The linearity and singularity of master narrative in art historical writing may also obscure several interesting aberrations or smaller narratives. In revisiting modern art in Malaysia through postmodern lenses, one may discover that there are many key artists and artworks that can be taken as preludes to the Malaysian contemporary art after 1990. Some of them can also be taken as the seeds of postmodern ideas and strategies that have become so prevalent in the 1990s and beyond.(21)
In fact, today’s postmodern stance can be traced back to the 1970s. Even though these artworks have been usually framed within a modernist construct of art historical narrative, upon current reading, they can be taken as instrumental in paving a way for the emergence of postmodern ideas in the 1990s.
In this regards, Michelle Antoinette writes:
“Interestingly, earlier discourses and practices of conceptual artists in the 1970s, such as Redza Piyadasa and Sulaiman Esa, and the Malay-Islamic art movement of the late 1970s and 1980s – both concerned with critiquing Western discourses of art history and instilling a more localized story of art – now form the very focus of these postmodern investigations” (22)
However, the focus on Redza Piyadasa, Sulaiman Esa and Malay-Islamic art movement might have obscured the fact that there was also another prevailing interest in contesting (or negating) Western aesthetics. One example is the interest in revisiting Malaysia’s (and Southeast Asia’s) rich multicultural traditions, which still persists until today.
Such cross-cultural interest can be traced back to artworks such as Patrick Ng Kah Onn’s Spirit of the Earth, Water & Air (1958), Latif Mohidin’s Pago-pago in the 1960s and Langkawi series in the 1970s, Anthony Lau’s Spirit of Fire, (1960), Nik Zainal Abidin’s Wayang Kulit Kelantan (1961), and Chuah Thean Teng’s Musim Buah (1967). These works can be taken also as preludes to postmodern revaluation (or negation) of Western modernism based on both local and regional terms.
Other preludes include new ways of exploring three dimensional forms in space through installations by Lee Kian Seng, Zakaria Awang, Ponirin Amin, Zulkifli Yusof and Tan Chin Kuan; a shift from intuitive to figurative approach, which entails the use of collage, appropriation, intertextual and semiotic reading, and social commentaries as championed by Nirmala Shanmughalingham; impulse towards fundamental visual language through minimalist approach; and the inclusion photographic art as espoused by Ismail Hashim, Eric Peris and Yusoff Othman.
Several other tendencies can also be read as preludes such as exploring new materials for paintings that was driven by Fauzan Omar, Mohd Nasir Baharuddin, Jailani Abu Hassan, Akif Emir, Romli Mahmud, Fauzin Mustaffa, Taufik Abdullah, and Mohd Noor Mahmud; the use of computer, video and electronic media as sparked by Kamarudzaman Md. Isa, Ismail Zain, Ray Langenbach with his students in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and Liew Kungyu; convergence of artistic disciplines as propelled by the Anak Alam, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) students, Centrestage Performing Arts and Five Arts Centre; the use of human figures as metaphors and sites of discourse by artists such as Zakaria Ali, Zulkifli Dahalan, Dzulkifli Buyong, Amron Omar, Zheng Yuande and Wong Hoy Cheong; and neo-expressionist impulse by artists such as Yusof Ghani, Ahmad Shukri Elias and Riaz Ahmad Jamil.