Let these artists transport you into other worlds through their work, changing the way you see things in this world.
By Kay Lynn Chua
From subject matter to concepts, an artwork can not only take us to other worlds but allows us to see different perspectives. In conjunction with the George Town Literary Festival 2019, we too celebrate diverse stories, but this time from the visual art scene. Here are 5 local talents who create vivid worlds with strong narratives and characters.
Julius Raja Manickam creates artwork as an act of catharsis to express ideas, narratives, and concepts. Better known as Kangblabla, the fictional characters he’s known for are not only a means of self-expression but are also a way to get closer to understanding his role in existence.
Julius’ characters appear in his comics, wooden toys and pixel art. In 2018, he released a comic titled Episode 0: The Celestials – Before The Beginning, a prelude to the creation of the main character Kangblabla and the events that set the ball rolling to what he calls an “unfolding saga”. While his readers are hung by a thread waiting for future episodes to be released, Julius teases them with new characters from his other projects like Pixel Art and most notably Kebab Toys, a series of hand-carved wooden toys with their own backstories. Amongst these are characters that may jump between the multiverse of Julius’ illustrations, paintings, pixel art and wooden toys, transporting us along with them as they go through one adventure after another.
2. Eng Hwee Chu
Hailed by some as one of Malaysia’s most promising contemporary women artists, Eng Hwee Chu graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art and was the winner of the Phillip Morris ASEAN Art Awards 1994.
Her visually expressive paintings, much like the work of Frida Kahlo, narrates her thoughts and experiences as a woman. With themes of inner struggle, culture, tradition and change, Eng’s work is a diary of her feelings portrayed through magic realism. In Prospect, a red female figure rides a horse, a symbol of unfulfilled desire taken straight from Eng’s childhood, when she yearned for a rocking horse but could not have one. “I would like to portray the world the way a woman sees it,” Eng says and indeed, dissecting her work is like diving into the deep, complex universe of womanhood. Be prepared for the ride!
3. Black Project
Space Junk #12, 2018
Hao Yuan Cheng, working primarily as Black Project, is a Penang-based artist and illustrator. As someone who loves to experiment with genres and schools of thought, it is no wonder that his works are diversified across illustrations, paintings, sculptural works, installations and mixed media.
In his recent Space Junk exhibition at Ome by Spacebar Coffee, Cheng showcased his ballpoint pen drawings and 3D wire sculptures, taking viewers into a chaotic future world. Based on the concepts of abiogenesis and animism, he was inspired to construct creatures which appear to be made out of old machinery, gun turrets, cables and space suits.
Although his creative themes lie mostly in technology and the future, Cheng also takes inspiration from nature, streetwear and both traditional and contemporary design trends.
4. Rociel Sama
A whale pulls a boat up above the clouds, a house in the sky with a view of a ferris wheel. These are all scenes from Rociel Sama’s artwork. With a four-year artist career behind her, Sama is also a singer, model, and host. The multitalented Malaysian artist, who currently resides in Kuala Lumpur, maintains her dream-like aesthetic throughout her digital renditions of paintings.
Drawing from the subconscious and dreams, Sama believes that her surrealistic work is best when it succeeds in telling a story or generating an immediate visceral response from the viewer.
5. Shafiq Nordin
Quietly, the Hyena Laughs (The Prize Fighters), 2016
Shafiq Nordin started out as a young child drawing comics and copying cartoon characters from the TV screen onto torn pages from his textbook. Today he has gained recognition in and outside of Malaysia as an award-winning pop surrealist.
From a painting of a two-headed chameleon to a missile-launching hippo, Shafiq Nordin constructs the most absurd characters and imaginative scenarios in his paintings. Beyond the comical absurdity, Shafiq’s artworks serve as metaphors to voice out pressing issues of capitalism, imperialism and other negative sides of the human condition. The artist asks us to recognize the ‘beast’ in us in order to self-reflect and change the way we live in society.
Whether it is machinery coming to life or pixel art superheros, the different narratives illustrated by artists provide an escape for the viewer to experience new worlds and rethink old perspectives.
Images courtesy of the artists
Cover photo: AURIGA, by Black Project, 2015
Kay Lynn Chua studied fine arts and in addition to writing, is a business development executive at a gallery in Kuala Lumpur.