One thing’s for sure about Malaysian artist Anurendra Jegadeva, he is constantly pushing the limits of artistic expression. 

In 2013, social media was abuzz with news of an artwork being confiscated from an exhibition in Publika, Solaris Dutamas because it was deemed insulting to Islam.

The “An Alphabet for the Middle Aged, Middle Classes” exhibition courted some unwanted attention but the matter was quickly resolved after the religious department and police realised the “I for Idiot” artwork was taken out of context.

The artist involved, Anurendra Jegadeva, felt the whole situation was more a reflection on the state of mind and insecurities of the people who chose to read the work in a certain (malicious) way.

The issue was not as disquieting compared to the stance of the arts institutions, curators and art workers that purport to represent him.

“They were so quick distance themselves from the work and the artist inspite of knowing better. They failed to play the role of a conduit between artists, the powers that be and public at large; preferring to play the blame game instead,” says Anurendra, one of the few thinking artists on our soil who has put out thought-provoking works time and again.

Anurendra remains unperturbed and continues to address issues that interest, affect and concern him on a daily basis; with honesty, responsibility and a measured sense of reverence.

Fast forward to more recent times, he was part of the After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art show which ended on October 18 at Singapore Art Museum. The installation, MA-NA-VA-REH – Love, Loss and Pre-Nuptials in the Age of the Great Debate, is a homage to his grandmother who was the go-to Hindu wedding planner in Teluk Intan in the 50s.

MA-NA-VA-REH, first shown at Wei-Ling Gallery last year, is a room installation comprising a large wedding dais made out of an intricate assemblage of painted panels, altar boxes, printed materials, paintings on the walls and ‘kolams’ on the floor.

“From old love letters to colonial ephemera and religious artifacts – both found and made – the construction combines various influences from our fragmented experience of being born in the East, being shaped by the West and the tensions of assimilation. On the other hand, there’s traditional, cultural and communal identities.”

Being the brilliant storyteller that he is, especially on Empire and migrant people, he employs these ‘painted object’ to address the issues of belonging. Surrounding the dais is a series of paintings that question the idea of unions and conditional love that is attached to them.

“In making MA-NA-VA-REH, my intention was first and foremost to push the boundaries of my art through the reinvention of my painting medium, but as importantly from a conceptual point of view to examine the times we live in and always, how we fit within that scheme of things.”

 Anurendra also has another work that is currently showing at National Taiwan Museum of Fine ArtsYesterday in a Padded Room, an installation dotted with 204 customised cushions to create a mental asylum that plays on a story from the Malay literature Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.

He attempts to convey duality of tensions and confrontational differences that still dominate the social, political and religious contexts of a world that continues to drift furhter away from sanity with every passing day.

(Photos: Wei-Ling Gallery)

More on other Malaysian contemporary artists, Wong Chee Meng’s Maitreya Smile is fascinating