Can the YCA Awards Keep Up with the Times?


Shaq Koyok (b. 1985, Selangor) The Witnesses.

Afiq Faris (b. 1991, Selangor) Saka-Saka.

Joy Ng Mei Lok (b. 1996, KL) Seed

So, the next young superstar in the Malaysian art firmament has been named: Samsudin Wahab. And as the Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporary Artists, YCA) apparatus wraps up, the perennial poser remains: What now, BMS?

Not that much has changed in this 24th edition since its inception 45 years ago as a one-off invitational competition in 1974. Age limit: 30, 35; prize-money from RM2,000 to RM30,000 plus a trip; Minor Award winners extended to five with prize-money of RM7,000 each; theme or no theme… Really, hardly the recipe to prime-push young hearts and minds in the New Millennium (NM) ecosystem, with the perception of the Ubermensch, the World Wide Web, VR (Virtual Reality), AI (Artificial Intelligence), Bio-Teach, robotics and all the computerised gizmos and logarithms.

Aiman Husin (b. 1995, Perak) and Hawari Berahim (b. 1981, Kelantan) The Bomoh In 4th Industrial Revolution.

Choo Yan Xin (b. 1997, Selangor) Colour Rhythm.

A tall order for NM artists to be social scientist, technician, street-cred philosopher, humanist-visionary and shaman all rolled into one, with the X-Factor complexities of Ideas and Concept (Vision); Media (Materials, Multimedia and Performance); Time and Space; Context (Historical, Cultural, Political, Heritage); Knowledge (Research and Understanding); Trends, Relevancy and Topicality; Tradition and Innovations; Form and (Dys)Function, with a mock internationalism to boot.

The overhaul stems right to the judging process/ format, criteria, panel composition with expectations of currency and syncretism, and a sound knowledge of YCA developments. It’s good that this year, there is an Open Lab concept. So it’s as much a test of the young artists as much as of the judges per se. Not spared this are the foreign judges, who must be appraised of YCA 101. These foreign judges include Setiawan Sabana (1997), Brenda Fajardo (2000), Pushpamalar Narasingarao (2010), Sudjud Dartanto (2013), Kresna Murti (2016), and Dr John Xavier and Goh Sze Ying (2019). Judges should be open-minded and independent, and not be seen as an extension of institutional power lest they be accused of stifling dissent, discord and dissonance or worse, be a tool of market forces.

Good to have an experienced impresario, like in the Venice Biennale, who will set the direction in curatorial finesse. A summit of art intellectuals drawn from a pool can map out a new blueprint. The pool could be drawn from: Simon Soon, Hasnul J. Saidon, Zulkifli Yusoff, Ramlan Abdullah, Choong Kam Kow, Awang Damit Ahmad, Ariffin Ismail, Muliyadi Mahmood, Wong Hoy Cheong, Nasir Baharuddin, Yap Sau Bin, Nurhanim Khairuddin, Sulaiman Esa and Tengku Sabri Ibrahim. Those espousing the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, may be reminded of the phenomenal changes in the last two and three decades before which even art colleges and universities find themselves breathless trying to cobble together a curriculum conducive to new market demands and conditions. The YCA, after all, serves three purposes: as incubator, platform and springboard.

And can the prize-money be better optimised for career benefit either as an artist or in academic pursuits? The prudent would plough back the money into setting up or augmenting the studio-workshop. The Malaysian Emerging Artists (MEA) award, for instance, rewards the winners with a trip to an Asean destination, with an all-expenses paid event-packed programme.

By far the most salient point for the National Art Gallery to note is to avoid the reprehensible censorship like what it did on two works in the finals of the 2013 YCA: Cheng Yen Pheng’s performatory painting, Anything But Umno (ABU) and Izat Arif’s Fa/Qaf T-shirts with scatological innuendoes.

From an unwieldy field of finalists of 39 with works that are more space guzzlers than wall lizards in this year’s YCA, Perak-born Samsudin Wahab, 35, clinched the Major Award, while the Juror’s Awards went to: Lim Sin Peng, Mohd Shafiq Nor, Wong Ming Hao, Anwar Suhaimi and Edroger Rosli. Joy Ng Mei Lok was the toast of the People’s Choice Award for her work about the trauma of school bullies, with the soiled pinafore reminiscent of Singaporean Amanda Heng’s installation. The spoils were shared between alumni of the Universiti ITM and the Dasein Academy of Art.

Samsudin’s Rambu-Rambu Memori is a veritable selfportrait, a rustic re-creation of his growing up in Kampung Selinging estuary, where electricity and clean piped water were a luxury that came much later. The ambient litter of (coarse jute) flags, giant ladder, paddy sack jute and mud (from the mangrove swamp) compensate somewhat for the absence of any photographic record of his childhood because of his family’s impecunious lot. A BFA graduate majoring in Printmaking from the Universiti Teknologi MARA in 2007, Samsudin won the Minor Award in the 2013 YCA. His other accolades include the MEA in 2009 and the Rimbun Dahan residency in 2009.

Lee Mok Yee (b. 1988, Selangor) River Mountain Sky.

Muhammad Bahiri Ahmad (b. 1995, Johor) and Mohd Faizuan Mat (b. 1982, Sarawak) The Parade of the Usungan

Louise Low (b. 1984, KL) Yes

Anwar Suhaimi’s Delan creates an oasis of water-rippling sounds as a pastoral interlude, while Wong Ming Hao’s Too Much, Not Enough creates a paint-skin collage of facial distortion and contortion. Lim Sin Peng’s Nice To Meet You, Touch Seeing is a conceptual touch-and-draw in collaboration with a visually impaired man, Daniel. Mohd Shafiq Nor’s colour pencil on canvas with the rhetorical Isn’t This The World We Love references Kok Yew Puah’s modern-day detritus, while Edroger pays homage to celebrity artists in T-shirts.

Two works which did not win any prizes are worth mentioning: Nur Amira Hanafi’s Bio-Art Another Us is a culturing collaboration with body bacteria on a petri dish to create intriguing shapes and designs; while Orang Asli activist Shaq Koyok highlights deforestation and illegal logging on the ancestral lands of the Temuans. Afiq Faris uses Mah-Meri Moyang wooden masks to comment on human foibles, while Aiman Husin and Hawari Berahim posit how the bomoh re-invent themselves to stay relevant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Lee Mok Yee’s landscapes of Yeliu-like totems of wood-cock stand out like the Christmas Island sentinels, and “bra-tist” Louise Low opts for an interactive phalanx of prostrating “Yes” figures whose heads would nod when a connecting pedal is stepped upon.

THE FINALISTS: Afiq Faris (b. 1991, Selangor); Alicia Lau Pik Yen (b. 1995, KL); Amar Shahid (b. 1986, Terengganu); Aiman Husin (b. 1995, Perak) & Hawari Berahim (b. 1981, Kelantan) The Bomoh In 4th Industrial Revolution; Amirul Alwi (b. 1992, Johor) The Times Table; Anwar Suhaimi (b. 1987, KL) Delan; Chong See Min (b. 1994, Johor) Good Girl; Choo Yan Xin (b. 1997, Selangor) Colour Rhythm; Edroger Rosli (b. 1985, Sarawak) Recognised; Effi Syafiq Jusoh (b. 1993, Terengganu) Awal – Akhir; Forrest Wong (b. 1990, Negri Sembilan) Home Is Where Harmony Is; Germaine Chong Sue Lynn (b. 1991, KL) Selipar DiSebalik Batu, With Every Step; Haafix Shahimi (b. 1986, Kedah) Hamba Kayangan; Haffendi Anuar (b. 1985, Negri Sembilan) Member-Member; Haris Rashid (b. 1992, Kedah) Natural?; Ho Mei Kei (b. 1993, KL) Pengenalan Diri; Joy Ng Mei Lok (b. 1996, KL) Seed; Kee Hooi San (b. 1988, Perak) Drifting Phantom; Koo Yean Ni (b. 1994, Seremban) Let Me Tell You A Story; Lee Mok Yee (b. 1988, Selangor) River Mountain Sky; Leong How Yi (b. 1997, KL) My Mercedes;Lim Sin Peng (b. 1994, Johor) Nice To Meet You; Louise Low (b.1984, KL) Yes; Mesita Jee Mei Jane (b. 1999, Selangor) Meeting I; Muhammad Bahiri Ahmad (b. 1995, Johor) and Mohd Faizuan Mat (b. 1982, Sarawak) The Parade of the Usungan; Muhamad Nizar Sulaiman (b. 1989, KL) Obey; Muhammad Shamin Sahrum (b. 1987, Newcastle, England) and Khairul Izzuddin Hiffni (b. 1989, London) Merbahaya (Dangerous); Nur Amira Hanafi (b. 1990, Perak) Another Us; Ong Cai Bin (b. 1989, Pahang) Intertwined Wormhole; Samsudin Wahab (b. 1984, Perak) Rambu-Rambu Memori; Shaq Koyok (b. 1985, Selangor) The Witnesses; Shafiq Mohd Nor (b. 1993, Kedah) Isn’t This The World That We Love?; Shafiq Nordin (b. 1989, Negri Sembilan, Evolusi Kotak Hitam; Syed Fakaruddin (b. 1989, Terengganu) Dari Mana, Turun Ke Hati?; Tan Siao Xuan (b. 1997, Negri Sembilan) Black; Tan Yi Ching (b. 1996, Selangor) Table Talk; Tiong Chai Heing (b. 1986, Johor) Decomposition; Wong Ming Hao (b. 1988, Selangor) Too Much, Not Enough;Yong Kian Sam (b. 1996, Selangor) Woods, Sound String.

The exhibition is on-going at the National Art Gallery, KL until September 30.

Samsudin Wahab (b. 1984, Perak) Rambu-Rambu Memori.

Nur Amira Hanafi (b. 1990, Perak) Another Us.

Muhammad Shamin Sahrum (b. 1987, Newcastle, England) and Khairul Izzuddin Hiffni (b. 1989, London) Merbahaya (Dangerous).

Tiong Chai Heing (b. 1986, Johor) Decomposition

Ooi Kok Chuen, art-writer and journalist, is the author of MAHSURI: A Legend Reborn (Ooi Peeps Publishing), an adult contemporary fantasy “movel” (a novel conceived as a mock movie) spun from a local legend.

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