Malaysian artist Joshua Kane Gomes makes evocative art for loners

Morning mantras in the mirror take on a different meaning with Gomes’ art. — Pictures by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Morning mantras in the mirror take on a different meaning with Gomes’ art. — Pictures by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — While some creatives may look to the outside world for inspiration, Joshua Kane Gomes draws his ideas from time spent alone.

The genesis for his first solo art exhibition These Things We Do came after a long period of introspection and isolation following his graduation from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore.

During this time, Gomes contemplated if art was even the right career path for him to take.

“I got into quite a bad slump and so I came back to Malaysia and took a year away from art to just reconsider whether I wanted to continue to make things.

“The works are about me trying to translate my feelings and my anxieties into something a bit more universal.

“I wanted to capture these unseen moments that I think everyone has experienced before, moments of introspection, tenderness, and even self-loathing,” he told Malay Mail.

Gomes’ work stands against the stark white walls of the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery where the exhibition is currently being displayed.

Gomes said visitors’ interpretations for ‘Mood II’ have ranged from the sinister to the erotic.
Gomes said visitors’ interpretations for ‘Mood II’ have ranged from the sinister to the erotic.

His art combines a sense of security with great unease, creating a tension that makes each piece visually arresting.

Come Sit With Me consists of a life buoy with screws piercing through it, touching on the struggle of seeking help while fearing rejection at the same time.

The simply named Mood II shows a mannequin and a pillow hanging from the ceiling by chains, its disembodied feet barely skimming the floor with its toes.

The walls are bare with no labels next to the work to guide the viewer about the stories that inspired them.

Gomes prefers people to hone their own opinions about his art rather than having his own perspectives colour their viewing experience.

It’s also a fun way for him to read into different personalities based on their interpretation of the piece.

“I think the works tend to draw out the strongest personality aspect in the viewer because they’re more evocative,” Gomes added.

‘Mood I’ has been a popular attraction at the exhibition.
‘Mood I’ has been a popular attraction at the exhibition.

Neon also plays a central role as a conversation-starter in his exhibition with three brightly lit-up pieces on display on the other side of the room.

While neon is almost always guaranteed to be an Instagram favourite, one of the concerns Gomes had about using it was that it would turn his art into a spectacle for social media and deviate from being a serious piece of work.

However, he still wants visitors to have autonomy over their viewing experience and he’s optimistic that the desire to Instagram his work means that there’s still a kernel of genuine interest in art.

“I don’t want to snob someone for coming to see the work. If you come and see art, no matter what, at the end of the day it means you’re still interested and it’s not my place to lecture or preach to you,” he said.

Being a reserved and shy person, Gomes admits that putting more of himself into his art is a scary process.

Despite experiencing difficulties relating to others in the past, art is providing an avenue for Gomes to connect with strangers on an emotional level through a medium he’s more familiar with.

Overcoming the fear of being vulnerable was one of the challenges Gomes had to face while preparing the exhibition.
Overcoming the fear of being vulnerable was one of the challenges Gomes had to face while preparing the exhibition.

The abstract nature of the materials he works with allows more room for expression and even more leeway for viewers to see themselves in his art.

“I always feel like words will fail because language is so limiting. With an image, it’s easier for things to come across because we’re talking about intangible things,” he said.

You can catch These Things We Do at the Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Bangsar until March 30.

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