If The World Does Not Change
BY: LIAU SHU JUAN
Singapore Biennale’s theme of ‘If The World Changed’ opens up a myriad of possibilities and situations for artists to explore.
Jainal Amambing’s ‘My Longhouse Story’ instead, is a reversal of the theme, ‘What If The World Did Not Changed?’ Amambing travels back in time to a childhood where things, people and places are innocent and ‘naïve’. Three village kids sled down a hill slope of blossoming flowers and healthy green leaves. They have ingeniously reinvented the western hemisphere’s winter culture of gliding on snowy slopes atop sleighs and boards, by gliding on a hilly slope using a huge piece of tropical leaf. In circa 1970s Kudat, Sabah, where Barbies, Pokemons and Ipads, are obscure and non-existent, slippers have become a common plaything for children as the kid-driver of the leaf wears his slipper on his left arm, his right arm waving enthusiastically another piece of leaf. Playing bare-footed is also a norm as the girl had placed her slippers firmly in the depths of her rattan basket. Beautiful yellow and pink butterflies flutter gently on the tips of flowers as a rooster races past. The slope is green and undulating with a cornfield, ripe and in abundance, ready for harvest. The orange sun hangs high in the sky, radiating concentric rings of warmth.
An interesting feature here is a mini Mount Kinabalu, with Chinese painting style rolling mists, rising behind the corn field, and also behind a twin-peaked mountain, behind a boy crossing a river and behind a mother and son making rattan baskets, in other paintings in this series.
Mount Kinabalu is iconic and a huge part of the artist’s childhood memory and growing up landscape.
Besides the use of vibrant colours, the people are smiling and happy. A boy’s perspective of a world where everything is sugar coated in smiles, play and sunshine, rather than shielded with sunglasses, to make the harshness of the world a tad gentler on the eyes and soul. The villagers are situated or imagined to be in a world by themselves- the children are situated inside a padi grain barrier, safe and secure; the Malay kompang dancers perform safely in their longhouse and the mother and son are safe and secure inside their house, the windows and planks of the house framing and enveloping them. Even the schoolboy crossing the bridge alone seems to be in a safe world by himself, as he is surrounded by the many undulating green mountains that protected him from any external elements.
The human renderings of the kompang dancers in traditional Malay costumes are an interesting sight to behold. Their hands flailed out, heads disproportionately larger than their bodies. They look like air steward and stewardesses, ready to take off. Stiff smiling faces plastered their uniform features as one’s attention is drawn to their ‘V-shaped’ connecting eyebrows and noses.
It’s the style- the style of ‘naïve art’ where renderings are simplistic. It harkens back to a time where we do childlike drawings with a natural flair. However, when we grow old, we instead become logical and complicated and doing childlike drawings become a deliberate process.
Another artist that I want to draw in comparison with is Vu Thi Trang, a Vietnamese female artist. Thi Trang has a difficult past, being the victim of abuse from her ex-husband. Her style is similar to Amambing’s ‘naïve art’ in that her figures are simplistic and childlike with flat, saturated forms and colours. However, the similarity ends here. Thi Trang’s ‘naïve art’ speaks much about the pains of adulthood. In ‘Domestic Drama’, a pregnant lady is beaten up and strangled by her elder brother-in-law. Her husband, the younger brother, stands helpless. In Vietnamese custom, the young has to respect and obey the elder. Caught in the dilemma of saving his wife or obeying tradition, his right hand grips the left hand which is raised with a butcher knife in his fist; not knowing whether to strike or to withhold. Here, proportion plays a deeper meaning. The lady, the weaker gender here, shrinks in size, as the male perpetuator’s limbs extend in blind fury. Even the tables have an interesting bird’s eye view instead of a head-on perspective.
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Copyright © 2013 Liau Shu Juan.