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:

rainmakerfrog_sketch

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/

01localfauna_mustachedmacaque 02localfauna_firecrackercrow

03blocalfauna_terrapin
04localfauna_mudskipper 05localfauna_obligationworm

 

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

printsprintsprints

 

tumblr_mdba1v3Rrh1r8jpfto1_500

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)

Spectacles_HingsLimFB

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

spectacles_liysyar

~

CREDITS

Many thanks to Ronnie Khoo for producing the audio recording.

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

~

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’.

LKF_colorscale01

LKF_colorscale02

LKF_colorscale03

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.

LKFpaintedwords03

LKFpaintedwords01

nothuman05

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.

LiewKwaiFei_Installation_0320

siapadia11

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’.

siapadia05

siapadia03

siapadia02

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.

siapadia01

siapadia06

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.

siapadia08

~

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

shika_01

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.

shika_10b

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.

shika_13

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.

shika_02

shika_03

shika_06

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.

shika_05

shika_09

shika_11

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.

shika_12

~

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.