Balai Seni Visual has housed many exhibitions since its establishment in 1958—a recent addition being the 2016 exhibition, KOLEKSI TRADISI KE POP. The gallery itself has a rich and unassuming history juxtaposed to its grey exterior plopped along Jalan Tun Razak. Recently launched exhibition ESCAPE from the SEA calls Balai Seni Visual its home. ESCAPE from the SEA is a collaboration between the Japanese Foundation of Kuala Lumpur and Balai Seni Visual that aims to shine a light on the sea, a body of mass, as a physical and metaphorical entity. This objective is translated into artworks by a plethora of talented human beings.
ESCAPE from the SEA puts forth various artworks from diverse archetypes by artists from all walks of life and cultures. Artists featured in this exhibition include Aoyama Satoru, Shitamichi Motoyuki, yang02 and Ishige Kenta that all hail from Japan, Singaporean artist Zai Kuning, Catalina Africa Espinosa from the Philippines, Titta Salina from Indonesia and Malaysia’s Ali Alasri, Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, Mark Teh, Wong Tay Sy, Roslisham (more familiarly known as Ise). The exhibition that’s running from 24th Feb-23rd April was curated by Yap Sau Bin and Hattori Hiroyuki.
As you walk in the gallery, you are greeted by an extensive piece that resembles a timeline. A timeline of an archipelago that is believed to to be what is left of the “Lost Continent” of MU that existed 15,000 years ago as said in the saga of the Big Flood. God revealed his wrath in the form of a big flood as punishment to the people of MU due to their unrighteousness. The land was lost and drowned under the sea Some of the inhabitants of MU survived and now form the subrace of Malayo-Polynesia. This one of a kind artwork by Ise entitled chronoLOGICal has an enticing charm with tiny remnants and antiquities that reflect the era being described. The artwork looks almost childlike and also incorporates not-so-antique seeming items such as a plastic tiara with pink faux diamonds and iPads showing visuals.
As you make your way deeper into the artistic maze, you will see an artwork spread across the floor. The first thing you’ll notice about this artwork is that it incorporates colourful plastic scales with old-school nyonya Melaka plates. This mixed media installation that incorporates kitchens scales, chopsticks, bowls and spoons is called Great Round Table in Malaysia by Tokyo-based artist Han Ishu. Exhibition curator Hattori Hiroyuki describes this piece as a metaphorical representation of how we depend on each other and how the absence of each others support will result in overall dilapidation.
Turning your body towards the left, you’ll see Aoyama Satoru’s News from Nowhere. News from Nowhere is special because it features intricately sewn embroidery pieces inspired by Hollywood celebrities and other pop culture icons over found images of working women from the past century. By sewing together anonymous women of the past with clothes of contemporary fashion, he bridges time and pace depicting an undiscovered imaginary society. Envision this– a women from decades ago who is a subject of a black and white portrait with apparel resembling Jennifer Lopez’s.
Another elephant in the room was Pangkor Sulap’s ceiling-high artwork entitled Sabah Tanah Air-Ku. Using woodcut printing techniques, Sabah Tanah Air-Ku was arguably one of the artworks that stood out the most– it’s size may have played a role in that– in ESCAPE from the SEA. A gentle giant, Sabah Tanah Air-Ku visually captures the import of the state anthem, “Sabah My Homeland”– visualising an aspiration to resist federal dominance and re-assert state authority.
Other artworks were equally pleasant but we can’t tell you about all of them. You’ll have to go and check it out yourself! As if his exhibition wasn’t already amazing enough, it has another twist that makes it even more interesting. ESCAPE from the SEA is a two-location exhibition. Balai Seni Visual is just one of these locations. Other artworks such as Ali Alasri, Faiq Syazwan Kuhiri, Mark Teh and Wing Tay Sy’s Teh Complete Futures of Malaysia (Chapter 1) can be found at Art Printing Works Bangsar. Curator Ya Sau Bin describes this two-location twist as a way to enable spectators of ESCAPE of the SEA to discover alternatives.
Art is not about shortcuts.- Hattori Hiroyuki
In Jeffrey Lim’s artwork, he walks from APW Bangsar to Balai Seni Visual, alternating courses in three separate occasions as acts of linking, retracing and unlinking the distance between two venues. Lim initiates a psychogeographic mapping of the city using spools of threads and as he invites the audience to do the same, the work affirms the transitory nature of self and the urban. This installation aims to convey the message that not all things need to be rushed. Take your time to find alternatives in life.
ESCAPE from the SEA will be running until 23rd April. You’ll regret missing this exhibition. For more information about the exhibition, go to Balai Seni Visual’s Facebook page and their website.
Descriptions of the artwork were taken from the exhibition pamphlet.