Loving art & architecture
Article from the Sun daily by S. Tamarai Chelvi (posted on 10 Mar 2020)
SOFT-SPOKEN Tay Lu Yee appears just like any other college girl, but in her lies an abundance of talent in art.
At just 24, Tay has already sold eight pieces of art for prices ranging from RM500 to RM2,100 apiece, and has even showcased her art at exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur and Labuan.
A fresh graduate with a degree in Visual Art Technology from Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Tay uses ink pens to create her art.
Kota Kinabalu-born Tay recalled the times when she used to visit her mother’s birthplace in Kudat, where the traditional Rungus longhouse captured her heart and inspired her future artwork.
Tay’s artwork was displayed for the first time last year at RHB Banking Group’s third edition Art with Heart (AWH2019) art exhibition.
In fact, her artwork titled Rungus Longhouse sold an hour before the official opening of the exhibition.
How did you get into art?
“I never thought of getting into art. Before I stepped into university, I did not have any completed artwork. I had no idea what to draw and what to focus on.
“One of my university lecturers, Professor Dr Zaimie Sahibil said I could draw and encouraged me to look at the works of other artists.
“He advised me to focus on the things that I would like to share with the public through my drawings.
“So, I started doing research, making observations and drawing.
“Two artists inspired me, Emi Nakajima from Thailand and Olivia Kemp from Britain.”
What is your art’s main subject?
“The main subject of my artworks is traditional houses in Sabah, which are rarely found, these days. [For] example, the Rungus longhouses.
“I was born in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, while my mother was born in Kudat, at the upper north of Sabah.
“When I was young, I remember visiting Kudat and there were many traditional houses in Kudat. We can’t see traditional houses in Kota Kinabalu, except in the museum. So, I chose ‘Kudat’ and ‘traditional houses’ as my subject for art.
“Rungus is the largest community in Kudat ... Thus, I chose to focus on the Rungus longhouses.
“I hope that through my art, people can appreciate the beauty of traditionally-made houses and other traditionally-made items.”
What kind of medium do you use?
“Mostly, I use a technical pen (ink) as my medium, because it can show the detail of strokes in my drawing. Although there is [technology that can] replace pens or take over hand-drawn artwork, the ink has its own unique beauty.
“I chose to use black and white art in the ‘Rungus longhouse’ series of drawings because I want to give a ‘strong feeling’ towards the scene, as if it is going back to the old times. In the past, television shows were in black-and-white. [Gradually], it became full of colours.
“Thus, I use black-and-white to represent the olden days. Besides using ink as the medium in my drawing, I also use watercolours and acrylic.”
How has drawing changed your life?
“Drawing gave me the opportunity to involve myself in different art events or exhibitions, and to have a deeper connection with other artists and their artworks.
“Besides that, drawing [opened] my heart and let me develop critical thinking in everything I see or feel, and to have a different perspective.”
What are your future projects?
“I am planning to draw a series of art focusing on [current] issues in the world. I hope that through my future artwork projects, I can raise awareness among people to express their concerns about the issues, to take action [and] to make a change.”
What are you passionate about?
“I am passionate about heritage and culture in all countries around the world. Nowadays, the world is becoming more scientific, and many things are replaced by the latest technology. Heritage and culture [are disappearing], day by day.
“Besides that, environmental issues, especially issues in Australia, draw my attention.”
The artist unleashed
Article from the Sun daily by Azizul Rahman Ismail (posted on 08 Oct 2019)
GIVEN the interest that he has displayed for art ever since he was a child, no one was surprised that Aleff Ahmad, 29, grew up to be an artist.
Almost always seen with a smile on his face, Aleff is an optimist known for being quiet, but sociable.
I met him in his studio atop two flights of stairs, on the third floor of an unmarked building in Kuala Lumpur.
All around us lay his artwork, both completed works and those in progress. The space is undeniably home to an artist – and a passionate one at that.
He sat down on the floor, popped open a can of industrial paint, grabbed a paintbrush, continued his work, and we started talking.
How did you know you wanted to take up fine arts?
“My dad used to tell me that when I was small, he would buy colouring books for me. He would also buy a box of Staedtler Luna colour pencils. You know, the standard box.
“When he went to work, I would start colouring the book. All in one day. At the end of the day, I would go to him and say: ‘Dad, I finished. Can I have another?’
“From there, I realised that my interest [in art] was in my blood. It started with small things.
“My artistic side came from my mother. She’s not an artist, but she used to sew clothes and do embroidery. From there, I think the appreciation for art [transferred] to me.
“The perfectionism comes from my father’s side. My dad is a mechanic, and to be a good mechanic, you must pay attention to detail. So I think it’s the combination of both [traits] that makes me the artist I am today.”
Did you study fine arts?
“Yes. I have a diploma and degree in fine arts from UiTM Seri Iskandar, Perak. I studied fine arts for five years ... For my degree, I majored in painting and minored in graphic design.
“So that’s why you see my work has more illustrative concepts and ideas. Most of my concepts play with colours and composition.
“Some pieces look like runners (the frame) from a plastic model kit. A lot of them are inspired by toys. When you insert random shapes and geometric shapes, it becomes more interesting.”
What was your first significant achievement?
“My friend was studying in Australia. At the time, I was already busy doing art. He saw one of my art pieces on Facebook.
“He told me that they were planning to do [a] Malaysian community event in Adelaide. They wanted to exhibit [the works of] talents from Malaysia there.
“He wanted this whole series of artwork I did to be sent to Australia. I was only 20 years old at the time, and my work was [going to be] showcased in Australia.
“Well, my artwork was there, but I wasn’t. I have never been [to Australia].
“It motivated me to do more. From there, I started to join more exhibitions. If there is an invitation, I’ll join in.”
Recently, you customised a Tun M figure designed by artist and filmmaker Michael Chuah.
“Before I did the Tun M custom, Chuah offered me to customise his Yuurei Neko Sama figure. I was doubtful of my skills.
After a while, he said: ‘It’s okay why don’t you try Tun M instead?’
“It took me a long time to figure out what I want to do with the figure. In the end, I decided to kitbash (add parts from a model kit) Tun M with an RX-0 Unicorn Full Armour Gundam.
“Arifin Amin (toymaker, designer, customiser and artist) is a mentor to me. So I asked him a lot of questions. From there, he guided me on what to do.
“There was a lot of trial and error. I even tried to put a runner in an oven to shape it, but it melted instead.
“So I used Sculpey [polymer clay] to add shape to the figure so I could slot in the shield, backpack, and [other parts].”
Weaving textile with colours
Article from the Sun daily by Mark Mathen Victor (posted on 30 November 2017)
NESTLED in the corner of a shoplot's vacant second floor in Petaling Jaya, 24-year-old Carabelle Cheong is in the midst of building a nest dedicated to her career as a textile designer.
"I've begun moving my art things out of the place I've been staying with a friend," she says, before continuing, "I'm moving back in with my mother, but I don't want to turn the house into a mess".
Growing up watching Mickey Mouse on television, Cheong's love affair with torrents of vivid colours began at a very young age, and has persistently grown since.
"I was fascinated by the animation, and how it was able to evoke happiness in those who watch it."
After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design, Cheong returned to Malaysia from Australia, submerging herself into the world of textile design and the multitude of responsibilities that come with it.
Having participated in Nando's Art Initiative 2017 recently, with "Sarang", an art piece inspired by batik designs and the mythical phoenix, she is concurrently trying her hand as an art director in commercials.
Why choose textile art design?
I'm interested in the process of making fabric. Fashion is about structure, the silhouette of the dress.
What makes the garment interesting is the fabric itself and the materials. I realised that I'm more interested in how to use the materials than how to make a dress.
Textile in a way relates to fashion. Most of my artworks are interactive, and it pops out, so you can touch them. Illustration can be included into the textile, and you can explore your own print. It's a different kind of approach with fashion.
Did you always want to be a fashion designer?
Yes, but now I'm more interested in being a textile artist. Working in fashion can be very fast paced, in terms of fashion and textile, and it follows trends. Nowadays we have highly competitive brands, but most don't pay attention to the quality of the material, so there is not much focus on the textile.
I'm attracted to the process and preservation of traditional arts, and how it relates to current trends. Fashion is just fashion; it's clothing. In textile, there are interiors, upholstery –there's a lot of exploration and experimentation.
What's the difference between working on commissions and art pieces compared to working as an art director?
In art directing, a lot needs to be taken care of; every single detail that people see on the screen. In textile, you need to focus on the materials, fibres and colours.
Art directing has me working with talents, the camera, and how the props look through the camera, and the necessary things like working with the director and screenwriter. My background in textile often influences me as an art director in creating the appropriate aesthetic.
Is it as artistically demanding?
They're both demanding in different ways. In textile design, I spend a lot of time looking for the proper materials and brainstorming ideas as the work in general is done by myself. For art directing, I have to work with others, as part of a cohesive, well-oiled team.
If you could choose one or the other, would you rather be a fashion designer or an art director?
I'd go with being an art director, as that way, I could still work in aspects of textile designing. I would also say it's more fun working with people as an art director compared to working on textile design by myself in a room.
Do you put a lot of thought into each art piece that you make?
Yes, every piece is personal and emotional. I can't create something without doing what I like. For textile design, it's always about what clients want, but I still try to incorporate my identity into the piece.
From starving to successful
Article from the Sun daily by Mark Mathen Victor (posted on 9 November 2017)
GLEEFULLY nodding in agreement to the mention of Howl's Moving Castle, an animated film by the maestro of Japanese animation Hayao Miyazaki that inspired a piece of art she had crafted using embroidery on gauze, Yim Yen Sum is a stripped down portrait of an artist.
Self-deprecating to a fault, and completely vacant in the stereotypes often associated to the more pretentious circle of artists, Yim claims, "I had no other talent. When I was in Form 3, I tried hard to study all the subjects, but my results remained bad. I felt like maybe I had no talent in studying, and that perhaps art is the only choice."
Not being bound by the shackles of responsibility as the youngest in her family, Yim would go on to join an art school, winning multiple awards and being part of various exhibitions along the way, before her big break came last year.
After almost seven years of living as a "starving artist", Yim submitted her embroidered artwork The Floating Castle for United Overseas Bank's 2016 Painting of the Year competition, ultimately snagging the US$25,000, (RM105,050) grand prize and a residency programme in Japan's Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.
Do you come from an artistically inclined family?
My mum loves craft. Before our family had financial problems, she would do crafts and decorations, but after, she had to work. By the time I was born, she had stopped completely. As for my father, he doesn't love art, and doesn't comment on my involvement in it.
As my mum was a chef, she would decorate the food so we would have the appetite to eat. I used to help her, when she would take the time to arrange things like carrots into flower shapes, small things that made the dishes look nice. It fascinated me.
Did they encourage you when you chose art?
As a first year student in college, I studied the basics of drawing, and when my mother saw my drawings, she responded "Oh, this is so realistic. My daughter painted this!" Initially they were really happy for what I could do, but after graduation, they were worried that art could not help me survive.
I tried to alleviate their worries, so I never asked them for money, and I had to work many jobs to survive, but after winning the prize money, I think they gradually began to believe in my ability.
Do you think it's necessary to study art in order to create art?
No, it's not necessary. There are artists without an art background, but they still do quite well. Yet what I cannot deny is that art school really helps us to find our voice. After I left high school, I knew nothing about art. But studying Fine Arts in Dasein Academy of Art really gave me a good guideline on how I could become an artist and which direction I could go towards.
What made you join UOB Malaysia's Painting of the Year competition?
I think you know! (laughs) The money! Other than the prize, I knew the winners from previous years. Gan Tee Sheng (2013's UOB Painting of the Year winner) is my best friend and I saw how his life changed after he won due to getting a lot of different opportunities.
At the time, I was still very poor and I had to do a lot of different jobs to sustain my livelihood, so I used to dream maybe I could join this competition, and it could change my life. I did not think I would win, as my experience was mostly in installation art pieces and sculptures, whereas the UOB competition were about paintings. I tried my luck.
Where do you get your inspiration for art from?
I grew up in KL, living in a flat with four houses. I never spoke to my neighbours, or knew anything about them. After I studied in college, I had a project about research and photography in Malacca. In my very first trip, I saw the difference while living with my friend's family in their neighbourhood, where everyone shared their food and conversed with each other as part of a community. It was very new to me. It made me think about the environment and the relationships between people.
Why was it important for you to highlight culture and tradition through art?
We study the past to know the future. We need to know who we are. This is the topic I felt would interest others as much as it interested me. Where we come from, who we are. I think this is important.
What was the experience that you took away from your Fukuoka Asian Art Museum residency programme?
It was my first time to Japan. I felt like the way they spoke and treated each other is so much different than what I had seen here. It was an interesting experience, because that environment affected how I talked and thought about things, even the language.
State of his art
Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 14 February 2017)
ACCORDING to renowned psychiatrist Dr Darold Treffert, savant syndrome is a condition in which a person with a developmental disorder demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities in far excess of what would be considered normal.
Despite being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at the age of five, Delwin Cheah Wien Loong scored 114 on a non-verbal IQ test, which is higher than average. Additionally, his passion for drawing has led him to become not only the youngest Malaysian savant artist to hold a solo exhibition, but also the world's youngest.
His biggest achievement is receiving two letters of praise from former President of the United States, Barack Obama which catapulted him to fame overnight. Even Queen Elizabeth II sent the 13-year-old a letter of praise through the British Ambassador to Malaysia.
"It used to be nothing special for Delwin, but nowadays he would tell people what he has achieved and succeeded in. He feels happy after completing and achieving something, but he doesn't boast," said Lawrence Cheah, Delwin's father who spoke to us on his behalf.
Where does his passion for art come from?
I think art is an expression of his deep passion for animals. He is always searching for information about animals of the farm, in the wild, or during prehistory. His classmates call him WAW or 'Walking Animals' Wikipedia', while some call him the Little Animal Scientist.
How has his art evolved, and how did it change him?
His artworks have become more detailed, and he has started applying different self-styled strokes. Some veteran artists have praised him for his maturity beyond his years in terms of his imagination and illustration. He began to change from a daydreamer to an alert teen. He has developed the level of curiosity for his surroundings that lapsed during his early years.
Does Delwin have a working style?
He doesn't work for anyone but himself. Nobody can influence his style or artworks. The themes are straightforward: animals, jungles, fantasy, human revolution, and nature.
Having met countless VIPs, how is he with people?
He would greet people politely, whether or not they are VIPs. He doesn't give special acknowledgement or attention to anyone. For him, his school principal and the prime minister are on the same level. In other words, he is a non-elitist.
Could you share about his latest venture?
He was featured in Chef Nic, a travelogue and cooking reality show starring Hong Kong actor and singer Nicholas Tse, Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh and Patrick Tse. They selected his artwork as part of the background in the show's prop restaurant. It was our first time on a TV show, and everything during production had to be on schedule. Thankfully, Delwin could adapt to it.
What are your hopes and dreams for him?
We just want him to live happily and become independent one day. Delwin said he wants to become an animal scientist and artist. We can help by providing him education and allowing him to explore a normal life. Nobody knows how they will turn out to be, but if you don't help them now, they will not be able to go anywhere.
Message to the world: Always stay humble and kind.
Quote to live by: "They laugh at me because I am different. I laugh at them because they are the same."
Favourite animals: Tiger, zebra, elephant, rhino, giraffe, orang utan and lion.
His wish: To meet former President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Article from the Sun daily by Bernard Cheah (posted on 29 November 2016)
HE may be quiet, but Yuli Yap has a lot on his mind and he transforms these thoughts into art.
Being diagnosed with autism did not stop this Ampang lad from obtaining a degree in graphic design from Curtin University, Australia. It certainly did not restrain him from setting up his own studio Predator Art and Design (facebook.com/YuliYapDesigns/), where he produces various artworks to serve the needs of skateboarders, surfers, bikers, hot rod enthusiasts, and metalheads.
His artworks have been featured in two solo exhibitions and other events such as The Best of You Exhibition 2015, Hong Kong International Art Fair in 2013 and the 7th Malaysia International Dive Expo 2012.
How long have you been making art?
I have been drawing since I was four years old, but I started the art studio in 2010. I use all kinds of mediums, ranging from digital to pen and ink, watercolours, acrylics, markers and pencils.
What inspires your artworks?
I am inspired by all kinds of things. For my acrylic paintings, I am inspired by nature and the cities. I like painting a lot of Japanese scenes as I am fascinated by Japanese culture, Zen and its simplicity. I am trying to diversify into other types of paintings, beyond Japanese culture. I get inspiration from vintage toys, hot rods, motorcycles, classic cars, video games, comic books, heavy metal, punk culture, movies, fast food, action sports, skateboarding, surfing, and tattoos.
Can you share about your fascination with Japanese culture and heavy metal.
I really like samurai and the Edo period of Japan before the Meiji Restoration. I am in love with the katanas (swords) and the armour that the samurai wore. What interests me most is the kabuto (helmet) with its intricate detail in design, in addition to the horns and the mask which were modelled after the Japanese rhinoceros beetle.
I like martial art such as ninjutsu and bushido, as well as the numerous weapons they have. I am also very fond of the Japanese tea ceremony, the art of growing bonsai, and the principle of Zen and simplicity, as well as Japanese mythology and folklore such as dragons, kappa, oni and tengu.
A lot of heavy metal graphics often reflect the mythological or legendary aspects of cultures of the long forgotten bygone era.
Besides autism itself, what are some challenges you had to overcome growing up?
I faced a lot of bullying in school and university, and rejection in general.
As a result, I took up skateboarding, an activity that helped me to do something on my own unlike team sports like football and basketball. Through skateboarding, I learnt balance, met new people and improved my self-confidence. I also started listening to metal and punk music to cope. From these, I channel all my angst into art.
Tell us about the stigmatisation of those living with autism.
A lot of people do not recognise autism in Asia. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome are perceived to be rude as they lack social cues, the ability to read body language and fit in with others. To most people, they come across as eccentric. In addition, it’s difficult to find employment because most corporations see autism as a liability.
What’s next for you?
I plan to keep producing art and make a name for myself in the art scene.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
Try not to be influenced by too many people. Art is a reflection of who you are; be yourself and it will reflect in your art. Individualism is sacred.
Other hobbies: Travelling, taking walks in the forest, and skateboarding.
Favourite food: Japanese.
Favourite flicks: Ghost Rider (2007), The Last Samurai (2013) and The Lord of the Rings film series
With ballpoint precision
Article from the Sun daily by Peony Chin (posted on 1 November 2016)
IT IS a wonderful thing to be gifted, especially if you discover it at a young age.
Syahbandi Samat started drawing since the age of four, but he never thought that he would one day make art for a living. As he simply put it, he just liked to draw. It was only when he was commissioned by a local daily to draw seven portraits of children, and got paid a good sum afterwards that he realised he could make money out of this talent.
“I was expecting RM50 or RM100, but suddenly, the cheque was worth RM700,” he marvelled.
From there, he jumped straight into the fine art scene – sending his artworks to galleries and working his way up. Today, he is based in Galeri Titikmerah in Art Row, Publika, where he can be seen working on his next showpiece.
What were you up to following your exposure in the local newspaper?
I joined a few exhibitions and competitions, including Malaysia Emerging Artist Award (MEAA). It’s a university level competition, so anyone in Malaysia can send in an artwork, and five winners will be chosen.
When I was producing the artwork for MEAA, I still worked at my father’s car wash shop. I’d draw when there’s no car to wash. After submitting my artwork, I received a call saying that I was one of the winners, and they flew me to the Philippines to do a show.
Was that your first international award?
Yes. It was also my entry into the fine art industry in Malaysia. I didn’t know anyone in the local art scene, how things work around here, how galleries function – I was just a kid going around and sending my artworks to galleries. That was five years ago.
Prior to Galeri Titikmerah, where were you based?
Before this, I was in Kepong. I wasn’t with any studio. I had this 20 by 10 feet container, which I bought and placed in my father’s car wash space. I stayed there and did my art inside.
Moving to Galeri Titikmerah was a public debut for me. When I stayed in the container, no one could see me. When I send my artwork to galleries, people could only see my artwork. Now that I’m based in Galeri Titikmerah, I can do my work there and the public can also see how I work. That way, I can expand my art.
How did you start out using a ballpoint pen as a medium for your artwork?
Back in high school, I used to draw portraits of historians in textbooks. I found out that I could draw with the ballpoint pen, and moved on to bigger sizes. I use ballpoint pens because I want to tell the public that you don’t need expensive materials to make art. All you need is your creativity and knowledge to explore the medium that you chose.
Is there a common theme to the art you make?
Usually, it’s about the environment and things that happen around me. Fairy tales; the original, dark ones – not the versions with happy endings. I do a bit of idioms too. But lately, I’m venturing more into dark and surreal art.
Any plans for yourself in terms of art?
For now, I’m aiming to do more art residencies outside of Malaysia. I need to learn from others, because I’m a self-taught artist. I’d like to join art residencies in Asian countries, particularly Japan and South Korea. Japan is very well known for its culture and politeness, and its art is very fine and detailed. I want to learn from them because it is relevant to the kind of art that I’m doing.
Work playlist: Anything from Frank Sinatra and Arctic Monkeys to P. Ramlee.
Artist he looks up to: Leonardo da Vinci.
Number of pens to create an art piece: More than 10.
Biggest piece of art drawn: 8 x 7 feet.
A medium he’d love to try: Marble or clay sculpting
Strokes of femininity
Article from the Sun daily by Yeo Chia Hui (posted on 4 October 2016)
MOST creative people are fuelled to create because they have this inherent desire to express themselves. And it is no different for fashion illustrator Celine Wong, or better known as Lihuà.
“Art captivates me because it gives me the space, freedom and ability to express my thoughts and feelings. I can pour my innermost emotions onto the canvas and expose myself completely, yet I can hide behind the image and remain almost anonymous and that is truly liberating,” said the 26-year-old.
Fascinated by women’s curves, “beautiful features” and human gestures, Wong uses mixed mediums such as traditional Chinese ink, watercolour and digital tools to create. She, and hence her work, is influenced by calligraphy as “it helps to capture the natural flow of the female form”.
“I have always had a passion for art. It was why I pursued my education in it and built my career around art. I used to work as a fine art lecturer and I’m now a passionate illustrator.”
Through an email interview, theSun caught up with this highly talented illustrator who recently graduated and is now working on her graduation showcase in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
You have 10 years of experience in traditional Chinese calligraphy. How did you get started with this art?
I was exposed to it since young because learning calligraphy is somehow a tradition in my family. I didn’t fancy it at first because I had to sit quietly at the desk for two hours to practise – for a five-year-old, that’s akin to a torture sentence!
Nevertheless, I stuck to it, developed my skills, and by the time I reached college, I started using it as a form of meditation.
Which of your many projects are you most proud of?
Every project has given me a different sense of achievement hence they have their own special places in my heart. Piece by piece, they have shaped my skill, direction and vision that made me who I am today. Therefore, it would be unfair to give any project more gravitas than the other as they all serve an equal role in my – personal and professional – development.
Compared to when you first started, has your illustrating style changed?
I wouldn’t say it has changed per se, but it has evolved. In the beginning, I learnt by emulating the works and styles of other artists. Once I’d nailed their techniques, I’d incorporate other styles into my work and eventually create my own voice. I feel that I have created a unique brand by learning from other styles.
Why are you fascinated by women’s curves, “beautiful features” and human gestures?
Every individual has his/her very own form of gestures and curves, and these quirks tell stories about them. Shapes portray attitude, gestures portray personality; what could be more interesting and challenging than this?
Art is a subjective matter; some may like your work and some may not. With this in mind, have you ever gotten any criticism and how do you deal with it?
Of course there will always be people who don’t like your work, and they’re entitled to their opinions. Being an artist in the public domain is a great exercise in patience, and it helps you to understand your self-worth too. I know my weaknesses and I know that I can always improve, thus whenever I’m criticised I’ll put a smile on my face and say thank you for the advice.
What do you think is most important in art?
To feel alive. To be alive. To create and have a positive outlet to channel my energies.
Best vacation: Amsterdam
Dislike: Raw tomatoes
Instagram handle: @artoflihua
Projects: Esmod KL Fashion Show, Chanel, Steel & Jelly and more
Better for Borneo
Article from the Sun daily by Rachel Law (posted on 20 September 2016)
ALENA Ose' Murang may not be very good at maths – her elder brother's got that covered – but she's profoundly inspired, and equally inspiring. The 27-year-old is an artist, musician, dancer, strategist and social entrepreneur all rolled into one; armed with a mission to bring about positive changes to society and the environment, and preserve her Borneon heritage.
She was born to a Kelabit father, but it was really her English-Italian mother – an anthropologist – who nurtured Alena's interests and identity in Kelabit culture, traditions, and their way of life. Growing up in Kuching, Alena took ngarang (dance in indigenous lingo) classes; learnt to play the sape (a traditional twostringed lute), weave and make costumes; even studied songs of the Kenyah tribe, and the language of the Penan people.
Although she has a management degree, Alena pursued an arts foundation course at Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts in 2014. But her dreams of becoming a fine artist were dashed, when her lecturers told her she wouldn't make a happy one.
"They told me, 'Fine artists are selfish and inward-thinking; while your work is all about your community and heritage.' I was quite troubled by that for a few months, but then I started ART4 (i.e. art for) – as a hashtag, initially – promising myself to use art as a medium for social impact.
"Eventually, I started taking commissioned artwork and performances to ART4 (www. alenamurang.com). I also do management consulting, and the revenue I get from those I channel into cultural heritage and environmental impact projects," explained Alena.
This Saturday, the multi-talented lass is hosting a public launch for her debut EP, Flight which was released last month.
Have you explored your English and Italian roots?
I studied in the UK for five years, but I was a bit naive. I didn't like England because I didn't see any culture, which to me, meant colourful traditional garbs, beads, celebrations and dances back then. Only when I was a bit older I realised culture is effervescent.
I've never lived in Italy, but I try to go back every year. I really connect with where my grandma's from, which is Naples in southern Italy. It's rich in history and culture, and in a lot of ways people there are very similar to Malaysians. They love their food, and park on yellow lines. I do want to explore that side more – I just haven't done it yet.
How is storytelling through painting, dancing and playing music different for you?
Honestly, painting is my first love. I feel that I do music more, but I'd rather paint – it's my ultimate form of expression. With the sape, I don't write my own songs so I don't express all of myself through it. I use it as a medium to tell stories of my roots. I do traditional dances to keep the art form, so the only stories I tell are why and when we used to dance.
Which was the most interesting project you've done under ART4?
In January last year, we collaborated with Biji-biji Initiative to upcycle a helipad in Genting Highlands. It wasn't used anymore so they wanted an art on it. We painted a big bird, where one of the wings came out as a 3D sculpture – made using metal parts welded by Bijibiji.
About 80% of everything we upcycled were from Genting. We rummaged through its waste management area, and found old casino chairs, pots and pans; and took apart an old Transformer – it was like a playground for us! But it was taken down early this year, because Genting is going through a transformation programme. Outdoor art is almost always ephemeral.
Tell us about your EP, Flight.
My music is quite traditional, but I want to make it relatable, so that people in the urban setting and people who don't know anything about Sarawak are able to associate with it. In Flight, I play the sape and sing, and it's backed by other instruments such as violin, harp and some percussion.
Spirit animal: Hornbill.
Dessert of choice: "Dark chocolate anything!"
Favourite scents: Freshly ground coffee, or freshly mown grass.
Inspirations: Parents; social entrepreneurs Biji-biji Initiative, and Build for Tomorrow.
Favourite artists: Vincent van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Cilau Valadez.
Fear factor: Lizards. "I can handle snakes and scorpions – just not lizards."
Fusing nature with art
Article from the Sun daily by Michelle Lim (posted on 1 September 2016)
MANY people have the perception that art can only be done by the talented. According to Raja Azeem Idzham (also popularly known as Ajim Juxta), passion and perseverance play a major role in an artist's success as well. Without these key traits, it will be difficult to go far based on talent alone.
Azeem has been exposed to art from as young as the age of four. His late parents, while not artists, were art graduates and have imparted their appreciation and love for art to their children. In fact, the architecture graduate decided to pursue art full time after working for a while.
"The first few years were definitely tough. People tend to ask if I can cari makan (make a living) as an artist," Azeem recalled.
"I said, of course you can – but it is not easy."
Since then, Azeem has been working on his pieces in his gallerycum-studio, Titikmerah in Publika, which is shared with two other prominent artists.
"Working on my art here has allowed me to engage with passers-by and share about my work in person," Azeem said, adding that being on site helps break the stigma that all artists are reclusive.
Last April, Azeem was gifted a Young Art Award at the 2016 Young Art Taipei fair in Taiwan.
"Getting this award made all the difference in my career as an artist," enthused the 28-year-old.
Which genre would you say your art belongs to?
There's no specific genre for what I do. However, the closest answer would be a hybrid of architecture and conceptual, abstract art. It is also surreal and contemporary at the same time.
Where do you usually draw your inspiration from?
From the people around me, and the many issues we have – especially environmental ones. As you can see from my Arcology series, most of my work contains elements of nature. This series is my reaction towards the treatment of humans on the environment. It paints a bleak, dystopian future to remind us to do something before it's too late.
Tell us about the first piece of art you created.
The most memorable piece I can think of was created when I was about 10. I turned a 70 sen exercise book into a comic about superheroes and everyday life. My teacher was impressed when she saw it.
What were some of the toughest phases in your career as an artist?
The beginning is always tough when it comes to getting exposure, recognition and sales. It takes a lot of perseverance to go through this stage. Many artists would have already given up and gone back to the nine-to-five corporate life. I'm grateful that I managed to pull through those difficult moments; otherwise I wouldn't be where I am now.
If art were a superpower, what would you do with it?
Grow more trees, and reduce the amount of buildings that are not eco-friendly.
That said, what would your dream project look like?
I'd like to collaborate with architects and engineers to fuse our buildings with nature. I want to turn all of our skyscrapers into buildings that are sustainable and
Do you think social media has played a role in your success?
In some ways, it has helped me reach out to a community of people who heavily relies on social media to find artists. Fans sometimes turn into buyers; but social media shouldn't be the only outlet to rely on.
What is your daily routine like?
I usually sketch in the mornings, and by noon I'll be at Titikmerah to work on bigger pieces. The rest of the day is spent networking and responding to emails. People often ask if it's a real job. Yes, it is – minus the punchcard and dress code.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Work hard, but remember to appreciate time with your family.