Immortalising the Pandemic at the ILHAM Art Show 2022
Updated: May 23, 2022
Writer: Sudais bin Mohd Perhard
Editor: Nurul Asyiqin Ab Rashid
Source: Ilham Gallery
As we slowly recover from an era of collective trauma and disruption, an unanswered question presents itself. How will the pandemic be ingrained in our memories? Will it be memorialised through viral screenshots of daily COVID-19 case numbers? Will we reminisce on these two years through pictures of saliva test results and our MySejahtera check-in history? Or will the pandemic's artefacts become momentary fragments of time lost among an ocean of disposable masks and plastic test kits?
The ILHAM Art Show 2022 presents a different way of answering this question. The triennial exhibition organised by the ILHAM Gallery in Ampang Park is a response to the stagnation of the art scene brought on by the pandemic. From the indefinite closure of important art institutions (such as the National Art Gallery and ILHAM Gallery itself) to the unemployment of local artists, the pandemic was a huge disruption for Malaysia's contemporary art scene.
The exhibit was therefore a much-needed effort to provide a lifeboat for drowning artists. It began as a call to art through the ILHAM Art Grant which opened to the public in September 2021. After a near year-long process of careful curation from 360 applicants, 31 local artists from diverse backgrounds were selected. Their projects were then funded to produce manifestations of the pandemic in various forms of media, from video art to painting.
In the exhibition booklet, Gallery Director, Rahel Joseph writes: The ILHAM Art Show 2022 includes works that explore complex narratives, from the personal to the political, from the historical to the conceptual. The works which incorporate traditions and technologies, both old and new, address various subjects from contested histories, migration, and concepts of time to imagined worlds, rituals of healing and connections to culture and land.
Gallery visitors watch “After Monsoon”, a video installation by Azzaha Ibrahim.
Aisyah, an ILHAM Gallery Attendant said that the exhibit strives to capture the COVID-19 experience and what Malaysians felt going through the pandemic, as well as a certain sense of hope coping with it.
“There's a mixture of both which makes it more relatable because we went through this very hard time together. Whatever form these artworks take, each and every one of these artworks has something we can relate to.”
The ILHAM Art Show 2022 provides a kaleidoscopic lens into Malaysia’s psyche through a diverse array of artists ranging from veterans and emerging artists. Works like I Enjoy Being a Girl, a photo-video essay by Hoo Fan Chon, offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of Anita & Ava, a pair of childhood friends who grew up in the transgender community of Penang and died in old age during the pandemic. On the other hand, there are also avant-garde works like Atl-Aequus and the Five Phases by Chong Yan Chuah which invite visitors to interact and explore a surreal landscape based on Buddhist mythologies and practices.
Still from ATL-AEQUUS & The Five Phases, an interactive video installation by Chong Yan Chuah Source: chongyanchuah.com
Puteri, another ILHAM Gallery Attendant explained that the artworks are based on the artist’s personal lives in Malaysia. She points to Chang Yoong Chia’s sprawling batik installation titled, A Leaf Through History: Family Tree, which depicts the landscape of profit, invasion, colonialism, exploitation and migration tied to rubber trees, one of Malaysia’s cash crop plantations.
“You might see a cross and Jesus at first glance, but it’s actually represented by a rubber tree."
She then points towards Haris Abadi’s Surrender, a mixed media piece consisting of a virtual white flag set in stone at the entrance of the gallery.
“Even the first piece you see as you enter the gallery represents the White Flag campaign that took place during the floods. So, it’s all about Malaysia. These works are how these artists want to tell other people about what’s going on in our country.”
Two camps of questions may emerge from this event. One camp may ask, what is the purpose of art? What’s the point of investing so much money in this? The government shouldn’t waste any money on trivial things. Another camp may say, there seems to be no shortage of innovative artworks in Malaysia. Why haven’t we had an art-boom yet? Why isn’t our art getting the appreciation it deserves? After all, the artefacts that stand the test of time and end up being the object of desire of archaeologists and historians happen to be the products of artisans.
Zi Wei, a Fine Arts major from USM, offered insight on the necessity of art and culture from a young artist’s perspective.
“Not everyone knows or appreciates art. They don’t come from an artsy background, so the audience doesn't have much exposure in this area. The audience needs to take inivitiative to get involved, generate ideas, and get in touch with art. Exhibits like this can help both audiences and artists to be more conscious towards how an individual can convey an impactful message to the public."
Aisyah also lamented, saying that we are nothing without culture, as culture is what makes people, and it is people that make culture.
“If we don’t have a representation of culture, or a form of expression and identity, then what do we have? Culture is what binds us. What you see here in the exhibition are stories being told from different backgrounds, identities and ideas. If we don’t have the means to get these ideas out and the platform to tell these stories, what do we have? We’ll just be in our little bubble. We won’t be able to create a community that listens and understands each other.”
The ILHAM Art Show 2022 is open for public viewing from May 17th to October 23rd at the ILHAM Gallery.