Who is Engku Iman?
Iman is not a classically-trained artist. No, there won’t be any pastel portraits with fine brushstrokes and all that but where she may skimp on fancy techniques, she makes up for with a sort of dry humour. Iman studied architecture but no longer studies or practises it; she now spends her days researching and making art.
So why not go to art school?
Trust us, she tried. Iman applied to several art institutions including School of Visual Arts in New York but what stopped her was funding. She was told by potential scholarship providers, ‘When you come back you won’t contribute to anything. Because it’s art.’ Naturally, this resulted in a piece called ‘Duduk Sama Rendah, Berdiri Sama Tinggi’, a knife through a passport and a one-way ticket to New York.
Where have I seen her before?
If you have been gallery-hopping and kept up with the local art scene, you might have seen her work before. Besides small shows around town, she had also exhibited at Sekeping Sin Chew Kee’s ‘We Are Where We Aren’t’ and Kedai’s ‘Hidup Terlampau Selesa’.
Tell me three things that randomly describe her art.
Skateboarders, Ai Weiwei and Jogjakarta. One of her inspirations is skateboarders as they have what she calls an 'admirable determination'. She had even collaborated with the skate shop Wheel Love for a limited edition Engku Iman x Wheel Love skateboard.
She looks up to Ai Weiwei and could go on and on raving about him. Her favourite piece is the sunflower seeds installation shown at Tate Modern.
As for Jogjakarta, she wishes that the local art scene could learn more from our Indonesian neighbour, especially with their non-judgemental ways.
‘Siapa bilang gadis Melayu tak melawan’, indeed.
‘Are you a feminist?’ might be one of the most popular questions to be hurled around these days but let’s look past that. Iman’s works are largely inspired by local culture and is in many ways satirical – like a response to ‘how things are supposed to be’, especially when it comes to Malay customs revolving around Malay women. Take a look at ‘Pakej Isteri’, which sadly sums up the qualities traditionally associated with Malay wives.
‘Hi, is this competition still on?’
One of the best responses she's received is from her ‘Pertandingan Lilit Tudung’ installation. A woman who saw the piece asked if she could enter what she thought was an ongoing competition. Overall, there have been mixed reactions to her art – it's one of those things you either love or hate. But it doesn’t matter as she doesn’t mind criticism from people of all sorts of backgrounds. ‘It’s easy to be accepted among your peers but I want feedback from the public.’
‘I choose to make art for KL.’
One of her gripes about the local art scene is that the public likes art with a lot of colour – which isn’t necessarily bad, but to Iman, art is not just a canvas, it’s a medium. ‘Imagine, with all the attention that you’re getting, why not make art that says something?’ Like most people in KL, it’s normal to have a love-hate relationship with the city and its dwellers. So yes, she makes art for KL, even when she doesn’t love it all that much.
She has possibly changed someone’s life.
One of her previous projects is a collaboration with Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) Penang in which she had to create a piece based on a domestic abuse victim’s story. After listening to Farah, her subject, she presented her piece: a telekung with five Michelangelo-esque angels painted on them representing the victim’s children. Farah has since filed for divorce from her abusive husband after her intensive bonding session with Iman.
Although she started with simple sketches, Iman will now slowly move away from them in favour of installations. Her most recent installation was exhibited at Idearaya, a pipe fitted with speakers reading out old pantuns and poems.
See more of Iman's works on Tumblr and Instagram.
Introducing: Engku Iman
Fun facts about the young Malaysian artist
Who is Engku Iman?
Discover Time Out original video