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Where Should We Go?

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Bakat Muda Sezaman/Young Contemporaries Award is a bi-annual art award organized by the National Art Gallery since 1974 (read our review here). The event is traditionally followed by an open forum, well-known for bringing out frank and boisterous opinions from the visual art community. This year the forum theme was ‘Where Should We Go?’. Prior to the forum, Yap Sau Bin asked Hasnul J Saidon for his thoughts on BMS.


On Feb 26th, I moderated the discussion “Where Should We Go?” at Balai Seni Lukis Negara with fellow panelists, Tengku Sabri Ibrahim, Faizal Sidek, Nur Hanim Khairuddin and Badrolhisham Mohamad tahir.

Scopes of discussion were:
A. Bakat Muda Sezaman – the event itself, the institution which holds it, the history and relevance.
B. Contemporary art / artist – issues of contemporary / contemporaneity: understanding, perception, strategies and tactics etc.
C. Challenges ahead – art (practice) and thinking/knowing (gnosis) (social, cultural, political, philosophical) ?
3.1 cross/inter/trans – disciplinary grounding?
3.2 regional, global discourse/ contribution?

I invited Hasnul to respond to the scopes prior to the discussion, and sections of his text were presented first during the introduction to the session. In a way, Hasnul was the 5th panelist who ‘spoke’ first. With Hasnul’s permission, here is his complete reply for your reading pleasure.

“Sau Bin, thank you. I will be in Sarawak till Sunday. I think those 4 panelists are ok already. Anyway, for the sake of discussion, I’ll take an agitator role (rather than cheerleader). Here are some points, just in case:

1. The term ‘halatuju’
In comparison to ‘sehala’, ‘sehaluan’, ‘tak sehaluan’, ‘multi-hala’, ‘tak-tentu hala’, ‘hala(l)’, ‘tuju(an)’, ‘dituju’, ‘menuju’, ‘tuju-tuju’, the term ‘halatuju’ as a text can be read in many ways (semiotic la, typical me). If I may, ‘halatuju’ as a text, has been made to connote things that are ‘linear’, unilateral, sequential and hegemonic (if not western, classical, historical, chronological, progress), like those used in goverment and corporate sectors (mission statement). Some would say that such word is perhaps best discussed in regards to ‘ontological’ function of art (towards ‘oneness’, ‘spiritual ascension’, ‘inner journey’ etc). I don’t think you want to go into that. On the other hand, in daily usage, the word necessitates a static and linear model and paradigm in answering it.

2. What about ‘kepelbagaian halatuju’ dengan ‘kesatuan niat’
I would prefer a multi-dimensional and dynamic model (always in a state of becoming, change, rejuvenation, interconnecting, reconnecting etc), with non-linear (more like a web) readings of art (both in practice and theory). In fact, I think contemporary art in Malaysia has diversified into many ‘halatujus’ (and infuse other disciplines too), rather than one (unless we are talking or falling into the trappings of ‘1Malaysia, then that will be the official ‘mantra’ of our halatuju). We can’t deny such multiplicities of halatuju (not to mention methodologies and disciplines). What we want to check critically is our ‘niat’ (intention, not objective).

3. In checking our ‘niat’, we ask…Why BMS? (especially within the ‘under-deconstructive’ context of contemporary art practice in Malaysia)
Why do we need BMS? What is it for? How relevant it is to the current and future scenarios of contemporary art in Malaysia and beyond? Do we still need an ‘art competition’ with such BMS format? Does it reflect the spirit of contemporariness in Malaysia and beyond? What constitutes ‘contemporary’? How do we define contemporary? What is ‘bakat’/talent? What ‘bakat’ are we talking about? Bakat melukis, bakat mengecat, bakat memasang, bakat menggantung, bekat mengukir, bakat memotong, bakat menampal, bakat mengimpal, bakat mencetak, bakat menulis, bakat bercakap?

4. Contemporary art in Malaysia needs many types of ‘Bakat Muda’.
Can contemporary art in Malaysia rely only on ‘pengkarya berbakat’ or talented artists alone? What about other types of bakat muda as well – i.e talent in researching, writing, editing, publishing, printing, designing, critiquing, judging, arguing, debating, discoursing, discussing, evaluating, curating, teaching, educating, collecting, managing, organizing, promoting, marketing, branding, etc. Contemporary art in Malaysia needs more than ‘Bakat Muda Sezaman yang berbakat membuat karya seni kontemporari’.


Traffic Light Tree by Pierre Vivant, 1998 (source)

5. Instead of art competition only for ‘young artists’, how about ‘grants’ for ‘young writers/researchers/lecturers/curators/editors/educators/activists/etc.
I would prefer ‘Grants’ given/awarded to different individuals,groups,collective, communities who are engaged in many different aspects of contemporary art, not just making artwork – i.e research, publication, curation, production (documentary, web, blog, interactive media, etc), education, community engagement, management/marketing/promotion, collecting, branding, networking, etc. Contemporary art is more than just making and exhibiting artworks. It is more than just ‘artist’. BMS is too centered on ‘artist’ (by modernist definition, most of the time). There are researchers, writers/critics, editors, directors, curators, teachers, lecturers, educators, activists, managers, promoters, collectors, designers, photographers, journalists, etc. Art competition is only a tiny ‘booster’ compared to many other aspects that are still ‘lacking’ and deserve supports. Too much focus on ‘artist’ won’t do much. Even in educational institutions, focus is mainly on producing artists. Contemporary art practice today (and in the future) will become more fluid, trans-disciplinary, lucid, and cut across local, regional, international boundaries, engaging different parts of the Malaysian public. BMS (with its current format) may become too elitist, closed, exclusive members-of-the-club event that may not have larger resonance beyond the National Art Gallery’s walls. In fact, I found that there are much more enticing projects happening now and then, here and there that I think are more pertinent and relevant than BMS.

6. Bakat menyoal dan mencungkil (Talent in questioning and inquiring)
Read my article “Post-Modern Encounters” for BMS 2004 if I’m not mistaken (my favourite) and how some of the works are actually questioning even the way we frame, evaluate, judge, discuss, discourse, talk, gossip about ‘art’ in Malaysia (including yours!). I found that this year’s entry lacks that critical inquiry and self-critical tendency/awareness (to borrow Pak Mail’s [Ismail Zain’s] term) of the very structure or system that they are getting into.

7. What if we look at and read the whole “BMS” thing as a fusion of ‘staged drama, reality tv, individual and collective performances (if not acting) and visual spectacle’ on a stage called ‘NAG’.
Who are the stakeholders, the sponsors, the benefactors, producers, the directors, performers (main and supporting actors/actresses), the scripts, the improvisations, the settings, the scenes or scenography, the audience, etc. Can be very interesting and may yield a new perspective.

All the best and thanks again Sau Bin.



Yap Sau Bin is a visual artist, art programmer and lecturer at a local University.

Hasnul J Saidon is a visual artist and director of Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 14 March 2011.

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