Forced to complete their final semester online because of the COVID-19 lockdown, 20 fine art students adapted quickly to put together an e-exhibition celebrating their last year in school.
By Thong Kai Yun
The year was off to a promising start as students of my cohort from University Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Fine Art Department were excited to finally graduate from our four-year degree programme and dive into the next chapter of our lives.
It was a crucial time for us to complete our final semester and translate our knowledge and skills into a final year project that would culminate into a showcase at the Research Innovation Towards Integration and Sustainability (RINTIS) exhibition.
Forced to break tradition
RINTIS is an annual tradition for final year students from the USM School of Arts to showcase their work at the Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Art Gallery. The production is a coalition effort by students from Fine Art, Drama and Theatre, and Music departments. The show was scheduled to launch in May and student committee members were elected in January and had already started work on the exhibition. However, things all came to a halt as the world went into a pandemic lockdown, leading to cancellation of plans and events, including the RINTIS exhibition.
University Sains Malaysia, School of the Arts, Fine Art Department 2020 (batch 16/17)
Despite the circumstances, we were prepared and determined to continue this tradition. We had to overcome this unforeseeable future and find ways to adapt. Collectively, we took the initiative to carry on with the show and decided to launch Fine Art Degree Show 2020 online.
Working through limitations
Going through the phase of lockdown, we came together to reflect on this unprecedented situation and its impact on our practices, processes and outcomes. This ‘new normal’ brought all our assessments online, with our tutorial and critique sessions replaced with video conference calls.
Artworks were produced in hostel corridors and any space available in our hometowns instead of studio facilities at the university. We reminisced about our university studio life – the smell of materials and paints, the splattered floors, the white walls, and the frenzy of final year project preparations.
Unfortunately, most of our art materials were left at the university as we returned to our homes during the lockdown. We were facing some major challenges obtaining materials and equipment to work on our projects and had to grapple with space limitations. At one point, I was spray painting my work on my rooftop under the hot sun.
USM Fine Art Department conducting tutorials and discussions via video conferencing
A shaky start
It was not an easy journey to work on the projects individually and to execute the online exhibition without meeting each other in person. Poor internet connections and shoddy video calls posed an added challenge to the task.
Although the cancellation of the physical exhibition lifted some of our workload, it was nevertheless a rather difficult start for Zul Hanafi, the appointed design director and his team, as everyone lacked familiarity of producing for the digital sphere.
However, with the help of the event advisor Sir Shahidan Mohamad and project manager Khalil Musain, the team managed to delegate tasks evenly, from organising and designing the website to copywriting, communication and quality control.
‘Although we were scattered all over the country, some way or another, we felt more together than we had ever been,’ Khalil confided.
Although the online exhibition cannot replace the experience of seeing artwork in person, it has managed to offer viewers a taste of the many talents from the Fine Art students. The eclectic mix of materials, media and ideas reflect the challenges we faced and how we embraced adaptation into our art practices. From painting, print, sculpture, photography to physical and video installation, these are fruits of many hours spent researching, perfecting and finishing our work.
We hope this online exhibition celebrates and showcases our cohort’s extraordinary achievements and offers every visitor an insight into our resourcefulness, resilience and poignant responses to this complex moment. The exhibition will be an archive documenting the start of our journey as we transition to kick start our professional careers in the arts.
A selection of artwork
Zul Hanafi, Floating Aisle, 2020
Ayu Izzati, Feast, 2020
Rosezienna Shika and Teoh Wei Ni took on the challenge of confronting uncomfortable subjects like death and rot. Rosezienna created an intriguing interpretation of death rituals in Iban culture while Teoh explored the beauty of waste through a still life of rotten food.
Finally, Thong Kai Yun’s piece used tactile elements and psychology theories to ease negative emotions such as anxiety and stress in a triggering environment.
Rosezienna Shika, Lupong Manang, 2020
Teoh Wei Ni, Rotten Artistry – Mix Fruit, 2020
Thong Kai Yun, Do you believe in life after work?, 2020