my thoughts and ideas. Everything moves forward, inch by steady inch.

This time though, we were gonna talk in front of an audience.

It was experiment for the both of us. My relationship to speaking is not the same as the one I have with writing. My spoken voice feels to me the weakest muscle in my possession – I can hardly put any weight on it; I just don’t know what it will and won’t do. But as Durga Chew-Bose, one of my favorite writers today, says: ‘I do believe there is a power in conversation and dialogue. I think the transcribed voice for women is really important to women because the essay voice is edited and we’re self-editing from the day we’re little girls’.

AUDIO

Below is a full, unedited recording of the talk. We’ve ‘mapped’ the conversation with quotes and comments to help navigate the 1 hour 40mins of audio. It’s in two formats:

1) Sze visualized the talk using Timeline JS, a free, open source tool originally developed for journalists. Click through the timeline to see quotes, links, photos and comments that follow the flow of the conversation. To scroll through: point your cursor to the bottom of the timeline, click and drag left or right.  The audio is embedded as a Soundcloud track in the second slide, click to play. Access the timeline separately here.

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2) Click to play the Soundcloud track. Topics, quotes, comments and links are arranged according to timestamps in the Google spreadsheet below. Access the spreadsheet separately here.

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ZINE

I made a zine for people to use as a notebook to scribble or doodle in during the talk. Here it is in PDF format, available for download.

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LINKS

Artist Shika/Shieko Reto blogged about the talk HERE.

Liyana Dizzy and Syar S. Alia recorded an amazing conversation of their own about Spectacles HERE (or click on the image below). It’s full of insights and totally worth your time.

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CREDITS

Many thanks to Ronnie Khoo for producing the audio recording.

Image of the talk from audience member Hing Lim’s Facebook post.

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Spectacles – Cermin Mata: (Goh) Sze (Ying) interviews Sharon (Chin) about taking part in APT8 (8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art) was a conversation on 20 Feb 2016 at Awe Gallery.

I’ve known and loved Kwai Fei’s works for almost a decade. Painting Suite (2008), a triptych* of his earliest minimalist geometric paintings hangs in my bedroom.

[* A triptych is a set of three separate works that are meant to be seen together as one complete work. A diptych would be a set of two separate works. Quadriptych a set of four and so on.]

My favorite in this triptych I’ve hung across from the bed, so I wake up to the light slanting on those tiny off-white triangles floating on four rectangles of black acrylic paint. Below it, on a chest of drawers, sits a small, framed photo someone sent me long ago, of sailboats on the pacific ocean, seen at great distance from the top of a cliff – sharp, three-cornered shards of white cut against a limitless blue sea.

Both painting and photo remind me of the order, and disorder, of my own imagination. It’s a purely visual effect, like music, but for your eyeballs. I get the same feeling looking at the work of fashion designer Isabel Toledo, who has described what she does as ‘romantic mathematics’.

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Installation views of “Color, Shape, Quantity and Scale” at 15 Jalan Mesui (2010)

 

Kwai Fei’s subsequent exhibitions “Paintings for All Ages/Paintings with Extended Space” (2009) and “Color, Shape, Quantity and Scale” (2010) filled entire rooms with units of colorful, minimalist geometric paintings in oddly shaped frames. They leaned on walls, fit around corners, and climbed up the sides of doorways. These memorable works were probably influenced by the wonderful Thai artist Mit Jai Inn. In turn, I see their influence on fellow Malaysian artist Chi Too’s bubble wrap paintings in last year’s “Like Someone In Love”.

It seems like a huge, disjointed leap from there to this current show, at Richard Koh Fine Art, on the top floor of Bangsar Village II shopping mall.

I find the new works strikingly ugly. I thought about starting that sentence with ‘sorry’, but I’m not someone for whom ugliness is a bad thing. In fact, seen against the backdrop of BVII’s glitzy shops, Kwai Fei’s art is like chewing on a bitter herb after eating too many sugary doughnuts.

I’d argue that there is an unbroken thread that connects those minimalist haikus from years ago with the current pun paintings in “Siapa Dia Tong Sam Pah?”. To make sense of this show you have to see it in the context of that continuous arc.

At the heart of his geometric works was the idea of modularity – that is, a system of discrete units that can be rearranged to form larger structures. IKEA kitchen and office furniture – that’s a modular system. It’s as if Kwai Fei broke a painting down to units of colour and shape, so he could put them back together in new combinations, like a drummer improvising rhythms.

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Above and Middle: Installation views of “Painted Words & Written Paintings, for the Refined and for the Masses” at Valentine Wilie Fine Art (2012). Bottom: Installation view of “Kami Bukan Hantu, Ah Pull & Ah Door” at Run Amok (2013).

 

Next came a series of word-play paintings in Painted Words & Written Paintings, for the Refined and for the Masses (2012) and Kami Bukan Hantu, Ah Pull & Ah Door(2013). Those works looked as if a Chinese dictionary, manga art, and old school hand-painted signs had been put into a blender and spit out  – they couldn’t be further from the simple shapes in saturated colors that had come before.

In fact, however, they come from the very same place – Kwai Fei was taking the approach of breaking down and reconstituting units, and applying it to language.

“Siapa Dia Tong Sam Pah?” is also about language. There is a crucial difference in style. Put those 2012-2013 paintings beside these current ones, and you’ll see it. There’s a… voluptuousness in the images completely missing from the new works, which are lurid and brash.

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Above: Installation view of “Siapa Dia Tong Sam Pah? 我的名字哈苏丹。You Look F**king Funny Lah!” (Image from Richard Koh Fine Art). Bottom: Interacting with God Breast You, 2015.

 

It’s crucial, because Kwai Fei comes from a Chinese working class background. He was on home ground tearing apart the seams between and around Chinese language, image and identity, and he was fluent in putting it all back together.

With this new show, he tries to do the same to two foreign languages: Malay and English. As he writes in his artist statement (which holds the key to the exhibition title and exhibition as a whole; I’d argue that you can’t fully understand this show unless you read it), he has experienced these languages as instruments of ridicule and exclusion.

This is why “Siapa Dia Tong Sampah?” is unsettling for the viewer: the paintings look like jokes about race and class, the kind that Malaysians love to make to and about each other, but in this case we’re not sure if we’re on the inside or the outside.

They reveal the total effects of prejudice on an individual in our society – not just as a receiver of racism and classism, but a nurturer and perpetuator of it. No neoliberal niceties here. No easy, hollow, ‘we are all Malaysians first’ hypocrisy. Even the title excludes: you may or may not understand the Chinese component. It’s pronounced ‘wo de ming zi ha su tan’. Translated: My name is Ha Su Tan. Hasutan is Malay for ‘sedition’.

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Above: Jangan Ketawa, 2015. Middle: Lady’s F, 2015. Bottom: Takkan Seni Halus Hilang Di Dunia, 2015.

 

The works themselves literally invite you to uncover what’s underneath: lift up a ladies finger and you see a cunt, lift a keris to reveal the words ‘Seni Harus Untuk Melayu Shj’. The latter… ohhh boy. Ok, I’ll try to explain. It’s a reference to UiTM – one of the few public universities in Malaysia to offer a Fine Arts degree – and its Bumiputera-only admissions policy. It’s also a play on how Chinese speakers often pronounce ‘l’ as ‘r’. HaLUS means ‘fine’ in Malay – seni halus: fine art. HaRUS means ‘should be’ – Seni Harus Untuk Melayu Shj: Art Should Be For Malays Only. Puns upon puns upon inside jokes that don’t include you, because they are lost in translation. Miss the joke and all you see is a bad painting with a racist statement on it. Happens all the time in Malaysia.

The paintings are ugly because the subject uncovered is far from pretty. But the uncovering itself is done as skillfully and self-critically as such a difficult, I’d even say, impossible, task will allow.

These works sit uncomfortably in Richard Koh Fine Art. They don’t look like desirable commodities. But they sure do grab attention. I saw a security guard – Nepalese? Burmese? – walk past and linger, his eyes glued to the painting about migrant worker deaths suspended from the ceiling. For him, simply stepping inside the gallery would mean a greater transgression of racial, social and class boundaries than we can imagine. I thought about that for a long time after leaving the show.

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Above: Lu Siapa? Mana Kampung? Mana Mau Pergi?, 2015. Bottom: Shopping Class, 2015 and Xiao Portrait, 2015.

 

For an artist with Kwai Fei’s background, to be represented by RKFA means both artistic validation, and a level of social mobility. Yet, somewhat ironically, there may be too many hard truths in this particular series to be friendly to the market. ‘All that is gold does not glitter’, but the classes that buy art from RKFA generally prefer a thicker coating of sugar on their bitter pills. Eventually, this is how commercial galleries come to calibrate what kind of art gets made.

If I had the funds, I would buy one of these paintings to hang beside the sublime quiet of Painting Suite – to remind me of the work between them, of time and distance travelled by experience. These days, we’re hard pressed to give anything more than two seconds of our attention, let alone follow an arc that spans a decade. Also, to remind me that beauty and ugliness can inhabit the same room, like joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure. It’s a good room that can invite both.

Lately, I’ve been wondering why I continue to look at and write and think and care about art. This is one reason why: it may seem as though we are unraveling, but artists are weaving threads that hold our story together – both the beautiful and the ugly. We need to pick them up and follow, so we can weave them together, strand by strand, to find our way home.

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Siapa Dia Tong Sam Pah?  我的名字哈苏丹You Look F**king Funny Lah, 16 – 31 March 2016, Richard Koh Fine Art

Review by Art KL-itique 

Feature in The Star

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Shika, besides being an artist who has shown at the Singapore Biennale, a Nippon Foundation API (Asian Public Intellectual) scholar, a transgender activist, and a prolific blogger, designer, illustrator, and graffiti writer, is also lead singer for the Ting Tong Ketz.

I watched them play a couple of weeks ago. ‘Pulang, marilah pulang, ke pangkal jalan…’ chanted Shika, in a song she dedicated to JAKIM. She pointed to the crowd, and on cue, we screamed the refrain: ‘TAK NAK!!!’

The joy of that refusal: I felt it crack out from under my ribs and bounce across the room – unapologetic, free.

‘Pulang ke pangkal jalan’ is what we say to people who’ve strayed off the path. It’s a call to come back, back to the crossroads, before you went wrong. They’re iron words in a velvet glove, often used by those with power – the state, religious authorities, parents, society – to persuade you that not only is their path better and safer, it’s the only one that’s true.

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One of my favorite Shika designs is the logo for Pangkal Jalan Pub. I have it sewn above the left pocket of my number one jacket, which I wore to the opening of “Buang Bayi”, where Pangkal Jalan Pub transformed from an idea into something real. Shh… Diam! (the sharpest and funniest band in Malaysia right now, btw) set up a bar on folding tables, DJ CT spun from her collection of vintage Malay pop, and visitors toasted to the only paths worth taking – our own.

The society we live in makes some paths much more perilous than others. Being a transgender person in Malaysia means traveling a road strewn, literally, with dead bodies, but also, discrimination, abuse, exploitation, rejection and violence.

To call “Buang Bayi” an exhibition about transgender issues would be like putting a label next to an arrow pointing to somewhere in an exploding nebula, and saying: here, this is what this is, and this is how you should look at it.

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Instead, Shika’s show makes me feel like I’m inside a spaceship. From there, I see that a world in which gender was radically redefined would be a world expanded beyond recognition.

In the sheer density of creation and universe building, Shika reminds me of Eko Nugroho, or Yoshitomo Nara, only about a hundred times more fun. The space – Kerbauworks is artist Yee I-Lann and punk rocker Joe Kidd’s multipurpose studio – is stuffed, wall-to-wall, with zines, posters, paintings, patches, sculptures, toys, t-shirts, tote bags, buttons, postcards, drawings, prints and more. In one corner sits her guitar, in another are sashes meant for the beauty queen, MISS GENDERED.

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The amount of material created in all manner of techniques and mediums is almost dizzying. There’s the campaigns she created for I AM YOU: BE A TRANS* ALLY, and Justice For Sisters, infographics on SOGIE, fictional characters, autobiographical cartoons, and on and on. But there’s an order to this universe – formed by Shika’s virtuoso sense of design, as well as a syntax of recurring symbols: mirror, bicycle, raft, unicorn, butterfly, roadside table, and humans escaping from their own skins, amongst others.

It’s an alternate galaxy tethered to earthy reality. Take the exhibition title “Buang Bayi”, which refers to the disturbing recurrence of baby dumping in Malaysia, or the aforementioned Pangkal Jalan Pub: Shika twists familiar images into a multi-angled mirror, simultaneously reflecting back to the world an image of itself as it is, and as it could be.

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Shika’s universe was made to be distributed. If you took a piece of it home, whether a painting or a patch, it feels like another baby would quickly spawn and be dumped in its place. Most days, the artist was on site, singing songs, drawing alternate gender portraits of visitors, making paintings, and updating to Instagram. It’s the model of an art exhibition as a living, breathing, social thing, and not, as I’ve said before, dead objects on display for two weeks.

What Malaysian society and media tells us about transgender people and gender identity is a feedback loop of ignorant garbage. We can’t even get the pronouns right. Don’t worry, I’m learning too. Read this handy guide to transgender terminology. It’ll take you 5mins.

Shika built a spaceship for an expanded universe that doesn’t exist yet. She filled it to overflowing with beauty, joy, solidarity, punk rock and a future in which anything’s possible. I want to go where it’s going, into the deep unknown.

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Buang Bayi: An Exhibition by Visual Artist Shika/Shieko Reto, 12 – 27 March 2016, KerbauWorks, 11 Lorong Kurau, Bangsar.

Review of “Buang Bayi” by Art KL-itique

Shika’s blog, Tumblr, Instagram.

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When I think about last year, my mind turns to mash – I can’t remember if I did a thing five months ago, or two years ago. So I’ve been putting this off, because I don’t want to think about what that formlessness of time might mean. Why do the days of 2015 seem like a solid block I can’t enter, where can’t see myself in time?

One possible reason is that I tried to be at least three different people simultaneously.

Sharon-1 wanted to do journalism. Somehow she got attached to the idea of what it meant to be a journalist: objective, authoritative and inherently useful to the public. Maybe she wanted to get away from all the ambiguity and subjective doubt in art – its apparent uselessness, its aura of weakness. This made things harder than they had to be, because those reflexes had already been imprinted on her mind like a muscle memory.

I went places, talked to people, then came home to draw and write stories about what I’d observed (including observations of myself observing things). Mostly I paid attention. I don’t know if I was being a good journalist (for one thing, I can’t write to deadline, which is, like, a baseline requirement), but I was an artist doing something akin to journalism.

For ‘In The Land That Never Was Dry‘, I’d planned to do six illustrated pieces about water issues in Malaysia. I barely managed three.

One was about micro-hydro electricity in the interiors of Sabah, and another about hundred year-old wells in Kampung Hakka Mantin. The draft of the last one, about connecting water pipes in Sarawak, I submitted to my editor hours before the year ended.

Each one felt like wrestling a beast in a dark cave for months, only to find, on cutting off its head, that it was my own shadow.

In August, I went to the Tangkap Najib and Bersih 4 protests, and did stories on both. Those were easier, more immediate. I learned that the more time elapsed after an event, the more a story would turn into that dreaded shadow beast. Better to kill it quick, when it’s young and fresh and dripping life.

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Draft I submitted just before the year ended

 

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Sharon-2 was still a contemporary visual artist, no matter how much she disavowed the ‘art world’, no matter how hybrid her practice. In fact, 2015 marked a solid decade of making and showing art professionally.  While in university getting a parent-sponsored fine arts degree, she remembers flipping through the glossy pages of Art Asia Pacific and dreaming about the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, because Montien Boonma, an artist she admired beyond anything, had taken part one year.

In truth, although my love for Montien Boonma’s work hasn’t diminished, that dream does not occupy the same space it once did. I don’t mean a higher or lower place, as if on a ladder, but space – either I’m bigger, or the dream is smaller.

In any case, it was still something of a big fucking deal, and it’s stupid to say otherwise. Taking part in APT8 was fun, an honor, stimulating, profitable, problematic and hard, hard work. I made 10 WEEDS paintings in 6 weeks, and burnt out the muscles in my eyes, neck and right arm in the process.

I also made activity pages for the Kid’s APT publication, which was pure joy to do.

In November, I went to Brisbane for the opening of APT8. The walls of Queensland Art Gallery are fancy and beautiful. I thought about 2013, when the first series of WEEDS paintings were shown in a one-night gig/art party at Merdekarya. It was a grungier space, but no less beautiful, and certainly more beloved. Both, I thought, nodding to myself. That’s the challenge. The work has to hold up in both places. But what satisfied me most was that I’d made it for Malaysia first.

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Top: Weeds/Rumpai Series I at Merdekarya. Middle: Series II in progress at home. Bottom: Series II in APT8

 

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Sharon-3 was trying to reconcile -1 and -2, trying to knit the disparate threads together; prevent any notion of a harsh and foolish split. She tried all sorts of things.

She filled a binder with inconsequential drawings on foolscap paper and called them antidotes.

She wrote a thing, which, for the first time in her life, she was actually afraid to publish. She even read it out loud to a room full of people.

She made linocuts for someone’s stories, and together they pasted these up at bus stops along Jalan Pudu.

She sent emails.

She watched Mad Max: Fury Road over and over. She took her mother and father to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. She watched the greatest friendship of her life wither, then die. She watched the sunset, drinking whiskey to dull the pain of being an animal capable of feelings, hunger, loss, and muscle fatigue.

She wasted time on the internet. She wasted time worrying about wasting time, wanting every moment to be accountable, unaware that -1 and -2 were doing the same, and that was why the animal was tired, why it wept – it was trying to tell you only machines can use a moment more than once.

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The first image (source) is a screencap from Whisper of The Heart (Studio Ghibli, 1995, dir. Yoshifumi Kondo). Zedeck and I watched it on new year’s eve. He wrote about it, and it says something about our hopes for 2016, better than I can.