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  • Jul 08, 2024

“Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing As Practice”

Installation view of "Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing as Practice" at Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Kenta Chai. Courtesy Kentaworks Graphic.

Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing as Practice
Ilham Gallery
Kuala Lumpur
Mar 24–Jul 28

One of the oldest art forms known to humankind, drawing has witnessed something of a renaissance in today’s concept-heavy art world. Walking through “Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing As Practice,” one could not help but notice the endless spectrum of possibilities embedded within this universal and ubiquitous medium: explorations of form, elements of social critique, and the illustration of cultural memory.

No longer restricted to the flat plane, here were contemporary drawings—many of which shapeshifted into space-intercepting 3D forms that highlighted formal experimentation—in the works of artists such as Perak-born Hasanul Isyraf Idris and Kuala Lumpur-born Chang Yoong Chia. Positioned rather solemnly in a dark corner was Quarry (2022), Idris’s hill-like installation, its reflective and jagged texture a result of multiple layers of graphite on crumpled cotton paper. Scattered around its base are graphite-covered busts, made in the likeness of the artist’s head, that seem to be crushed under the weight of this eerie phantom. While being a visual mixture of drawing-atelier artifacts, Quarry in fact references Idris’s cumbersome grief and body-mind dissociation after mourning family members who passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic. Expanding this sense of personal grief to the collective level, Chang’s Quilt of the Dead (2002– )—a hanging white quilt on which obituary photographs of countless Malaysians are embroidered—invited audiences to share in the anguish of losing loved ones, while the artist’s needle patiently transformed melancholic threads into cherished portraits, a durational act that embodies the cycle of life and death, and the love through which we will all be remembered.

As Idris and Chang continue to push drawing’s formal boundaries, other artists in the exhibition unpacked drawing’s capacity to offer subtle yet decisive commentaries on sociocultural issues. Yogyakarta-based Nadiah Bamadhaj’s series of nine somber charcoal on paper collages, titled Pessimism Is Optimism III (2017), foregrounds the cungkup, a structure used to shelter gravestones in East Javan rural villages and an amalgam of different animistic worships that both commingle and contrast. Embedding this delicate multiplicity into fragile paper that depicts a gradually crumbling cungkup, Bamadhaj alludes to Indonesia’s fading mystical rituals against the daunting backdrop of religious homogenization. From this societal-scale perspective on ritual, the young Johorean artist BINTI put a personal spin on the concept, as she diaristically performed an en-papier journaling for each year of her life up until her 24th. In the 24-piece suite of mixed-media collage, titled One to Twenty Four (2022) and selected from her Tuju One series, BINTI employs a combination of visual cues, including ID photos, tarot cards, and cultural icons such as Miss Piggy, to boldly reveal the confusion and elation felt by the artist and her peers while embarking on individual purpose-seeking quests. 

HASANUL ISYRAF IDRIS, Valley of Love, 2021, watercolor, ink, and color pencil on paper, 153 × 52 cm. Courtesy Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

ANGNES LAU, Soul that Repeats II, 2022, pencil on acid free paper, 50 × 40 cm. Courtesy Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

But what ultimately set this group show apart from other drawing exhibitions of its kind was the inclusion of drawing’s more quotidian application as illustration. Take, for example, Syarifah Nadhirah’s Drawings from Recalling Forgotten Tastes (2020), intricate watercolor-and-ink botanical renderings of species from Peninsular Malaysia (which stem from her interest in Indigenous plants and traditional culinary practices of the Temuan and Semai Orang Asli communities). Or the late Roslisham Ismail (Ise)’s vibrant depiction of local Kelantan’s recipes, titled The Langkasuka Cookbook (2012), that simultaneously preserves the culinary knowledge of his home province and memories of his family. These artists’ illustrative drawings proved essential as expressions of identity and historico-cultural inquiry, while creating a nuanced balance between form and concept.

“Titik Garis Bentuk: Drawing As Practice” offered a comprehensive platform from which to contemplate the metamorphosis elicited through drawing, as well as the extent to which Malaysian artists from all walks of life have engaged with this foundational medium. In the process of pushing its formal demarcations and adapting it to personal and collective use, the artists shed further light on drawing’s crucial status and widespread application in Malaysian contemporary art history.

Hung Duong is an independent art critic based in Ho Chi Minh City.

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