Titled A Few Malaysia(s), a cheeky triptych by artist Sean Lean at the National Visual Arts Gallery beckons museum-goers to help 'colour in' the Jalur Gemiling's stripes by hanging red or white clothes on several rungs. Curator Lim Wei-Ling encourages the public to peruse the patriotic artworks that make up Teh Tarik and The Flag, to ponder the symbolic power of the Jalur Gemilang, and to participate in this well-timed exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery. Curated by Wei-Ling Gallery in association with the National Visual Arts Gallery and presented by UOB Malaysia, Teh Tarik and The Flag features artworks by 13 established Malaysian artists and will be on view through 17 September 2018.

1. Sean Lean

A Few Malaysia(s)
Mixed media
Triptych (overall)
2018

"The bottom part of this triptych is a metal rack where I invite audiences to hang clothing, fabric or any materials that are red or white in colour to complete the imagery of the Malaysian flag," states the artist, who created "A few Malaysia(s)" as a response to the oft-cited aspirations of 1Malaysia.

"You can contribute to the exhibition as a Malaysia," beams Wei-Ling. "It’s also the idea of taking the shirt off your back. The clothes we wear protect us, but they also absorb our blood, sweat tears—our DNA."

See also: Ask An Insider: Why Is Art Expensive?

2. Ivan Lam

Birth of a nation / death of a nation
Cloth, resin, coal on wood, 240cm x 480cm (quadriptych)
2018

The anchor artwork of the exhibition, Ivan Lam's "Birth of a nation / death of a nation" is simply stunning—in size, detail, and thought-process. One has to see it in the flesh to appreciate its full potential. 

“Originally a printmaker, Ivan moved from silkscreen into painting,” explains Wei-Ling. “His works are highly layered: think brushstroke upon brushstroke upon brushstroke. Resin’s transparent quality reveals his work’s three-dimensionality.
 
Here, he has taken the 13 flags of Malaysia’s states and amalgamated them; together, they form the Jalur Gemiling. The overall work is made up of four panels, all layered with charcoal. The consistency and concentration of the charcoal was weighed up in accordance with the demographic makeup of the country. So the first panel (covered with the most charcoal) represents the Malay population, the second the Chinese, the third the Indians, and the fourth for ‘dan lain-lain.’
 
Ivan’s message is this: Separated we’re nothing, but together, we stand together as one nation under the flag."

3. Sulaiman Esa

One God Many Paths
Mixed Media, 155cm x 225cm
2018

Despite Malaysia being multiracial and multireligious, Sulaiman Esa believes that we are "commanded to conduct our lives in this impermanent material world through a virtuous and righteous manner." The artist adds that, "as Malaysians, our world-view, self-view and attitude towards others are shaped and guided through the principals of life that are spiritually and morally enlightened." The spiritual fine artist and scholar wove iconography from different religions into one colourful tapestry.

 

4. Rajinder Singh

Rubia 5m wide
Pigment print on 260gsm, photo with single channel video
30cm x 30cm (30 pieces) and 5-minute video (on loop)
2018

An ode to the overlooked contribution of Sikhs in Malaysian history, "Rubia 5m" uses movement to measure time's passage, and choreography to express pain and prayer. The artist recognises the contributions of his grandfather, uncles and father to the Malaysian police force while investigating his own relationship with the nation and its flag. Saffron orange—one of Sikhism's sacred colours—stands out among the subdued colours of the overall composition. 

5. HH Lim

Me, myself and I
Dark room with a chair and spot light
Dimensions variable
2018

While the title of this artwork might sound awfully lonely, HH Lim aims to instigate introspection. "He is a performative artist based out of Rome, and probably one of the most well-known Malaysian artists internationally," explains Wei-Ling.

Aptly positioned towards the end of the exhibition, "My, myself and I" encourages museum-goers to take a seat and to take their time reflecting on the following: What role do you play as an active (not passive) protagonist in our nation's story?

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