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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 — “Saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” That quote on Dumpster’s glass entrance in Art Row, Publika sums up what the shop is trying to preach, which is how there’s a lot of wasted or “dumped” talent in the art scene in Malaysia. Another big plus point is that outstanding name grabs people’s attention perking their curiosity to discover more.
Set up on June 14 by Mohd Romaizie Mustapha, Dumpster champions undiscovered talents from the art, design and graphic world. “My concept for Dumpster is to scout for undiscovered talent to recycle history and preserve the heritage and tradition of Malaysia,” said the founder of Dumpster, who is better known as Rom. Previously, Rom ran Outdated, a place for antiques, art and design work by local artists in Publika. Most of what is sold at Dumpster is artwork, whereby 50 per cent is digital artwork while 20 per cent are prints.
The search for undiscovered talents takes Rom all over the country. For example, in the kampung, Rom discovers skilled carpenters who make furniture but their work is not sold in the city and they are not famous. Rom said that starting Dumpster was all about experimenting and learning through trial and error. For him, it doesn’t matter what kind of talent the person has as long as the person shows good workmanship. “Nobody knows about them and I found them through Facebook. They do art as a hobby, usually. What I look for is a good stroke and from there I can tell if they are talented or not. I would then approach them to see if they want to draw for Dumpster,” said Rom.
It has been an arduous task for Rom in his search for hidden talents. At the beginning Rom found more than 20 people who had talent but less than 10 of them wanted to do art for Dumpster. In the end, he ended up with less than five people who were willing to commit their time to him.
Some of the undiscovered talent he wanted to help were also unreliable, causing Rom to make a loss. When Rom worked with the carpenter, he would design the furniture and ask the carpenter to make them. After some time, the carpenter did not want to continue.
“They just don’t have the vision. For them it is about making a living so they don’t put effort and they don’t want to explore. Some of them are old so they want to stop. They also feel that the capital is high and they don’t want to invest. That is why I started focusing more on art,” said Rom.
When Rom started, he used to work with single mothers to make cushions out of silkscreen material, with the intention to help them. However, when the single mothers found other jobs, they would abandon their commitment to Dumpster.
“I decided to take things slowly. These people are happy with their comfort zone. But they are underpaid and overworked. I believe that if you are committed, you can make more money,” said Rom.
Because the artists he takes on are not famous, most of them don’t earn much. He guides them and teaches them to be more productive and gives art direction when they create art for Dumpster. He sees them as raw talent.
“I want to create a Malaysian cultural movement that preserves our heritage and embrace diversity. We live in a crucial situation that not so many people know about Malaysian culture. Our generation needs to learn more about our culture so that it doesn’t become extinct,” said Rom.
From artwork that shows our national anthem Negaraku to drawings of Malaysian culture such as traditional dance or parts of KL city re-interpreted by the artists, Dumpster hopes to promote Malaysian culture through its artwork.
“I gather wasted talent and help them make masterpieces. I hope to touch other people with our work. For me, this is a passion of mine. It is not money-driven. You can see the difference when people do something for money or when they do it for passion. It is my responsibility to preserve the tradition of Malaysia and to help out these undiscovered talents. We need to preserve the identity of Malaysia so that my grandson can know the roots of his culture. Malaysian art is a good revolution to stimulate awareness. But it is not easy,” said Rom.
To work with Rom, one must have a good attitude to accept criticism and is willing to learn. Some people give Rom excuses that they have no ambition, they are not ready yet, their work is not good enough or they are busy.
Fortunately, despite meeting artists that are not committed, Rom has discovered a handful who are willing to commit their time. One of them is Mohamad Khiddir bin Mohd Baharudin who hails from Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. He was discovered by Rom through Facebook.
For Dumpster he drew a series of Malaysian traditional dances such as kuda kepang and zapin. His work is available in forms of T-shirts, tote bags and art print. Khiddir also drew people dancing the joget lambak in a setting depicting Kuala Pilah in the 1960s. “I get the inspiration from speaking to my parents because they were from that era. They will tell me stories of their life from before. I also drew Kuala Pilah, the town with the bicycles and old shophouses,” said Khiddir who also based his art through photographs of the past.
For the Kuala Pilah artwork, he drew it on a paper with a pen then scanned it digitally to add colour in Adobe Photoshop. The Rasa Sayang Kuala Lumpur series he did was entirely made digitally on the computer. It features roadside hawkers and captures the Malaysian life in the city.
His next project involves working on different types of processions. Since it happens very rarely now, Khiddir does his research based on history books. The scene is set during 1908 so it is not easy to research how it looks and the atmosphere of processions during that time.
“Whenever we want to come up with an idea we will brainstorm together with a few people to discuss what to do next,” said Rom who is very involved with the work of the artists he features.
The content the artist produces has to send a message to the audience so that they can learn a thing or two about the art. Usually, Rom will buy 10 or 30 pieces of artwork from the artists before he sells them at Dumpster.
Most of his customers are tourists or expats who are intrigued about Malaysian culture.
Lina Tan is also one of the artists who work with Rom to produce art for Dumpster. Her series Core-lumpo is about the core of Kuala Lumpur where she draws Chow Kit, generic coffee shops and everyday scenes in the city.
She has a different style where her characters are not typical human beings but are tweaked to give the artwork a cartoon-like feel. For example, the man would have a frog face or another type of animal as the head but have a normal human body.
The scenes are also up to her imagination. She does her art digitally because it takes less time as she is busy working full-time. Her next project features queues at food stalls, such as the queue to buy satay or nasi lemak.
She makes it interesting by adding a lion dance in the queue — a juxtaposition of the two cultures in one picture.
For Tan and Khiddir’s next projects, this will be done in panoramic style. Mohamad Nazrin bin Mohamad Latipi is also one of the artists whose works are featured at Dumpster. “I studied architecture but I like to try out new things when opportunities come to me,” said the 3D visualiser. Art for him is a hobby and he does acrylic on canvas. So far he has produced three pieces based on famous spots around the KL city.
His artwork Jejak Tun Razak is based on Jalan Tun Razak, Sungai Kewangan is based on Sungai Wang while Bukit Berbintang is based on Bukit Bintang. “I like my paintings to be monochrome because I want to give it a nostalgic vibe. It is like remembering something in the past,” said Nazrin. His style is more towards urban landscape and buildings due to his background in architecture.
The next project he will be working on is on Jalan Ampas in Singapore. According to Rom, back in the old days, Jalan Ampas was the location of the Shaw Brothers movie studio that produced the iconic P. Ramlee films.
Today the place is no longer the same and modern buildings have taken over the studio’s previous location.
“We wanted to revive the era because the films made during that time were funny and rich with content. The films had important messages in them and were very meaningful. After that, the film industry stopped producing good content and we hope that by highlighting Jalan Ampas we can remember the good times,” said Rom.
Nazrin shared that for this project he will make it monochrome with a bit of blue. It would be his interpretation of the studio and also the cinema scene from that era.
At Dumpster, you can also find other things sold on consignment basis other that artwork. You can find silkscreen book binding books by Little Syam that has Malaysian culture elements in it. Dumpster also sells Malaysian-made turntables, produced by Makmal, which stands for Making Malaysia. Rom also stocks up on books that focuses on art, design, the creative business industry. “I want to have a variety at Dumpster so it is more than just an art gallery,” said Rom.
“Dumpster is the first gallery to focus on print art. It is affordable compared to paintings and we want to make it so that everyone can afford own a piece of Malaysian culture,” said Rom. “The print industry is still new in Malaysia. In places like Melbourne, it is very common to have art galleries that have print art,” said Rom.
For more information check out www.dumpster.my or visit the gallery at
Lot 53, Level G2, Art Row, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur