How do you review artworks in a gallery? What goes through your mind when you’re observing an art piece? How do you even observe the artworks displayed?

How do you then translate what you’ve experienced visually onto paper? For the common man, reading a review on an art exhibition is like reading the business section in the newspapers. They’re complex, academic, riddled with jargons, and worse — boring! In short, they’re non-inclusive.

So when we recently stumbled upon Malaysia’s father of animation, Hassan Muthalib’s humorous but in-depth review of filmmaker, photographer and visual artist Sherman Ong’s exhibition, Cock Head & Other Stories on Facebook, we were elated. It was a breath of fresh air!

We found the perfect art review that encapsulated all we felt. Hassan’s observations were not only insightful but they made an entertaining, fun, and easy read. If we are to obtain support from the world outside, it’s time to speak in their language.

This is why we got Hassan’s permission to post his review (originally published as a Facebook note) onto Eksentrika.  Here’s how to write an in-depth review on an art exhibition in a fun, entertaining, and insightful way. Enjoy!

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Sherman Ong contemplates his art…

My good friend, Sherman Ong, indefatigable as ever, is having his first solo exhibition in Malaysia after having made it all over the world for quite a bit of time, winning awards and accolades into the bargain.

Titled Cock Head & Other Stories, it is an exhibition of art installations, photographs, sound recordings and videos. Some of it uses found material like stones, bricks, sticks, branches, (murky) water, beads, chains, driftwood, and (arrggghh!) undergarments. Some poetry even comes into the picture, courtesy of his friends.

All these may not break your bones but they will definitely scatter your brain cells in the right direction as you ponder, reflect & ruminate upon the what Sherman is trying to say about Malaysian society & its milieu – and especially, politics, which, for a decade, has become a favourite playground for expression by filmmakers, theatre people, cartoonists & artists.

Great art is always a comment and reflection of the times in which it is made. A Malacca-born Peranakan, Sherman, a shy, unassuming artist, photographer and filmmaker, displays a humourous side in his works, taking a rib at politicians and the promises they have been making, especially when election time comes around.

Sherman’s ‘scripted punchlines and casual metaphors’ are quite easily deciphered if we have been more than a little attentive to the goings-on in Malaysia. With tongue-in-cheek, Sherman has been having some fun in putting this exhibition together, now on display at Suma Orientalis, Petaling Jaya (just a little ways from the University Hospital).

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With gallery owner, Kris Lee, Sherman & my Bunian Headman friend. He’s quite a flamboyant and with-it guy for a Bunian!

I paid a visit to the exhibition with a friend, an invisible one at that – a Bunian – a headman and one of the characters in Malay cosmology that was recently put on the screen in Mamat Khalid’s Hantu Kak Limah.

He asked me to call him Mat B which was his Facebook moniker. He had heard of the exhibition and was keen to see it. He decided to remain invisible as he didn’t want to scare the s**t out of the gallery owner, Kris Lee. Sherman was okay as he was also into all the extrasensory thingys.

The moment Mat B entered the gallery, he let out a shriek. He recognised many of the branches, tree trunk and beads. They went missing from his forest home a few months back. I whispered to him that we’ll talk about compensation later.

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EXHIBIT 1: MENUNGGU HANG TUAH MASUK MELAMAR (Awaiting Hang Tuah’s Proposal)

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Not just a pod, part of a tree trunk & construction site bricks…

MAT B: Huh, I don’t see any Hang Tuah. That’s my tree trunk! The missus isn’t going to be very happy about what they have done with it. It looks a little – er, uh…

ME: Shhhh, this is art-lah. Ahem, I don’t understand it either.

MAT B: Why the blue colour?

ME: The colours of a political party. You know-lah, every time they talk about dignity, they invoke Hang Tuah’s name. But now no more, ever since they found out that he was really a Chinese. I think Sherman is his descendant…degenerated into Hang Seni.

EXHIBIT 2: KENDAK (Malay: Intimate Relationships)

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From film to (sex) video…

MAT B: Aiyoyo, dirty laundry show to people, ah?!ME: These are very clean, washed at a laundromat. Malay films had romantic scenes then. But now, have progressed a lot. They make actual sex scenes, then viral it on social media. Very progressive. No wonder they are in politics! Hump same sex partner, then openly declare it in the media. Maybe they are psycho or just retarded-lah…

MAT B: Yakah? Let’s get out of here! This one not my scene.

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EXHIBIT 3: BUKAK KE? (Is it Open? In Japanese: Bukkake. Er, uh, a satire with a strange activity performed on incompetent politicians).

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Beaded, coloured dried fruits converge to the box of glass shards. The inner part of the 5 fruits depict the colours of the different political parties.

MAT BE: Oh, this one very patriotic! Fanis and Gobingh will love this. Got Rukun Negara also.

ME: Heh heh, not what it seems. It’s making fun of politicians. Viewers get to write any one of the tenets of the Rukun Negara & put them in the box.

MAT B: Why on shards of glass?

ME: The better to kill you, my dear! (Maniacal laughter).

MAT B: Okay, back to the jungle for me. I can’t understand you guys!

EXHIBIT 4: TAK TAU CHAI SI (Baba Malay: a reckless person/or advice to someone on the brink of danger)

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MAT B: This one I can understand. All these young farts who become politicians got no brains-lah. They create the Jawi issue but they have no clue on how to go about it. They think they are like the experts in the lion dance, can jump deftly on top of high poles without falling.

ME: Socrates said it long ago. The young go about as if they are intoxicated. See those 2 young farts in the films, ONE TWO JAGA and FLY BY NIGHT. They don’t listen to their older brother. Finally, everything is destroyed.

MAT B: Jungle where got cinema woi!

EXHIBIT 5: MALAYSIA DI HUJUNG TANDUK (Malaysia in a Dangerous Situation)

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Forest flotsam pointing to a long-simmering situation……

MAT B: Ah, this one is nice. Nice colourful beads. Reminds me of something-lah but what, ah?

ME: Okay, I show you something from Google on my phone. Familiar?

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MAT B: Ayyo, no wonder! KL hijacked them for a long time. Better listen to the 2 countries-lah. They are not your vassals. But what’s that goat doing down there at the bottom? Aiyo, this Sherman! This piece also he hijack from my front porch, ah!

ME: That’s Temasek, the lion that sometimes acts like a goat. Very small but got power. Probably drinking Power Root a lot. Now jumping around all over the place. Happy because got out of Malaysia. Otherwise headed nowhere today and also with 1MDB headache…

EXHIBIT 6: ZAKAR NAIK (Rise of the Phallus)

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Phallic & other sexual symbols galore…

MAT B: This one very interesting. We also got the same problem. Using animals to get it across is very correct. Tigers, rooster, goats, cats, gorilla…hee hee.

ME: Tigers are very Chinese while roosters are very Malay. The gorilla thumping its chest in the picture on the wall is very Western. All pointing to the subject of – male virility. Sit down and watch the video. So many videos on YouTube showing how to enlarge the thingy, et cetera. Listen to the audio recording. A certain community is very much into this.

MAT B: Heh heh, I got 4 wives-lah. Don’t mock me, ah!

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Hints of inequality: Locals vs foreigners.

ME: Tun Dr Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma talks about genetics being the problem with a certain community. The foreigners work hard to build the nation while we are into other things, mostly for personal gratification. And the inscription by an Indonesian construction worker sums it all up. But we can’t seem to get the real picture.

EXHIBIT 7: UNTUK TIKUS BERDASI (For the Rats in Ties)

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Human rat trap…

MAT B: Wah, big mouse trap! How come?

ME: For the rats wearing suits and ties. Just wave money in front of the politicians and you’ve got them hooked!

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MAT B: Okay, now I go talk business with Sherman. Pay up or I cast a spell on him for 7 generations!

ME: Aiyo, this guy is worse than the capitalists-lah!

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A poem. And notes from Sherman.

 

*** Header image by Hassan Muthalib and Sherman Ong. All images in this post are by Hassan Muthalib, who also permitted the republishing of this piece. Read the original piece here.  

Sherman Ong’s exhibition, Cock Head & Other Stories is on everyday until November 17, 2019 from 11am to 7pm daily except Tuesdays & public holidays at Suma Orientalis. Here’s another post you might enjoy. 

Every One Of These Instagrammable Sculptures Have A Story To Tell

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