‘Living Art’: The inspired lives of 14 Malaysian artists and their creative practice

'Living Art' not only gives us an insight into how artists work but also how they think. — Picture courtesy of Shalini Ganendra
'Living Art' not only gives us an insight into how artists work but also how they think. — Picture courtesy of Shalini Ganendra

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 — Numerous romanticised notions surround the field of creativity, including divine talent and magical product delivery.

What the recently released Living Art by Emelia Ong adeptly reflects, through the careful and very readable case studies of 14 established local artists is that sustainable and successful creative careers also require clear method, diligence, reflection and challenge.

Living Art is a survey of living art practices. 

Thus, the import of the publication goes beyond applauding the strong practices of Malaysian artists: Mad Anuar Ismail, Noor Mahnun Mohamed, Sharon Chin, Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim, Hasnul J. Saidon, Gan Chin Lee, Jennifer Lui Hsin Ying, Ise, Elias Yamani, Eiffel Chong, Azzaha Ibrahim, Shia Yih Yiing, Ilse Noor and collective, Pangrok Sulap.

This book shares with us how they think and work and where they do so.

The practices and career developments of each creator are discussed in wonderfully accessible language, interspersed with crisp visuals by David Lok (DL Studios) of their work spaces and demeanours. 

Discussion and writing centre around questions, asked to each artist, covering: (1) Growing up; (2) Learning Process; (3) Space and Place; (4) Current Practice; (5) Working Process; (6) Materials and Tools.

The publication presentation is neat. The language is simple. The insights are refreshing and revealing (and with thankfully no mention of commercial sales).

The book has pictures of their work spaces as well. — Picture courtesy of Shalini Ganendra
The book has pictures of their work spaces as well. — Picture courtesy of Shalini Ganendra

The sharing by these artists not only opens windows to insights but also indicates the kind of questions that are useful to ask for development of projects, exhibitions, collecting and appreciation generally. 

Sharon Chin shares that “drawing is personal and compares it to the way we write or speak.’”

Veteran sculptor Mad Anuar reminisces about becoming closer to the wood that inspires his carvings, through long stays in the forest communing with nature and trees. 

“There are vibrations, you see? If you sit still and stay with the trees, you will feel it after a long while. There are no words to describe this. Some say it’s intuition.” 

Gan Chin Lee discusses his painting project on new villages and the extensive research conducted to understand better the lives of those whom he is painting.

“Their ideologies are so different. It’s important that we learn to understand each other and be able to communicate. How do we gain acceptance and tolerance for each other?”

Photographer Eiffel Chong muses, “The dark room is a good analogy for our lives — in life, in order to get a good outcome, you need preparation and patience, and there is a lot of waiting involved.”

Ilse Noor reveals that as a child she initially wanted to study archaeology, not art, for its promise of adventure, but was then inspired by drawing through art classes.

She has continued since, with the adventurous spirit that brought her to Malaysia, to become a master print maker.

This book will benefit everyone — general audiences, students, artists, curators, galleries, collectors and academics — through the insights and struggles shared; information to enrich individual and community engagement with creators; appreciation of varied creative processes; and the people behind them — taking us beyond just the 14 notable talents.

As the author Emilia Ong herself admits, “Besides learning a lot about the detailed processes I also loved listening to the various approaches in practice and the motivations behind artistic decisions. I think these conversations cemented my own beliefs that art practice is ultimately not about mastering technique, expression or craftsmanship (even though those are valuable outcomes of art practice) but about finding meaning and purpose in life.”

Living Art is highly recommended. Limited copies available through online order arecabooks.com and in Kinokuniya and MPH bookshops. 

* Shalini Ganendra is a cultural advisor & scholar.

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