It was cold, there was death in the air and concentrated scent of fresh paint covering the stench of blood. Under the bridge, it was hidden from the world above where Malaysia has entered a new era when technology is realised in its full potential and there is a darkness that lingers which was naked but also somewhat invisible to the common people. This is the vibe that is exerted at The White Mask Exhibition at White Box, Publika where many artists have lent their talent with works that colour, shape and illustrate the story that the showcase was based upon which is The White Mask by Zedeck Siew included in Fixi Novo’s Cyberpunk: Malaysia anthology . I spoke with Sharmin Parameswaran, the curator for the exhibition and we walked through the gallery as she explained the process of finding the right artists to present what the short story unfolds, “I sent The White Mask to the artists and told them to have a good read.” The story is set in cyber punk Malaysia, in the future where we are able to program paint using nano-biology technology in which if paint recognises that a painting or art on a particular wall is illegal then it will come off on its own.
The tension started when a graffiti work of Dr M (Tun Dato Seri Dr Mahathir) was painted illicitly and the graffiti paint not only came off but it actually came ‘alive’ and killed the graffiti artist. “I look at this theme of cyber punk and dystopia in Siew’s story and wondered which artist would be interested?” Sharmin clarified that many of the works displayed are about identity and discovery mainly because the main character was transgender; this can be seen in paintings like Gender by Lina Tan of a hooded figure walking alone and a red bra hovering above and following the mysterious person as if it was a plague or an old friend. “I managed to find the graffiti artists who inspired Siew when he began writing the story,” Sharmin mentioned as we passed a painting titled, Muted by Silence by Lyne Ismail which featured some visuals of spiralling DNAs and genes; “The artist was a scientist before she became an artist.” The displays are both shocking and interesting especially the fact that Sharmin explained that Tun Mahathir was likened to a graffiti artist in one of the works presented; he made posters that protested against the administration of the Malayan Union, he was an anarchist and ironically a few years after that he was elected as the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
What caught my attention was the vibrant colours and quirky motives in the works of Muhammad Affandi; a collection of digital collages where the logos, figures and themes mimic that of Malaysian history with writings of ‘jawi’ and children wearing the ‘songkok’ while they smiled with expressionless eyes. Sharmin went on to show me pictures of the artist’s previous work in which its representation is general and barely relates to Malaysia and this further supported the knowledge of how much these artists (Ajim Juxta, Alak, Andrialis Abdul Rahman, Bibichun, BlankMalaysia, Engku Iman, Escapeva, Haris Rashid, Haslin Ismail, Poodien, Rat Heist, Rico Leong, Sarah Ameera, Sattama, Sherwan Rozan, Sliz, Syahbandi Samat, Tey Beng Tze and Thomasupernova) put their ideas into the showcase in order to realise the subject of The White Mask. “We got a lot of feedback that says it’s not the usual work by these artists. We have to consider the theme, our future, the visual language. Art reflects humanity that makes us different than animals, machines; these artworks question on humanity and what else can we think about via art?” as our tour come to an end, Sharmin turned facing the many installations, canvases and paints and said, “With all exhibitions, it’s about a certain experience. Each and one of us will view the display differently, it comes a lot from where we come from. It’s open to interpretation but not too literal.”
The White Mask was exhibited at the White Box, Publika until 22nd of August 2017.