PETALING JAYA: There’s no question that this year’s Merdeka will be like no other, courtesy of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With most of the Klang Valley and other urban centres under strict lockdown, the usual display of patriotic sentiments will be somewhat drowned out by the pervasive gloom of the moment.
Yet, 27 artists have chosen to express their love for the country during the month of Merdeka by displaying their works in an online exhibition titled very simply “Jalur Gemilang”.
Open for viewing until the end of the month, the exhibition is hosted by Artas Galeri, an art gallery based in Petaling Jaya.
According to Roy Ng, Artas Galeri’s director, plans were already underway to hold a physical Merdeka-themed exhibition in the months leading up to August.
However, with the extension of MCO 3.0, it became painfully clear that Plan B would have to be executed.
“Due to the pandemic and the increasing number of cases, I decided to launch an online show with an e-catalogue instead,” he said.
That way, art enthusiasts will still be able to view the art pieces themselves without leaving the safety of their homes.
“Most of these artists’ works exhibited in the ‘Jalur Gemilang’ exhibition are based on our national flag’s colours,” Ng said, adding that a majority of them used copious amounts of red, yellow, blue and white in multiple art styles including abstract, still-life and figurative.
According to him, the artists are a fascinating group made up of graduates fresh out of art school as well as senior artists who have made a name for themselves in the art world.
FMT had the pleasure of interviewing six of the artists regarding their hopes for the country this Merdeka month.
Yuki Lim Xiao Mun, artist of the almost ethereal “The Paradise Land”, had this to say: “My hope for this Merdeka month is that our country can be restored to good condition after the economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
She said it was also her sincere hope that Malaysia’s leaders will lead the country down the right path by practising integrity in their leadership.
Likewise, Fadzril Fakaruddin encouraged Malaysians to stay united no matter what the circumstances, so that together, they could be free of Covid-19 for good.
While Hamir Soib hopes for better governance, fellow artist Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj is hopeful for a return to normalcy and the good ‘ol pre-Covid days.
National unity is something that veteran artist, Awang Damit, believes is vital if the country is to survive these difficult times.
And another artist, Zulkefli Talha, reminded Malaysians to love each other as fellow countrymen regardless of racial or religious differences.
“Leaders have to be good examples for the people. And both leaders and the people have to work together to end this pandemic and return Malaysia to its former glory.”
Ng told FMT that the pandemic had been especially tough on many artists. The numerous lockdowns this past year and a half meant potential buyers were unable to view the artworks personally and as a consequence, there was little to no sales.
He said there was an urgent need for artists to find alternative avenues to display their work so that they could continue to earn a decent living.
Ng explained that things have not been looking up for artists for a while now. Prior to the pandemic, the sluggish economy meant artists struggled to make a sale. The lockdowns brought about by the pandemic, only made things worse.
“Most collectors and buyers prefer to see the pieces in person. There’s a huge difference between seeing artworks personally and virtually,” he said.
“When you view an artwork physically, you will be able to see the texture, notice the colour tones and spot the little details. That’s something these virtual exhibitions sadly cannot offer.”
However, this has not dampened the spirit of art collectors such as Brendan Siva in regard to the “Jalur Gemilang” exhibition.
“Each piece is unique as an individual interpretation and expression of what Malaysia represents and symbolises in the eyes of the artist. It reflects the rich cultural and social fabric of Malaysia and its people.”
Another art collector, Bingley Sim added, “The different styles and approaches in the use of the red, blue, yellow and white colours in the artworks reflect the exuberant spirit of Malaysia.”
“The works in the ‘Jalur Gemilang’ exhibition this year are all about resilience, tenacity and hope,” said fellow art collector Cheow Wee.
“Art is a topic that brings people together no matter what ethnicity or religious belief one belongs to.”
He added that since artists too are experiencing a bad year, it is important for other Malaysians to step up and support them.
“We want to urge local artists never to give up as many of us will support them in our own little ways. After all, Kita Jaga Kita.”