Drawing Parallels

I knew it was maghrib because the sky resembled a paddle pop ice cream that I much loved when I was younger. At the train station, LED boards tell me my train to Ampang is two minutes away. I was tired from a day of facilitating workshops all the way in Bangi but nevertheless I was excited to see what this gallery has in store for me. A train ride to Cempaka. A 10 minute Uber ride after. I was there at the stairs that led up to HOM Art Trans.

It was a nondescript venue. No posters for the exhibition ‘Parallel Poem’ greeted me. Somehow or rather I didn’t feel quite lost; I felt slightly adventurous instead.

2006hrs. My phone screen displayed the time. A step in the gallery and it was still fairly empty. The white walls, off-white floors and minimal furniture gave the art space, a clean and sophisticated yet also humbling vibe to it. A bunch of benches were places in the middle of the gallery, facing the walls where the artist’s work is on proud display. I took a seat and faced a painting by Amy Nazira, one half of the duo of the night’s launching.

Silaturahim by Amy Nazira
Silaturahim by Amy Nazira

When I heard of this exhibition that was going to display visual interpretations of various pantuns by two separate artists, I was intrigued because I wanted to see if both the artists had same ideas from the traditional Malay quatrain that we all grown up listening to. Looking at the paintings, you can definitely tell which artist did which piece. If you stood far back in the gallery, the right side of the space was occupied with Amy Nazira’s oil paintings depicting her interpretations while the left was all just Safar Zin’s black and white paintings with a gash of translucent acrylic and lettering across it. I enquired this to the latter on why the art was arranged as such.

“You can see that Amy’s art style and mine are different.” Zin offers.

“Yes. Jarringly different.” I echo.

“Mhm… when developing this project we decided that instead of trying to work on similarities between us, we might as well emphasize on the differences.” he adds.

“In that case, kenapa tak letak the paintings from the same pantuns side by side? Won’t that make the emphasis even more apparent than this current arrangement?”

“Well, in the proposal we did plan to put it like that. It made more sense to display the two interpretations side by side but the curator saw fit to show off our work like this instead,” he said looking off to one of Amy’s paintings.

Perhaps the curator was aiming to showcase these two artists as individuals with talents and styles that are unique to them; an exhibition that goes beyond a mere comparison off each other.

Curating an exhibition that features two artists of contrasting styles require balance – between distinguishing their identities and the theme of the exhibition itself. Context is key, and the reason why the artists are featured to present the theme needs to be at the forefront without compromising their individual identities. We need to be able get to know the artists on the merit of their own work, aside from being introduced to them via the exhibition.

Parallel Poem gave me that impression initially – that the curator intended to introduce the artists to us by presenting their respective interpretations of age old rhymes; representing the shifting values of the current generation. I thought the focus were the pantuns. Not that I wasn’t interested by the artists; far from it.

The emcee announced that the launching was going to begin soon so everyone settled around nearer to the front of the space, where a microphone stand stood together with the artists and gallery owner, Encik Bayu. Each of them gave a few words before the emcee invited the crowd for a light supper.

Speaking to the curator personally, he emphasized that HOM Art Trans was a space that he dedicated for young and potential artists to get the visibility they need. I wondered out loud how he stumbled upon these two artists and their art in the first place before giving them the space. He obliged.

Apparently their lecturers from their alma mater, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UITM), are always in contact of art curators and gallery owners so they get invited to student exhibitions. From here they get to see which young artists have not only the talent and skill in technique, but also discipline because according to Encik Bayu, talent is only one part of being an artist, discipline actually takes you places.

In the age where technology and social media sites reign supreme, I realized that art galleries like HOM are still significant for visual artists as well and fans of the visual arts. Yes, Instagram may seem like a good idea for them to display their artwork (individually) but galleries give not only a chance for collaborations such as this, but also for enthusiasts to gather and discuss these artworks.

One thing about art exhibitions that is lost in the narrative of social media marketing is that it is tactile – seeing fine art on screen and print are a great way to gain bandwidth but fine arts are a feast meant for the discerning eyes. Like any art form, it needs to be experienced live.

With no intermediary or intervening mediums.

While music and film dominate the arts industry in terms of media coverage, the visual arts scene relies on galleries and print media to give them the visibility they need.

“Baguslah portal media online macam Daily Seni nak cover event macam ni. Seni bukan sahaja setakat filem dengan music. Visual arts pun seni jugak. Macam tu jugak pantun.” quips Amy.

In many ways I agree with her.

This exhibition shows a unique bridge between two different art forms, one print and the other visual. The former being traditional and the latter, contemporary due to the artists’ style influencing their personal interpretations.

Diri, Ilmu & Pencipta by Safar Zin
Diri, Ilmu & Pencipta by Safar Zin

While the name of the exhibition gave me an impression that the poems were the focus rather than the artists, I am glad to have sampled their art. Safar Zin’s fine charcoal strokes are a great contrast to the rough and coarse nature of the instrument, reminding me of Bayu Utomo Radjikin. Amy Nazira’s clear lines and colour takes us into her whimsical world where reality is a little distorted, and as we settle into her art we start to appreciate her imagination via the details in her pieces. Gaining a better understanding of the exhibition after speaking to them I felt that the exhibition should have been called ‘Parallels’ instead.

As I left the gallery I hope that there will be more art being showcased together in a manner such as this. Parallel Poem serves as an exhibition for the hard work and talents of Amy Nazira and Safar Zin, but more importantly it shows that the arts can aren’t so far apart from each other. And that a union of two seemingly different art forms, may result in works that are just as note-worthy.

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