PETALING JAYA, July 24 — Bibi Chew’s exhibition, What If , currently showing at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art from now till August 15, marks the first solo exhibition in the career of this established Malaysian artist.
Using a variety of materials and techniques, the exhibition presents 29 individual works inspired by maps of Malaysia and the configuration of rivers and states.
What If... is comprised of three series of work: Landed, The MAP is upside down and The RIVER is floating, each of which explores themes of boundaries and belonging.
Although maps, boundaries and topography define the exhibition’s visual identity, Chew encourages visitors to think about what Malaysia’s geography means to them: “The subject matter I’m using is the land, but I want to share beyond the land... It can relate to your own background and what you have experienced and encountered.”
Landed is the first series Chew began work on, and it explores the nature of topography and state boundaries. All 13 Malaysian states and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur are presented as organic shapes rendered in acrylic paint.
The states are depicted as the same size; a decision Chew made in order to present the states as “all equal”, and worthy of the same degree of attention.
By presenting Malaysia’s states in isolation from one another, Chew breaks down the conventional outline of the country and prompts visitors to question how much they know about the shape of the land they live in.
In The MAP is upside down, an installation piece in which the silhouettes of Malaysia’s states are elevated and fixed to moveable poles, visitors are challenged to identify Malaysia’s states from a new angle.
Chew invites visitors to interact with the work; to see the map from beneath rather than above and to rethink their relationship with land.
“We always hear people say the map is flat,” says Chew, “I want to look at it in 3D.”
The final series, entitled The RIVER is floating, presents a series of 14 works crafted from watercolour paper. Inspired by the notion that rivers are the “bloodlines” from which life stems and states are bound together, Chew worked with a blade to trace the shape of Malaysia’s most important rivers.
Their silhouettes are lifted from the otherwise flat space, and infused with a sense of vitality.
Although Chew was born in Malaysia and lives in the country today, she spent some time living in Australia as a student in the late 1990s.
This experience of being away from her home country prompted Chew to view Malaysia from the perspective of an outsider.
A sense of distance from the land is evident in the works on display in this exhibition. Chew states that she has been very lucky to be able to travel; she asks, “Why can’t I give people another way of seeing things as well?”
By extracting Malaysia’s states and rivers from the maps in which they are usually confined and placing them in a new artistic context, What If prompts us to question the nature of boundaries, the conventions of looking at maps, and our relationship with the land.
“Basically I wanted to show the viewer something very simple. This is a map we all know,” says Chew, “I want people to feel differently, and maybe treasure what they have.”
While viewing the exhibition, it is recommended that you try the coffee made from organic Fairtrade beans at Coffee Break. Also take a peek at some of the country’s elegant artisanal products in SGFA’s Concept Studio. There is great stuff to see and experience!
Shalini Ganendra Fine Art @ Gallery Residence
Open Tues to Sat: 11am to 6pm
No. 8 Lorong 16/7B, Section 16
Tel: 03-7932 4740