Picturing The Nation


How is a nation pictured?

Through what means are artists able to capture its constitutive parts?

In this section, artworks by four contemporary Malaysian artists - Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Dain Iskandar Said, Vincent Leong & Yee I-Lann - enter into a dialogue with the principles of figuration that artist Dato’ Hoessein Enas had promulgated at the cusp of Malaya’s independence in 1957 and Malaysia’s founding in 1963. They are selected to be in conversation with a historical legacy that has shaped a significant trajectory for Malaysian contemporary art. A central question that continues to be asked is: How can we represent Malaysia’s plural society? In what ways can we problematise official racial categories? How do artists bring to our attention groups of individual Malaysians misaligned with these dominant narratives?

Picturing The Nation is an attempt to come to grips with the power of the collective body. Picture-making is thus a means to record history and make visible the present. In fulfilling these functions, it is also, therefore, a technology of the contemporary.




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Ahmad Zakii Anwar (b. 1955, Johor) is a graduate of the School of Art and Design, MARA Institute of Technology Malaysia. His art is lauded for capturing not just city motifs and urban features but also the distinctive psychological dimensions and cinematic qualities in these scenarios. Zakii’s preoccupation with the spiritual or metaphysical aspects of urban life is seen through his use of icons, symbols and allegories. Recent solo exhibitions include Pleasure + Pain (2014) at Galerie Huit, Hong Kong, Bones and Sinews (2011) at AndrewShire Gallery, Los Angeles, Being (2009) at NUS Museum, Singapore. His series Orang – Orang, expanded in Picturing The Nation, debuted at the George Town Festival, Penang in 2013.

Dain Iskandar Said (b. 1957, Kuala Lumpur) is a filmmaker. A graduate from the University of Westminster in London, Dain established himself in the television industry, directing commercials locally as well as in Indonesia, China and India. In 2004, he moved away from commercials and into long form and experimental works. His media installations have premiered at the Biennale of Sydney, the UBC Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver and commissioned for permanent display at the Burj al-Arab in Dubai. In 2007, he was a recipient of the Nippon Foundation’s Asian Public Intellectual fellowship, during which time he researched the role of films and propaganda in Indonesian history. His feature film, BUNOHAN (2011) premiered at the 36th Toronto International Film Festival and has received numerous international and national accolades including the NETPAC Award at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in 2011 and the Golden Hanoman at the 9th Netpac Asian Film Festival (JAFF) in 2012.

Vincent Leong (b. 1979, Kuala Lumpur) is an iconoclast and saboteur whose works in video, assemblage and site-specific installation often pare down experience to sets of structures and systems. By selecting aspects of the ordinary and the popular, Vincent investigates social misconceptions within a larger cultural context. He  earned a BFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London (2000–04), receiving the BT Goldsmiths Prize in digital media in 2004.  Vincent has also had artist residencies at Asian Cultural Contents Creation Center Workshop, Gwangju, South Korea (2006), Sculpture Square, Singapore (2007)  and Kognecho Bazaar, Yokohama, Japan (2009). In 2012, Vincent participated in the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative's No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Yee I-Lann (b. 1971, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) lives and works in Kuala Lumpur. She graduated from the University of South Australia with a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts) in 1993 with a major in photography and a minor in cinematography. Her primarily photomedia-based practice speculates on issues of culture, power and the role of historical memory in our social experience. Such layers necessitate an extensive and multi-layered visual vocabulary drawn from historical references, popular culture, archives and everyday objects. I-Lann also works as a production designer for feature films. She was also in residence at the NTU Center of Contemporary Art, Gillman Barracks, Singapore (2015).