Change begins with small acts. The title of my blog is taken from Paul Gilroy's powerful slim volume packing a resounding counter-cultural critical punch.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I am breaking precedent for the first time in my blog by actually writing a note to all my readers--and not merely posting my customary published writings.

I would like to invite you to visit a new blog created by a very close and dear friend of mine, Ong Ju Lin. I first met Ju Lin when I was an undergraduate in America; even then I was blown away by her energy, her kinetic and pure charisma, and her capability for deep and empathetic introspection. Most of all, I was awed by her generous spirit, her limitless courage and her willingness to engage with every aspect of humanity with love and sensitivity.

I have always respected her work as a photojournalist and investigative reporter extraordinaire and for the first time, I (and all her fans worldwide) will be able to access her writings and photos whenever we please. This is indeed a cause for celebration and it is my hope that those of you who visit Ju Lin's site will be inspired to think, to create, to take action, and to believe that there is still a lot of unbelievably good people in the world.

Ju Lin, welcome (as my pal Bonn would say) kablogista!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Noor Mahnun Mohamed: Interview

by Carmen Nge

In the bygone era before snapshots and professional studio portraits, famous figureheads and dolled-up dignitaries, pompous politicians and coiffed capitalists purchased posterity through the laborious process of portraiture. Artists sketched and painted while these men and women sat for them for hours. In our very own Central Market artists’ bazaar, portraits are painted on a daily basis but no-one sits for the artist—they give him their photos as reference instead. There is no denying that the human preoccupation with self-likeness has not diminished though artists’ desire to paint them may have dwindled. Noor Mahnun Mohamed, a Malaysian artist of Kelantanese descent, has resuscitated an old tradition of painting people but with an invigorating psychological depth and a visual style that has been praised for its simplicity and meticulousness.

The human figure has a prominent place in your work. What is your attraction to the human form?

I really like the Renaissance artists. Before I studied art, I was also a student of architecture and I developed a deep interest in the humanist tradition.

You say you like the Renaissance artists but you have a tendency to use flat perspective in your paintings. Don’t you see this as a form of rebellion against the more classical Western art tradition?

I sometimes adopt a more conventional sense of perspective in my work but I do like seeing things from strange angles; this for me is what leads to a sense of pictorial depth. I find it easier to manipulate the composition with flat perspective because the objects can be asymmetric and this is much more interesting than just having them point towards one perspective. For me composition takes place from a more realist point of view, meaning, I copy nature but I don’t imitate it.

I’ve noticed that colour and composition are paramount in your work. Do you often begin the painting process with these 2 considerations in mind? Can you give us some idea of how you work--the process of your painting?

I usually begin with an image that I think might be interesting to put in another situation or a room. After I bring these two different points together, I sketch it out on small grid and I play around with the size for a bit before enlarging it onto a larger grid. It’s just line drawing at this point. I always focus on the composition first. Colour comes later because the colour that you mix on the palette is usually not what appears on canvas because so much depends on what colour is beside it. I then decide if I want cool or warm tones but I tend to work with a blue and green palette.

Why the prominence of portraiture in your recent work?

It is an exercise. For my subjects, it is exciting, a novelty. Nowadays people take more photos. But they are still curious about how people see them. When you take photos of yourself, you do it not because you do not know how you look like but because you are curious about how you look like to yourself. Some people actually don’t like how they look in their paintings but that is because it is not how they see themselves but how I see them. Not everyone realizes this.

In an interview you once said that it is important to create distance between the painted figures and the viewer, and that buffer zones are necessary. Do you still feel this way?

Well, I don’t just feel this way about art but also about real life. A lot of it depends on the viewer because the eye does not impose buffer zones of course, but I want figures to inhabit their own worlds and thereby have a sense of estrangement from us. But this is a subconscious development. I don’t consciously create figures that reside in their own worlds; only later do I see it when I look retrospectively. My new works are more people friendly. Before the figures used to be more mysterious, now they are just paintings of people I know, my friends, my parents when they were young. This is because I meet so many people and I keep moving around and my past is in boxes. I think my past is also very much the present. At the moment, the way I see my parents, for instance, is I also how I see my past and the memories I hold.

In what way do you feel you have evolved as an artist/painter since returning from Germany in late 1997?

When I painted in Germany I was a student and I had the luxury of huge studios. It’s not the same here but I do feel at home in Malaysia. The buffer zones seem to be losing themselves here.

Why this increasing sense of familiarity rather than estrangement with your painting subjects?

I think I am getting old therefore I’m more people friendly. (Laughs)

Noor Mahnun Mohamed’s solo exhibition will be on at Valentine Willie until 3 March, 2005

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Manit Sriwanichpoom: Interview

by Carmen Nge

We live in a world where photography has become the tool of advertising and capitalist propaganda and we acquiesce. Indeed, we even genuflect at the altar of shopping and slick promotion gimmicks. As a professional photographer who lives off the fat of lucrative advertising orders, Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom knows this world of insidious global capital all too well. His response: the creation of his iconic and vibrantly-hued Pink Man, the fruit of capitalism’s excesses but also the most apathetic observer of its ironies and failures.

Why the Pink Man? Isn't it mostly women who love to shop? Isn’t pink usually a colour associated with femininity?

First of all, I'm a man and I know man's world well enough. Since the World is still being controlled and led by men, who else should I criticize? The particular 'fluorescent pink' that I've used is considered by Thai people to be culturally the color of bad taste, and vulgar. I wanted to portray a middle-aged man looking funny, pathetic, and contemptible. I can't think about getting a woman to act in this role since I see that she is also another victim of men's ideas.

Are there particular issues in Thailand that you want to highlight using the Pink Man? Are these issues applicable to the rest of Asia as well?

The issues that I’ve highlighted are consumerism, tourism, socio-political issues, image-making and the latest one that I've been working on is 'Neo-nationalism'. Asian countries have been developing in the same sort of direction in terms of economic practice—Globalization and Free Trade, despite political differences.

The Pink Man is also someone who is constantly window shopping but he doesn’t buy anything because his cart is always empty. Are you trying to say that shopping is an act without meaning? That consumerism can never fulfill us?

Yes, that is what I wanted to say. Consumerism is a form of Greed. How could you fulfill it?

What is your opinion about the effects of consumerism and globalization in Asia and Thailand?

I am not against globalization if it's for good and not for greed, for better understanding not for manipulation, for freedom and not for slavery. So far, from what I see, we have the wrong perception about globalization. People think that through the mechanism of consumerism and technology we will achieve globalization faster and get richer faster. Instead it's creating more problems globally such as terrorism, neo-nationalism, global warming and so on.

What will come next for you in your work? In light of the recent events in Southern Thailand, do you think you may be creating works commenting on the problems in that area?

Yes, in my next show the Pink Man will deal with 'Neo-nationalism' that has come back again, from the economic crisis of 1997 with the rise of Thailand's current ruling party 'Thai Rak Thai' (Thai loves Thai or Thai Patriot) up to the unrest in the south.

This interview appears in Off The Edge, February 2005 issue.