Batik, that wretched medium that plagued many of our school years, has actually been quite a pivotal one in Malaysian art. Linked closely with our region’s arts and crafts, artists in the earlier throes of Malaysian art were naturally drawn to it, exploiting its potential and creating works of a very distinct flavour.
You’ll see examples in ‘Malaysian Batik Masters’ at KL Lifestyle Art Space’s PJ base this month. The show quells the myth that batik is just for stewardess uniforms and entrance to Genting’s casinos, with works by Chuah Thean Teng, Chuah Siew Teng, Khalil Ibrahim, Ismail Mat Hussin, Tan Kwan Chin, Tan Thean Soong, Dato’ Tay Mo Leong, Tan Rahim, and Chuah Seow Keng as myth-busting ammunition.
The show features a range of subjects, from figurative works to landscapes that prove that batik isn’t just useful for depictions of flora and fauna or repeated motifs ala beach sarongs. Granddaddy of the medium, the late Chuah Thean Teng popularised this medium in his art, and whilst his work ‘Combing Hair’ (1990) would’ve been an obvious choice as the jewel in this show, the standout star was actually a toss between Khalil Ibrahim’s ‘Kelantanese’ (1968) and Tan Kwan Chin’s ‘Rubber Tapper’ (1970s). And it was the former that triumphed. Khalil’s half-portrait of a young man combines the naivety of a comic book drawing and there’s a nostalgic and captivating quality imbued in the work (the choice of colours and the depiction of the figure, for example).
If Mad Men were an animated series set in the East Coast, this is what Don Draper might look like. Is this stretching the imagination a tad too much? Perhaps, but has batik ever stirred you this way? ‘Kelantanese’ and others in the show will guarantee that you’ll never look at another sarong or beach pareo the same way again. Rachel Jena