Thursday, May 15, 2008


Translated by Haneem

In 1974, an arena was launched to search for young contemporaries to encourage the development of local art. Since that year it has produced numerous eminent and highly competitive artists either in the national or international art scene. After 34 years it is still regarded as the only prestigious national art competition and has since considered as the platform and the indicator that marks the progress of the national visual art. In Young Contemporary (YC) long history, the preparation of 2006 YC is indeed the longest (it took one year to complete as the National Art Gallery’s renovation works were carried out concurrently). The situation triggers rather dreadful curiosity because within that 1-year period the artists plausibly have more than adequate time to produce high quality artworks through intensive research and observation, perfection of talent and skill, preparation of the best presentation and technical effects.

Everybody acknowledges the fact that the state of affairs of this country’s visual art is really in limbo, often controversial, intermittently gloomy and sporadically lively. Sometimes it manages to stay at the top; once in a while it seems pushed to the periphery. Through YC we too could observe similar erratic situations and this year’s YC appears to endure a somewhat dismal spell. We experience this dismay as early as during the first selection stage: imperfect application forms, lack of knowledge in preparing working papers, vague sketches for final proposals, and one issue that to some extent has become a culture among participants i.e. last-minute submission although the organizer has provided ample time and promotion, and has supplied comprehensive and friendly forms. Most of the proposals submitted clearly depict the participants’ insensitive outlook toward contemporary visual art. Majority of them fail to meet the conditions put forth by the YC competition that give emphasis to contemporary values. The proposals generally cover typical ideas that have been enthusiastically applied of late and those that enjoy substantial commercial success.

34 applications are selected to enter the final. Three artists give in the eleventh-hour: Aznan Omar (he is pursuing his Master’s degree in England), Shia Yih Yiing (her age exceeds the competition limit) and Low Yi Chin (due to some personal problems). In the end only 31 artists are required to display their artworks. Similar to many past YCs, each artist is given a chance to choose gallery space to exhibit his work. In YC, participating artists are allowed to decide their own spaces to match with their artworks before going through the second assessment process.


During the second assessment phase, whereby the artists are expected to present their works via open and transparent dialogue, most of them obviously are either unprepared, too timid to express their thoughts or definitely uncertain of the purpose of their artworks. They should have taken the advantage of ‘chatting’ sessions or from the questions put forth by the jury to explain the significance of their works since perhaps by way of this process a small transformation could be made particularly toward Malaysian visual art scene. Although some artists refer to various theories, philosophies and famous artists as underlying principles to their art making, they fail to materialize them in their artworks. As their understanding of the theories is relatively weak, they consequently display a flaw in their presentation and hence draw a range of uncertainties.

There are a few artworks that manifest significant meanings and exhibit strong visual presentations. However they are quite ‘half-cooked’ or unsuccessful in conveying their intended messages. Despite their intense visuals and powerful contents, works by Fadzil Idris, Chan Kok Hooi, Azliza Ayob, Azahari Haji Khalip, Nuriman Amri, Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Fuad Arif, Pheh It Hao, Mohd Daud Abdul Rahim and Umibaizurah look very much the same. As such none of them is really ‘greater’ than the rest and able to cling the Major Award; in other words none could be fittingly classified as the best and the most unusual work in local current art scene. By and large the artists also do not give much attention to the location or space to install their works and as an indirect result they diminish the potential impact of their artworks.

One other weakness that should be of interest to young artists is the failure to conduct proper research and make appropriate reference to contemporary art scene. The participants should have studied previous YCs’ winning works and observed their distinctive and unusual qualities. A winning work ought to be totally ‘different’ from typical works that exist at that time either in terms of its visual representation, concept-philosophy or presentation. And there are many other aspects of art making that could be explored by the artists to put forward to their audience. Only by reading, analysing, studying and experimenting could Malaysian visual art flourish way beyond its commercial structure. In addition to selling their products artists too ought to feel responsible toward the development of visual art because, besides the National Art Gallery, the future of national visual art also lays in their hands. The artists ought to understand as well that the commercial status of their products must be raised to a higher level because if their commercial values are kept low the public might continue perceiving visual art as a mere leisure pursuit. ‘Excessive’ purchases of artworks by ‘egoistic’ buyers no doubt yield good returns to artists. On the other hand the phenomenon might create a ‘comfort zone’ which causes the artists to be ‘lazy’ or ‘stops’ them from reading, analysing and researching. The unfortunate effect of this phenomenon is discernible particularly in the works presented in 2006 YC and generally in the overall ‘bleak’ situation of the visual art scene. In spite of its apparently dynamic activity, nearly no new progress or novel presentation takes shape in our visual art scene at present.


As a customary procedure, the 2006 YC programme also includes a usually intense dialogue session. This year’s main topic of debate touches upon the fact that there is no Major Award winner. Majority of the audience (which consists of the ‘ordinary public’ as well as the ‘champions’ of visual art) in general still adhere to the convention that every contest must yield a winner. However we must bear in mind that YC is not an athletic track or a badminton court. It is the only national visual art award that is frequently referred to by both local and foreign art researchers, critics and writers. Therefore it is indeed a grave encumbrance for the National Art Gallery to acknowledge artworks that fail to fulfill specific criteria, look insignificant, uncontemporary and could not possibly be considered as rightful indicators of the visual art development just for the sake of being in accord with conventional laws of competition. Every young artist, senior artist, lecturer, professor, tutor, art critic, art historian, teacher, curator and administrator ought to have an open mind to mutually monitor and be concerned with the progress of current visual art. We do not want to honour artworks that only regress our visual art growth, icons that eventually turn into comical articles. This truth might be too bitter for us to swallow; but as creative, open-minded and assertive art individuals we must fix this condition together and take the best course of action so that this issue will never upset the visual art development. Dialogue, debate and the culture of open criticism are among some approaches we could adopt to mend the situation. The involvement of everyone concerned especially art educators in a session like this dialogue is highly anticipated; they should not confine their presence only to opening or award giving ceremonies. They should share their knowledge if they consider themselves as ‘khalifah’ on this earth.

The organiser truly hopes that everybody will start thinking and proposing the most suitable format and means to help improve the development of Malaysian visual art. We as the organising committee always review and observe major art awards worldwide. We also try to ensure that YC award always corresponds to the local context and that it continues playing its role in tandem with its intention and objective established since 1974. Congratulations to all winners.

The Jury

Nasir Baharudin

Zuhir bin Haji Shaari (U-Wei)

J. Anurendra

Yee I Lann

Rizki Akhmad Zaelani Harry (Lecturer, Curator, Art Writer – Bandung, Indonesia)

Quotes for thoughts:

“Contemporary in visual art does not only refer to its literal meaning, i.e. contemporaneity. It also refers to the principles that criticize, expand, and even question previous principles.”

“Contemporary means to being ‘bad’”

“Contemporary artworks should ‘disturb’ or in other words make the audience feel ‘uncomfortable’ to find answers to the questions presented.”

Majidi Amir

Curator – 2006 YC

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