Thursday, April 12, 2018

' shhh....xxxx xxx xxxx xx'.

portrait of Fahmi Reza

This series called ' shhh....xxxx xxx xxxx xx!' is about the freedom of expression and it consists of portraits of malaysian artist, cartoonist, activists that have been arrested or jailed  under the malaysia's multimedia act or the sedition law.
The portraits are made from masking tape on glass done in 2018.

portrait of Azmi Sharom

portrait of Lionel Morais

portrait of Haris ibrahim

portrait of Ho Kay Tat

portrait of Jahabar Sadiq

portrait of Zunar

Monday, March 26, 2018

'dream catcher' is a performance i did together with Gudrita lape, a performance artist from Iceland for Fresh Winds art biennale in Gardur, Iceland in 2017


' with regards to the other' is a video i did with Karin Pedersen.

between traditions and modernity

' in between traditions and modernity' is a performance i did in collaboration with Kana Nakamura, a performance artist from Japan during my residency for the Fresh Winds Biennale 2017 in Gardur, Iceland.

Friday, December 8, 2017

This is not your space - performance art

In october 2017, i collaborated with Rahman Hak-Hagir, Yong Sun Gullach and Molly Nyeland, in an art performance entitled – THIS IS NOT YOUR SPACE (2017) which view on Migration, Identity and Collective Memory.“

This performance was part of the International Performance Art Festival Copenhagen Body Landscapes 2017 organized by David Sebastian Lopez Restrepo.

Here is the link to the performance


Tong Tana @ KL Biennale

I recently participated in KL Biennale with the work called Tong Tana. This work is in collaboration with sound artist Kamal Sabran who did the sound for Tong Tana. KL Biennale is taken place at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur from 1 Nov 2017 - 31 March 2018.

Below is the description about the artwork:-

Tong Tana

Within the theme, five categorization applies socio-cultural practices in which I will approach the environmental shifts of deforestation and urbanisation of the Malaysian Indigenous people The Orang Asli and The Penan.

Tong Tana means ’in the forest’. It is a word taken from the Penan, a group of nomadic  people that live in the rainforest in Sarawak Borneo. The Penan are some of the last people remaining as hunters and gatherers, and they are noted for their practice of 'molong' which means ’never taking more than necessary’.

This practice is quite the opposite from the system in the world most people are living in today. The dominating world economic is generated by consumerism, blamed for growing inequality and wasteful use of resources.

As an interdisciplinary artist that have migrated to Denmark and lived here for the past 15 years. My work has been shaped and inspired by my new environment and cultural conditions which explores themes such as identity, migration, movement and displacement. The expression of longing is also shaped by the feeling of belonging and not-belonging to two different countries, Malaysia and Denmark.

The indigenous people have been the subject of debate in Malaysia and the international human rights arena. The rights of several indigenous groups, such as the Penan, have been neglected as they continue struggle for land rights. They  have a strong affinity to the land they live on and their environment is essential for their social and cultural conditions and survival as a cultural entity. The Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia continue to suffer day to day violations of their social, economic and cultural rights although Court decisions have acknowledged, that the orang asli have a form of native title to customary land.
At the same time the environmental shift due to deforestation, industrial logging, large-scale commercial oil palm plantations , road construction and large dams  which have  contributed to  forest degradation. These activities have created hardship to the indigenous people as a result of diminished resources.

This artwork for the Kuala Lumpur Biennale reflects a longing towards the country where I was born and grew up. The installation attempts to capture a sense of memory in relation to history, diminishing cultures and a new way of life. Tong Tana examines conflict, displacement, marginalization and urban progress with regards to the indigenous people of Malaysia through site visits to homes of the indigenous people in Malaysia and through the mass media.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Freedom, it is just another word

Together with Rahman Hak Hagir, Yong Sun Gullach, David Sebastian Lopez, Molly Nyeland and Beatriz Provasi, we did this performance infront of the Danish parliament.
This is for freedom.
Photo: Sunniva Mortensen

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Title: The Garden of Love @ Wei-­‐ling Contemporary, Kuala Lumpur
Interactive art Year: 2017
I made an interactive art where i invited people in the shopping mall to write on a heart shaped papers on what they think about love, which were later installed in the ’garden’ i have built in the mall. In this project the ordinary modern lifestyle of going to the mall were brought closer to art where the public were invited to participate in an art project.
With their participation, the public has a sense of ownership in the artwork rather than being a mere audience.

This installation and performance art is an exploration on our relationship with the mass media. In this work, I collaborated with Feras, a Syrian refugee living in Denmark. It shows among others a road map which Feras took to come to Denmark from Syria.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Batang Kali Massacre

The Batang Kali massacre took place on the 12 Dec1948 when british soldiers killed 24 unarmed villagers during the Malayan Emergency. Despite several investigations and evedince, no charges were made to the perpetrators.

These are some of my drawings on the massacre.
They were done with indian ink on papers

Spice Up Yor Life

Continuing my spice project, something that I have been working on for the last few years. One of the interesting thing I came across was the birth of capitalism which began in the early 17th century, with the Dutch indies companies monopolised the spice trade in 1602.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Balik Kampung - Going back Home Solo exhibition at balai Seni Lukis Melaka 2015

I had a solo exhibiton in Melaka, one of the places i have grown up. The show is called ' Balik Kampung' or Going back home.
Here is some pics and text from the exhibition.

Going back Home 
Balai Seni Lukis Melaka

1 December 2015 - 31 January 2016

I spent part of my life growing up in Melaka and still go back to Melaka when I am in Malaysia, because of my mother who still lives there. When I was invited by the government of Melaka to have an exhibition at the Balai Seni Melaka, Balik kampong or Going Back Home seemed to be the most natural title for a show. I am going back home - to my roots.
My occupation by the concept of home and looking for my roots has grown out of my personal history.
Balai Seni Lukis Melaka is located close to the ‘kampung’ where I grew up. One of the places we used to live was at Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, close to the historical building Stadhuys, which was built by the Dutch occupants in 1650. So the area around Balai Seni Lukis is filled of my childhood memories.
Due to my mother’s employment, my brother, sisters and I lived in several different places. When I was three years old, we moved from Johor to Kelantan and by the time I was eight we moved back to Muar to live with my grandparents.  After that we moved back to Melaka to live with my mother.
In Melaka alone we moved several times living and moving from Matakuching to Tun Tan Cheng Lock to Garden City to Ayer Molek and to Kandang.
After completing my High school, I moved to Perak to further my studies at the Polytechnic Ungku Omar. I stayed in there for 2 ½ years before starting a new job working in Agro Bank in Kuala Lumpur.
The bank job didn't suit me. After the minimum requirement of my working contract, I left to USA to continue my studies. I spent one and a half year in Conway Arkansas and then to Kansas City for over three years before moving back to Kuala Lumpur at the age of 27.
After hopping from one job to another, I ended up working with advertising in a public relations branches.
Feeling frustrated with my life and work, I quit my fulltime job after some years in search for a new way of life. I met the late Malaysian Pop artist Jeri Azhari the same year, and fell in love with painting.  I also started to express myself by writing.
The change of ‘profession’ came as a big surprise to my family and friends. The pressure of being ‘successful’ and the competition for material gain is high in Malaysia. The expectation, such as; Who can come back ‘home’ with a bigger car during Hari Raya led me to distance myself from my own family. This distance has also brought me to question Who is my real ‘family’?
I moved to live and work in the Perhentian Island in 1998, moving back and forth to Kuala Lumpur for a period of three years. After this period I became a residence artist at Jaguar Motors Art Space in Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur in 2000.
Coming back from a few month stay at the Perhentian islands, I realized that I had lost everything that I owned in the studio, including personal belongings and all my artwork from paintings, drawings, prints, collages, assemblages, old photographs and writings.  The owner had rent out the space to a businessman and they had moved all my belongings by the roadside. It went missing  after 3 days being left outside. This event more or less erased my historical past and symbolized another new beginning for me.
I moved back to live with my mum in Melaka for a few months and back to Kuala Lumpur after that.
In 2002, I met my Danish wife Pia in Jogyakarta during a visit to Indonesia. We got married in Melaka a few months later, and moved to Copenhagen where we have been based since.
These constant moves -  physically and mentally have made me think and question where and what is home?
When in Denmark I am longing to come back home to Malaysia, but when in Malaysia I also miss my new home in Denmark!
Closely related to the concept of ‘Home’, are the two themes; identity and power. These issues occupies me, looking at my home country from the distance.
The artworks Batu Api and Duit Kopi are from my Malay idiom series.  In search for my Malay identity I realized that these old Malay idioms can still be used until the present day.
The installation Batu api, is a community based art project involving local children and students from UITM in Melaka.
Duit Kopi reminds us, that power can be bought or gained by giving presents in a form of money.
 The‘Migration’ reflects the issue surrounding migration globally. People from different places would risk their lives to seek for refuge and better life in another place.
Moving from one place to another, I had to deal with the authorities looking for a new home in another country.  Denmark is one of the most difficult places to migrate to, due to the strict laws on migration. Conditions for getting a PR are given separately due to your background and profession. It took me 13 years living in Denmark before I was given a permanent resident ship.  During that time I felt powerless and my fate to continue living with my family were reassessed every two years at the immigration office.  
The Keris/Cricket series are sculptures and is taken from a historical perspective which refers to the colonial and post colonial issues. Cricket is a ball game which was introduced to Malaya when the british was ruling the country. 
Keris is an ancient malay weapon used for fighting.  In this artwork, the cricket bat is sculpted partly into a shape of a keris  and logos from as Nike and Twitter.
Since Malaysia’s independent in 1957, the country tried to reestablish their national cultural identity based on malay values. These values however are challenged by big global corporations and social medias .
In ‘Portrait currencies’, current Malaysian Prime Minister is portrayed using real paper currencies such as ringgit, us dollars, Indonesian rupee, Thai bath etc.
A series of artwork called ‘ 5 cents portrait ‘ is ‘painted’ with oil using Malaysian 5 cents coins. These portraits are taken from  paper currencies such as Benjamin Franklin from US dollar,  Queen Elizabeth from Pound Sterling,  The Japanese Emperor from yen etc. 

These works question the global monetary system where the gap between the rich and the poor is seen growing all over the world due to corruptions and abused of power.
The artworks I am showing include installations, assemblage, drawings, video and sound installation. Some of the works such as ‘ The migration’ and Batu Api are collaborated with UITM Lendu Melaka.

'Everybody Must Get Stoned- A one Click Art Performance' Map Festival 7, Melaka, Malaysia

I took part in the Melaka Art Performance festival 7 in Malaysia recently. I have invited the public to participate in a performance called ' Everybody must get stoned' - A one click art performance`. The work is inspired by a malay proverb called ' batu api' or fire stone in english which means a person who likes to incite other people to fight with each other. in this performance i have invited the public to paint ' fire on the stone and then make a little performance by placing the stone to a place they have chosen. the performance ends with a click/s on my camera.

There was also a couple of musicians who happily entertained those participated in the performance with their light and happy music.

By end of the festival, a few of the stones that were placed on the site were found missing. The rest of the stones were collected and exhibited later in a gallery.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

seeds of love

this art project is titled ' seeds of love'.
in collaboration with Heerup Museum in Denmark, i invited the public to participate making the artwork .
it is a minimalistic approach where we use used paper, BBQ sticks and tapes to carve the word ' love' in different languages to reflect the multicultural society living  in Copenhagen, Denmark.

the idea is to make the word' love' in as many different languages as possible using paper cuttings and plant them outside in the green area at the museum for the Culturnight festival in Rødovre.

Think Tank, Bela Biennale - Rio Di Janeiro 2014

in  nov 2014, i participated in Bela Biennale, an art festival between the Nordic country and south america, namely Brazil.
i brought with me a documentation of my new work called ' think tank'. think tank is a project i did in collaboration with Robotics Learning Center Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

here is the text written by Intan Rafiza, a curator from the National Art Gallery Malaysia on the project.

( In malay )
Runtuhnya langit kebebasan dan demokrasi apabila seni itu sendiri tidak lagi menjadi cerminan hari ini.

Melihat semula karya terdahulu oleh Amir Zainorin, beliau memberi pandangan paradigm social-politik Malaysia dalam pemerhatian dan  persoalan yang kritikal melalui perspektif seorang rakyat Malaysia dan juga antarabangsa. Pengkarya melihat bagaimana seni menjadi ruang untuk  berkarya dan memberi pandangan dalam membentuk imaginasi melalui visual berdasarkan keadaan sosial sebenar dan dalam masa yang sama ianya  membina satu ruang untuk berkomunikasi.

Karya terkini yang telah dihasilkan pada 2014, bertajuk –Think Tank adalah satu karya installasi dan seni pertunjukan  bersifat interaktif yang dihasilkan untuk Bela Biennial 2014 di ruang Museu Histirico National, Rio De Jenairo Brasil. Dengan saiz yang lebih kecil dari kereta kebal sebenar, ianya adalah hasil kerjasama dengan Robotic Learning Malaysia. 

Di dalam karya ini, kereta kebal menjadi subjek utama yang mana bentuk fizikal karya mempunyai ciri-ciri kekuatan, kekukuhan dan ianya bercirikan  kenderaan pertahanan yang tinggi. Dan merujuk kepada pensejarahan beberapa dekad yang lepas, ianya digunakan dalam perang dunia pertama yang mana penciptaannya adalah sebagai alat pertahanan dan perlindungan tentera di medan peperangan, berfungsi dalam pertahanan dan juga senjata dalam pergerakan operasi perang. Teknologi dan ciptaan kereta kebal turut memperlihatkan spesifikasi utama dalam menyerang dan melindung di medan tempur. 

Dan dalam masa yang sama, bulu burung yang menyeliputi kereta kebal memperlihatkan unsur yang berlawanan diantara kedua-dua  fizikal karya. Malahan  didalam karya ini, Amir Zainorin cuba menghasilkan satu  karya dari gabungan kedua-dua unsur ini. Ianya berinspirasikan bulu burung yang merujuk kepada topi tradisional yang dikenali dengan nama ‘lelanjang’ yang pernah dipakai oleh para pemburu kepala (ngayau) pada suatu ketika dahulu. Pemakaian kostum ini adalah berhubungkait dengan aktiviti amalan buru kepala yang mana ianya adalah salah satu amalan kuno taktik peperangan masyarakat melayu borneo di Malaysia.  Selain daripada itu juga, penggunaan bulu burung  turut digunapakai oleh kaum asal yang lain contohnya dari orang asal Amerika yang membawa erti dan makna dalam kehidupan seharian. Melalui acara ritual yang memperlambangkan kebebasan manusia dan semangat -rohani-spiritual , ianya juga adalah berdasarkan suku-kaum masyarakat yang berbeza.

Melalui kepercayaan kepada alam, penggunaan bahan semulajadi ini membentuk satu idea dan kefahaman kerohanian yang berhubung dengan alam semesta. Komposisi yang dihasilkan melalui penyatuan penggunaan alat perang kereta kebal dan kerohanian melalui  penggunaan bulu burung oleh pahlawan terdahulu, pengamat dan penonton seni diberi ruang interaksi dengan memberi peluang kepada penonton melancarkan warna dari mercu meriam kereta kebal. Unsur dan teknikal interaktif ini adalah dihasilkan dalam kontek dimana pengkarya cuba memberi kefahaman dan peluang kepada penonton untuk memahami karya seni yang disampaikan.

Dalam proses membentuk idea Think Tank, melalui perspektif satu karya seni yang jelas dengan mengenengahkan kepentingan yang tidak ketara, (bermaksud penonton masih boleh mempersoalkan dan membincangan berkaitan idea) diantara objek yang digunakan melalui pendekatan penciptaan melalui teknologi terkini dan nilai kepercayaan kerohanian (spiritual).Tembakan warna dari mercu meriam terus ke ruang didinding secara tidak langsung ianya telah mewujudkan satu platform dialog seni secara visual dalam meyampaikan karya seni. Yang mana ianya turut menunjukkan bagaimana tindakan manusia boleh memberi kesan dan  akibat yang menjadi penyebab kepada  sesuatu hal dan tindakan.

Disini juga posisi pengkarya adalah menjadi pengantara dalam aktiviti komunikasi diantara karya seni dan penonton. Pengkarya memberikan satu  bentuk seni yang jelas dan nyata tentang kepentingan maksud demokrasi melalui sistem bermasyarakat melalui skop budaya dan penglibatan masyarakat awam khasnya. Kepentingan komunikasi secara interlektual diwujudkan dalam ruang kreativiti yang menjadi subjek utama dalam proses berkarya.  

Melihat semula karya seni Amir Zainorin yang menjadi koleksi tetap Balai Seni Visual  Negara Malaysia, ianya adalah diantara karya koleksi negara yang mempunyai kekuatan dari sudut perletakan imajan dan penerokaan idea dari pengkarya dengan pendekatan dan kefahaman tersendiri. Stamp Series, adalah salah satu dari 3 koleksi karya yang mempunyai proses pendokumentasian yang jelas berkenaan tanggapan pensejarahan para perajurit kemerdekaan 1957 yang berjasa dalam memperjuangan kebebasan negara dari penjajah yang mana mereka adalah terdiri dari latar belakang politik dan ideologi yang berbeza.

Dalam karya ini ianya memperlihatkan satu perspektif baru tentang perjuangan merdeka bukanlah milik mana-mana parti politik, tetapi ianya adalah berkenaan kesatuan masyarakat ketika itu. Selain daripada itu juga, satu seni pertunjukan yang telah dipersembahkan di hadapan pejabat Imigresen, Copenhagen, Denmark pada tahun 2010, yang bertajuk -Stamp Over, turut di kongsi bersama dan dipamerkan pada tahun 2012 di Balai Seni Lukis Negara Malaysia  bersempena Hari Kemerdekaan negara Malaysia  dalam pameran – Kuasa, Harapan dan Tanah. Dalam karya ini, ianya memperkatakan berkenaan isu-isu pendatang (imagran) dari pelbagai aspek dan kesan budaya, perbezaan pengstrukturan masyarakat dan sosial serta bagaimana hal ini mempengaruhi masalah dan latar belakang prinsip dalam perbezaan kepercayaan. 

Sebagai seorang rakyat Malaysia, yang berhijrah ke negara lain, Amir Zainorin telah menghasilkan karya dalam pendekatan dan cuba menjawap beberapa persoalan dalam hal yang berkaitan dengan isu-isu  sosio-politik di Malaysia. Dalam permasalahan ini, beliau melihat bagaimana pembangunan negara yang menuju kemodenan secara fizikal dan adanya  perjuangan hak kemanusiaan melalui pengamalan sistem demokrasi  adalah menjadi titik utama dalam mengenengahkan isu dan persoalan yang diingin disampaikan.

Memahami erti kemajuan minda dalam ruang negara yang sedang pesat membangun, mempunyai pemikiran yang lebih kritis berkenaan isu dan juga hal yang memberi kesan kepada perspektif  permasalahan utama kenegaraan adalah amat penting dalam menjadi seorang pengkarya seni. Perbezaan pendapat atau mempersoalkan sesuatu dalam erti kata dalam meruntuhkan tembok yang menghalangi kebenaran bukanlah satu kesalahan sekiranya pengkarya seni itu sendiri tahu bagaimana untuk menyampaikannya  dengan cara yang lebih mudah melalui kreativiti dan dialog seni lebih yang berkesan (dialogis).

Think Tank – apabila zaman silam itu itu sebenarnya adalah masa depan kita.

Oleh Intan Rafiza
Nov. 2014

in english translated by Sharon Chin

Freedom and democracy fail when art no longer serves as a reflection of today. Looking at his previous work, artist Amir Zainorin supplies points of view about Malaysian socio-political paradigms through the critical observations both as a Malaysian national and as a citizen of the world. He looks at how art becomes a space for expression. Through reality-based visuals, he shapes the imagination, providing insight into contemporary social conditions. He builds space for communication.

Amir’s latest work, titled Think Tank and produced in 2014, is an installation and interactive performance piece. It was made for the Bela Biennial 2014, in Rio de Janeiro’s Museu Historico Nacional and Galeria Scenarium. The work is a  collaboration with Robotic Learning Malaysia.

In this work, a military tank serves as the primary subject. Its physical form communicates strength and resolve. Historically, tanks were introduced during the First World War. It was invented as a defensive device, used to protect troops in battle, and serving as a safeguard for weapons and fortifications on the battlefield. As technology developed, tanks have played both defensive and offensive roles in war.

The bird feathers that envelop the tank serve as contrast to the physicality of the armored vehicle. This is a reference to the bird feathers found on the headgear (lelanjang) worn by headhunters (ngayau) of the past. This costume is associated with the practice of head-hunting – an archaic war tactic of the Malays in Malaysian Borneo. Besides this, the bird feathers also reflects its use by other indigenous peoples, such as Native Americans – whose use of the material carries its own significance in their daily lives, through rituals that emblematize human and spiritual freedom.

Amir’s use of natural materials evokes the spiritual ideal of connecting with the universe. The composition pairs a modern weapon of war (the tank) with the spiritual beliefs of past  warriors (the bird feathers). The audience is invited to interact with the work by launching colourful paint from the tank’s main cannon. Through this interactivity, the artist hopes to bring audiences closer to understanding the ideas presented in his work.

Think Tank is not a didactic work, and viewers are still able to bring in many associations and related ideas, which may inhabit the space between the tank (a technological creation) and the feathers (symbolizing spirituality). The firing of paint from the tank’s canon onto the wall indirectly sets up a dialogue about what makes a work of art. It also points to the cause and effect that accompany every action we humans undertake. Here, the artist has become an intermediary, facilitating communication between the artwork and its audience. The work speaks clearly about the importance of democracy in society, involving both the cultural sphere and participation of the public.

The works of Amir Zainorin in the permanent collection of Balai Seni Visual Negara are strong, demonstrating the placement of images and exploration of ideas by an artist who has his own approach and point of view. Stamp Series -- one of the three collected works – demonstrates a documentarian’s process, and how this contributes to the way the freedom fighters of 1957 are viewed historically. They were not a homogenous group, instead, consisted of individuals from different backgrounds and ideologies.

The work presents another perspective of the struggle for Merdeka – namely, that the independence movement did not belong to any one political party, but involved a society working in unity at the time.

A performance piece, Stamp Over, first performed in front of the Copenhagen immigration office in 2010, was exhibited at the Balai Seni Lukis Negara in 2012. This was in conjunction with Merdeka Day, and was part of the the “Kuasa, Harapan dan Tanah” show. This work explored the issue of “pendatang” (immigrants) – looking at the differences in the way communities and societies are structured, and how this affects the underlying principles of multi-culturalism. 

A Malaysian citizen who now lives abroad, Amir Zainorin has nonetheless continued to produce works that center on the social-political issues of Malaysia. The matter of human rights and democracy in a rapidly developing country that is bent on modernisation is a major starting point for the artist. Understanding what it means to be mentally progressive, thinking critically and being concerned with social issues are essential in being an artist. If artists are skillful in communicating their intentions, having differences of opinion or questioning the rightfulness of a situation is something to be encouraged.

 Think Tank – when the past actually tells of our future.

By Intan Rafiza

Curator National Visual Art Gallery

Tranlation from Malay to English by Sharon Chin

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amir Zainorin - 'Me, We' by Sharon Chin

Amir is someone I’ve yet to meet in person. I know him only through email, blogs, Facebook and a parcel containing catalogues and a DVD of his work he sent to my house. Yet from these thin, mostly electronic, threads we are weaving a conversation, the beginnings of understanding, and perhaps a friendship.

What do I know about Amir? He grew up in Kelantan and Johor. He studied in the US, returned to work in Malaysia and now lives in Denmark with his wife and son. It’s no surprise that his art deals with identity and representation – living and working in different places can turn your sense of self into putty. Even crossing the street or buying bread becomes a cultural experiment!

The questions of identity are the eternal ones: Who am I? Who are we? At the same time, these questions have an everyday urgency, like buying bread. Somewhere in between there lies a political dimension, where this ‘who’ becomes a ‘what’ – What am I? What are we? In that political space, identity is associated with power.

What is it like to be Malaysian right now? Interesting would be one way to put it. Scary would be another. Since the March 2008 general elections, we have been living in times of huge political change. The political dimension has expanded to touch every aspect of life. You couldn’t escape it even if you wanted to – the roads will likely be jammed tight because of some by-election.

Issues of identity have become especially heightened and complex. Old certainties are now up for questioning – the social contract, the monarchy, even the federation itself. It is as though we are waking up from a collective dream, dazed and confused, but more energized than we have been in decades. Our political masters feel the ground shifting beneath their feet. In order to rally support to new political needs, desperate games are played that draw lines deeply in the raw, soft sand of our identities. Being told what we are (Bumiputera, Si botol, Si mata sepet, Dan lain-lain) makes us much more manageable, just like in the colonial days.

It is into this space, that Amir brings his art and his questions: Who am I? Who are we?I won’t betray the spirit of Amir’s work by limiting its scope to this specific moment in Malaysian identity politics. He clearly states: ‘Even though I am a Malaysian citizen, I don’t see myself as a ‘Malaysian artist’. I am just an artist, born in Malaysia with a big interest in what is going on in the world. My influence is global, not only based on my roots in Malaysia.’ However, by locating it here, we can see how Amir’s search is not about trying to establish answers. Instead, it’s concerned with enlarging the space of how we can look at and make meaning of ourselves.

He starts with a view of himself – a self-portrait. The video Mind My Hat shows him donning variously the headgears of the Sultan, Tok Guru Nik Aziz, a Jew, Yap Ah Loy, Uncle Sam and many others. Watching it on Youtube, I wondered about the lo-fi quality – you can clearly see where the images have been digitally altered to replace Amir’s face with that of the abovementioned subjects. It uses the rough cut n’ paste techniques of most internet ‘mash ups’, that is, digital videos, music or images that consist of original content altered in some way. Amir’s self-portrait treats images, including his own, like disposable shells – each one recognizable for an instant, then falling away to reveal nothing but another image, and another. We may well ask ourselves what such disposable images are doing in a gallery, a place where we expect images (paintings, photographs, etc) to be precious… valuable…

The question brings us to the subject of Pop Art. There is tendency in Malaysian artists and intellectuals to confuse Pop Art with a technique or ‘style’, rather than recognize it as a particular moment in the development of modern art in Europe and America. Campbell soup cans, bright colours, Andy Warhol, silk-screened images of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley selling for millions of bucks – this is what Pop art means for many people. In an essay for one of Amir’s previous solo exhibitions, Mad(e) In Malaysia, Badrolhisham Tahir says as much: ‘Amir is known as a Pop artist. This is what many don’t understand and want to know more about.’ He goes on: ‘Sometimes a public story can become a powerful myth and even though we know how Amir became an artist, the public story has so much power, it becomes believable.’ Unfortunately, Badrolhisham doesn’t delve much deeper into the relationship between Amir’s ideas and Pop art, allowing the myth to hang in the air as part of the artist’s constructed identity.

Pop Art developed around the 1960s, at a time when western society was being reshaped and defined by its relationship to mass media (by late 1950s, TVs were to be found in almost every American home), fame and consumerism. Things other than objects could become commodities – such as human values or images. The perception of something could be more valuable than the thing itself, hence the rise of branding and advertising. When it came to determining value, fame (i.e. when something is widely known or reproduced) was just as, or more important than, exclusivity. Warhol explored these ideas in art by becoming an art machine, manufacturing images in the same way a factory produced canned soup. He commented on the system by being fully complicit in it. Decades after his death, his work continues to command astounding prices.

Today, we are living in a different world, one defined by instant connectivity and information technology. We can now broadcast ourselves every moment of every day, using digital text, images, video and sound. Amir’s ideas about how mass produced images influence the way we perceive identity, value and power are indeed related to those that gave rise to Pop art. In the series of digital prints, he creates new stories and narratives by digitally piecing together images found on the internet or taken on his digital camera. The images come from modern art, history, advertising, news, the landscape, family portraits, etc – it doesn’t matter. They are all flattened to create new, instant and disposable fairytales for a generation of Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter users.  

Like Warhol and the other Pop artists, Amir also plays these ideas off the art world. One work consists of Facebook updates collected from his network of friends over a period of 3 months. During this time, he updated his own status daily with thoughts about art. He has arranged these to produce a large digital print that reads ‘Status’. Placed in a gallery, these little fragments of selves literally and symbolically claim their status as art. Another work, Mr Prime Minister, looks like an average painting, but in fact, it has been out-sourced to a company in China that specializes in copies of famous masterpieces. Skilled labourers produced the painting according to a digital image created by Amir in Photoshop. These funny, quietly subversive works make us rethink how we view and value art.

Given that so much media content is disposable, how do we reconcile the fact that words and images continue to exert such power on us? It was only recently that cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) caused uproar across the world, erupting in violence and even death. Closer to home, the right of non-Muslims to use the word Allah has been fiercely debated. Again and again, this modern technological age will bring us into close encounters with those who are different from us. We will see and hear things that shake our beliefs, values and worldviews. How do we negotiate between what we must hold sacred and what we can hold in common? Or perhaps it is better to say: what we can hold sacred and what we must hold in common? Who am I? Who are we?

Yes, words and images hold immense power, but let’s not forget, so do actions. In a performance held at the entrance to the Danish embassy, Amir turns the usually de-humanizing process of visa application into an opportunity for human conversation and exchange. Meanwhile, his online project Like A Prayer asks people of any (or no) faith from all over the world to submit a prayer via email, which is then posted on a blog for everyone to read. Similarly, I see his three interviews with Malaysian art icons Redza Piyadasa, Jeri Azahari and Rahime Haron as acts of listening and recording. It is interesting to observe how actions are not subject to same games of representation and power. Through his interventions into real and online life, Amir illustrates that actions not only communicate, they open up pathways – roads for us to make meaning in art, in our lives and in the world.

Sharon Chin
Nov 2010

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nordic Country and Fottball - Ava Galleri - Rio De Janeiro

Title: Messi
Medium: papercuts
Year: 2014

Title: Neymar
Medium: papercuts
Year: 2014

This exhibition is supported by The National Visual Art Gallery Malaysia