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