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Friday, 23 September 2011


Previous winner of Tanjong Heritage Art Competition (Oil/Acrylic category)

Just came back from judging the Tanjong Heritage Art Competition. Has been tagging with this competition since I was working at UiTM in 1994 (there was a break when I went to UNIMAS in Sarawak). 

Basically, the competition has become an institution of its own, a 'rite of passage' so-to-speak for budding young artists (or to be precised, students in art colleges in Malaysia). I have been on and off of the judging list, sometimes performing as the Head Judge several times. Somehow, it has become a yearly routine for me, but never boring. In this case, I have to give millions of thank yous to my friends at Tanjong Limited. Throughout, they have been extremely professional (and beyond that, great friends).

In fact, Tanjong Heritage Art Competition has become an important means for me to gather important information (or research data, to sound more 'acedemic' and clever), especially in measuring (albeit subjectively) the quality of our art graduates (in this case, Fine Art students). At the same time, I can also have a peek into the quality of the art colleges themselves, as indicated by the performance of their students. Anyway, I'm not going to bore myself lamenting about the standard of our fine art students, or the issues surrounding the fine art education in art colleges in Malaysia (private and governement institutions). 

There is also these politics of art competition, including the politics of judging art competitions (not that I'm interested in it). I have my own way of selecting artworks that I felt the most accomplished. My approach has been more intuitive. I can go on forever on this. Better stop now before someone drop dead of boredom.

Of course, Tanjong Heritage is 'small' and perhaps less glamorous than the Young Contemporaries Awards, or the recently-introduced awards for young artists jointly given by HOM (House of Matahati) and Chandan Gallery. There are many art competitions around, some of which organized by different state galleries or museums such as the Penang Open, Sabah Open (both have been around for so many years already), and recent additions such as the Selangor Open Johor Open and Terengganu Open. Plenty of prizes for artists to grab actually.  I had some experiences as a judge in some of these competitions as well.

Was very nice to see Puan Wairah (ex National Art Gallery's Director, wife of my late guru Ismail Zain), Jai (my senior and superstar artist), Elizabeth Cardosa (old friend at Badan Warisan), Lawrence Loh (Penang icon when it comes to heritage and conservation of old building) and Dr. Kim (education expert and fellow collaborator in many science-art projects in Penang). Fauzan Omar (my art guru) couldn't make it, and we were told he was hospitalized for 'denggi' (hope he recover soon). 

Felt very honored to be in the same room with this bunch. Had a very productive judging session, plus the normal arguments, debates, clashes of taste and artistic preferences.

When it comes to judging, I share similar vibe with Jai (or Fauzan, as in precious cases of judging). What to say, we are artists ma!

We look not only for mastery of skill and chosen medium, technique and style, but also 'interpretation' of heritage. Unfortunately for Tanjong Heritage competition, most of the entries have been 'membuat gambar' or replicating pictures (suspiciously appear to be taken from existing pictures from anywhere, especially now that we are living in a googlable world). 

Every year, we encounter only few entries that reflect an interpretation, a view or deeply felt emotional response to heritage that are not defeated by the need to show off some fancy technical skill (unless we are talking about 'out of the world' new techniques and mediums). In the precious years, we found few especially in the 'mixed-media' category. Not to say that other categories are confining, especially water color and pencil/charcoal. One can be very creative and interpretative even when it comes to these art materials and techniques. 

This 'lack of interpretation' perhaps imply that our education system does not encourage 'expression of opinions and feeling' (that may differ at times from the mainstream). In a way, it reflects lack of interest in 'thinking' or lack of commitment in 'emotional investment', in this case, towards our heritage. Independent thinking and deeply felt honest expression are not encouraged, especially amongts the youth. In fact, here and there, there have been unfortunate examples of how independent thinking and expression of feeling being punished (media bashing, 'bring to court', police reports, even physical threats or just plain mental and emotional harasment).  

Art then, is just a parade of fancy skill and technique, to replicate something (a subject) beautifully or pleasantly only. At the end, we got too many cliche representations of heritage, or worst, mere campaign to appreciate heritage (if not old buildings). 

There is more to heritage than just old buildings or cultural practices. Heritage is also about intangible values that we pass from one generation to the next. Heritage is not just about preservation of tangible objects (which at times can make one become a 'heritage police' who like to harass others or make others feel very sinful about not respecting one's or someone else's heritage). Sometimes, heritage has been too formalized or technicalized until one losses the essence of its intangible vibe. Other times, it has been too politicized, tainted by partisan ideologies, or slaved to serve narrow political agendas. Then, there is always this lingering and disturbing relationship between heritage and 'development'. In short, heritage is a very pertinent contemporary issues that require all (espcially young people) to engage more than just replicate.

Luckily, there have been several interesting, more engaging, pertinent and relevant, if not sustainable programs for youth (that relates to the arts) emerging in Penang (as far as I know, since I live in Penang). It would be interesting to see Tanjong Heritage Art Competition works along in a comlimentary way with these programs. When it come to heritage, a more concerted, inter-connected and sustainable approach is needed, rather than just encouraging young artists to replicate pictures of heritage objects.

Meanwhile, art colleges especially those that offer fine art education, please wake up!

(all pictures are from previous winners)


  1. Saya 'tengah' bangun bang, tapi bila saya bangun rupa-rupanya saya bangun hanya untuk dapati saya berada dalam mimpi yang lain... Mcm cerita dlm waking life pula...

  2. Tu cerita mimpi dalam mimpi dalam mimpi yang Leonardo de Caprio berlakon tu, directed by ? (something) Nolan, lupa plak tajuk eih.