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And the winners are…

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When was the last Bakat Muda Sezaman? As the seminal institution through which many young Malaysian artists made their mark in the contemporary art scene from the seventies to the nineties fade into what seemed like a distant past, the inaugural Malaysia Emerging Artist (MEA) Award, the prize-giving and opening ceremony held last Sunday, has come to take its place as a new competitive platform.

I’m not necessarily a fan of art competition. They are often conservative in taste and subjective in choice. Even the supposedly controversial Turner Prize winners are often late recognition, if anyone gets their modern and contemporary art history right. On the other hand, to me, the kind of media attention, spectacle and drama that surround an art award (the stuff that art purists would balk at) form the appealing recipe for creating the much needed buzz and encouragement to introduce new comers into the heady, treacherous yet occasionally rewarding art life.

Officiating the event was Dato’ Seri Abdul Azim bin Mohd. Zabidi, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, National Art Gallery. He pointed out rightly that an event like this is what the National Art Gallery should be doing. By now, it is obvious what drives the Malaysian artworld is the private market forces that aren’t weighed down by the bureaucracy and politics most government-based or government-linked cultural institutions in Malaysia face.

The MEA is shaped as an investment in the future of Malaysian artists by Galeri Chandan and House of MATAHATI (HOM) in collaboration with Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM). Somehow I wish this investment has less tangible economic goals, not that I’m slighting the increasingly robust and expanding art market we have locally. Debates (or complains) sometime back in ARTERI, around whether restricting the entries to two and three dimensional artworks severely limit the range of art forms, underlines the importance of recognising practices that are either process-based or non-object-based. After all, contemporary art is a nebulous phenomenon and art prizes with a serious goal towards recognising its future should acknowledge this. In this respect, Bakat Muda Sezaman should be commended for recognising this. Where else in nineties Malaysia could then emerging UiTM graduate Roslisham Ismail aka Ise Parkingproject stage his brave and challenging  3m x 3m x 3m performance/video documentation?

Perhaps more practical concerns come to mind. The Soka Gakkai hall has only that much space. In spite of the above, participating entries make a strong showing of the versatility and confidence of painters and sculptors in Malaysia, although knowing how artists work, the entries only began flooding in at the eleventh hour. Artists being, after all, artists.

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Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, Samsudin Wahab, Gan Chin Lee, Shaifuddin Mamat, Mohd Bakir Baharom

The five winners are not hard to guess, they easily surpass the rest of the entries either by their technical/formal accomplishment or conceptual potential. Samsudin Wahab, Gan Chin Lee, Shaifuddin Mamat, Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, Mohd Bakir Baharom each take home a cash prize of RM 3,000, a trophy, RM 2,000 in vouchers for art supplies and a much coveted solo-exhibition. They also receive a travel grant to Southeast Asia art hub Yogyakarta where I’m sure a heady programme-packed kretek-filled tour of Indonesia’s creative capital will create the much needed networking opportunities that have increasingly come to shape contemporary art dialogue and exchange in this region.

With a jury panel comprising of 16 art world professionals, I was a little dismayed that the catalogue did not include any judges report. The sort of weighty pronouncement, whether collective or individually written, would have account for the choices in winners. Not so much as a form of justification but more as a reflection of the process in which the selection was made. Besides, some drama could have been borne out of dissent. That nothing gets more attention than two judges quibbling over the winner of the Man Booker Prize (in the literary scene) is a clear indication of the potential cultural impact and interest art prizes can generate.

Be that as it may, the MEA Award is off to a good star. Let’s hope the organising committee take the suggestions mentioned above into consideration. Viva la MEA!

Artworks by winners:

Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, Brain Power #1, 2009, Ceramic, steel + glass, 47 x 25 x 25 cm

Mohd Al-Khuzairie Ali, Brain Power #1, 2009, Ceramic, steel + glass, 47 x 25 x 25 cm

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Mohd Bakir Baharom, Angan Tenggelam, 2009, Soot on canvas, 115 x 147 cm

10-b

Gan Chin Lee, I’m in a Mamak Stall, 2009 Oil on anvas, 270 x 160 cm

Shaifuddin Mamat, Larger Than Life: Conditioning, 2009, Charcoal, silkscreen ink, collaged fabric on canvas, 160 x 205 cm

Shaifuddin Mamat, Larger Than Life: Conditioning, 2009, Charcoal, silkscreen ink, collaged fabric on canvas, 160 x 205 cm

Samsudin Wahab, The Light Festival, 2009, Oil, acrylic, bitumen on canvas, 153 x 183 cm

Samsudin Wahab, The Light Festival, 2009, Oil, acrylic, bitumen on canvas, 153 x 183 cm

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(SS)


This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 14 October 2009.

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