Malaysian Artists Invade the Web

loading Dr. Rosli Zakaria, the moderator-facilitator of the Borak Arca programme.

ZAS visit to Prof Madya Ramlan Abdullah’s studio-workshop in Shah Alam.

Session with Anniketyni Madian and Maxine Xie Xian Xin.

IDLE TIME AND restricted movement nurture inventiveness, and ease data collection, collation and consolidation. That goes for the protracted lockdown / MCO. With exhibitions and art activities forbidden or curtailed by a ratchet of social distancing rules for a year now, Malaysian artists working on 3D objects have turned to keyboards and moved onto Zoom / Stream Yard live streams on Facebook.

Online exhibitions with thumbnail formats, niche forums, webinars, workshops, how-to demonstrations, art talks and studio visits have bridged geographical and physical obstacles, with guest participants “beamed” from all over the country, and from places like Indonesia.

Academician-sculptor Dr. Rosli Zakaria, 56, is behind two such initiatives. The first called Seniman Arca was actually once a more niche blog called Persatuan Seniman Arca (PSA), started on June 18, 2010. It became an open stratosphere when Rosli dropped the word Persatuan (association or society), and slimmed the name to “Seniman Arca” (SAr, abbreviation mine) on December 12, 2020, to rope in a much wider audience and more participation.

Then on July 8, 2020, Dr. Rosli hit on his brainchild Borak Arca (Borak), and brought together guest sculptors, painters / printmakers and industry players in weekly interview-discussions with him as the moderator. An offshoot of this was the Ziarah Artis Studio (ZAS), which was a cross-border peregrination to artist studios from Penang to Perak to Kelantan. Both Borak and ZAS were abated temporarily because of MCO 2.0.

The poster of Ziarah Artis Studio.

SAr is an open forum for local artists working on 3D experimental, multimedia or techno-electro contraptions, while also showcasing 3D works of painters-printmakers working outside their known parameters. There was a steady stream of posts but Sculpture being a poor cousin to Painting in Malaysia, the posts have eventually come to encompass more sculpture-related foreign news.

This helps expand the horizon of not only sculptors and artists as a whole, but also that of the general public as they are appraised of personalities and events around the world. There is also room for general discussions, but not of profound scholarship since social media is hardly the place for convoluted jaw-jaw. It also serves as a bulletin board of exhibitions (mostly online) and webinars.

But it is Borak Arca that is a hit, and when it took a respite, there were already 33 episodes, with each session lasting between an hour and six minutes to as long as an hour and 50 minutes.

Generally, the guest artists get to talk about themselves, their career path and work, with intervening questions by the moderator or the connected audience. Conducted in Malay, the sessions were held mostly on a Monday and later on Wednesdays also, but it is not certain if a specific day, that is a weekday or weekend, has any bearing on the “following”, or it may be that the “pull” (appeal and reputation) depends on which personality (personalities) is invited. For instance, the episode on October 28 with Razif Rathi and Leonard Darimi elicited a torrent of 289 “comments”.

The kick-off session on July 8, 2020 proved a baptism of fire, with a phenomenal 3,300 views (good by Malaysian standard), 275 “Likes”, 215 comments and 54 “Shares”. It featured Prof Madya Dr. Abdul Halim Husain (Aswara) and wall-sculptor Fadzil Idris, a Minor Award winner of the Bakat Muda Sezaman (BMS), the hugely prestigious young artists competition.

The only other episode hitting such a high viewership, of 3,200, was Episode 11 on September 17, 2020, featuring Azian Hashim. Azian was diagnosed with cancer and when he appeared on Borak Arca, he was critically ill, with some 80% of his organs already not functioning. He died 90 days later, on December 5, aged 47.

At Raja Shahriman Raja Aziddin's workshop-studio in Kuala Kangsar.

Dr. Rosli with Suhaidi Radzi, Hawari Berahim and Azman Ismail at Studio Rumah Ladang on December 26.

Session 2 on July 15, 2020 brought together Prof Madya Ramlan Abdullah and Dr. Sharmiza Abu Hassan, both BMS Minor Award winners, with Ramlan having had several public sculpture commissions all over the country. Ramlan was also the Grand Prize winner of the Oita Asia Sculpture competition in Japan (1995). Ramlan and Sharmiza featured again with Dr. Azahar Harun on December 23, while the ZAS crew visited Ramlan’s studio in Shah Alam for the segment aired on January 6, 2021.

Session 3 on July 22, 2020 saw Umibaizurah Mahirismail, a breakthrough ceramic sculptor combining whimsical Pop toy ceramic concoctions with other media, and Haffadzi Che Ros, while on November 5, two prominent female sculptors, Anniketyni Madian and Maxine Xie Xian Xin, provided a lively contrast.

Borak went “international” on July 29 with an all-Indonesian trio comprising Hendra Himawan, Ali Umar and Bram Satya. The guest choice grouping also seems circumstantial. The August 6 session brought together National Art Gallery director and trained art conservationist Amerrudin Ahmad and interdisciplinary artist Fadly Sabran, while on September 2, filmmaker-collector U-Wei Saari was paired with one-time Australian-based painter-printmaker Raja Azhar Idris.

The BORAK-ZAS crew in Kelantan – Dr. Rosli with Seth Muzamil and Nur Athira.

Two Major Award winners of the BMS, Haron Mokhtar (1987) and Mohd Fuad Arif (2013), also took part. Haron appeared on August 19 in a quadrant featuring also Norazlan Ahmad, Roslan Idris and Yusof Saad, while Fuad was with Syidah Zainal and Farid Raihan on November 20.

Rosli himself was a two-time Minor Award winner as was Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, who appeared on the August 26 segment together with Liu Cheng Hua and Faizal Puadi. Another two-time BMS Minor Awardee, Romli Mahmud, was videocast at his artist’s homestay on December 26 under the ZAS programme, while Hasnul J. Saidon, a BMS Minor Awardee, was featured in a sembang session at his Rumah Tok Cu kampung-house studio, closing the ZAS programme, on January 9, 2021. Hasnul was recently reappointed director of the Universiti Sains Malaysia art museum.

The ZAS entourage also visited Studio Rumah Ladang on December 26, featuring Suhaidi Radzi, Hawari Berahim and Azman Ismail, and the next day at Studio Kampung Raja with the trio of Zarir Abdullah, Taib Aur and Habib Rejab. Raja Shahriman Raja Aziddin, who fascinated with his assemblage of motor parts and pokey-sharp sculptures, was visited in his Kuala Kangsar habitat on January 8, and on January 9, it was the turn of Husin Hourmain, who gave up a lucrative job in KL, to go back to the kampung and become a full-time artist. Also on January 9, Low Chee Peng showed off his wares at the Hin Bus Depot in Penang.

Another of the BORAK-ZAS crew to Perak and Penang – Dr. Rosli with Baharim Samuri and Saharuddin Supar @ Pakli.

Other Guests of Borak at a Glance September 9: Burhanuddin, Faizun Mat and Harris Abadi; September 16: Raja Ahmad Aminullah, Dr. Baharuddin Arus; September 30: Prof Dr. Zakaria Ali and Datuk Dr. Ibrahim Ghaffar; October 7: Dr. Aznan Omar and Sukor Rahmat; October 14: Zakaria Sharif and Mohd Sharuddin Supar @ Pakali; October 21: Hilal Mazlan and Ali Bebit; November 11: Nizam Abdullah and Jamil Zakaria; December 2: Mohd Faizal Ramli and Ahmad Fauzi; December 9: Majidi Amir, Aznan Omar, Mohd Fariz and Nursyafiqah Surumin; December 16: Haniff Yusof and Sirajuddin Kamal Batcha; January 20, 2021: Dr. Zainuddin Abindinhazir; and January 27: Fairuz Paisan @ Po Oi.

Dr. Rosli Zakaria with Low Chee Peng at the Hin Bus Depot.

Note: Rosli was the prime-mover of the Lendu international art camp held in 2013, 2014 and 2016, with another planned this year. He also produced 10 wooden mantlepiece sculptures under the Corona (virus) Sculpture Project (height not more than 55cm), at his studio in Taman Makmur, Masjid Tanah in Melaka. Sixty per cent from the proceeds of the sale went to help needy students of the UiTM Melaka faculty where he teaches.

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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