THE miniature soldiers. And suddenly, somewhere deep in the recesses of my memory bank, images of a childhood idyll sprawled on the carpet of our modest living room ‘main askar askar (playing soldiers) with my brother, begin to surface.
“Oh my god, I remember playing with these when I was a child,” I exclaim excitedly to Azrin Mohd, the artist behind this eye-catching assemblage (similar to collage but with 3-dimensional elements projecting out of or from the substrate) titled ‘Tik...Tok...Tik...Tok...’ His canvas is a recycled wooden panel from where he has created a cabinet housing an eclectic collection of his own collectibles as well as found objects to convey a very strong narrative.
Resuming my scrutiny of his ‘creation’, memories once again rush forth as my eyes settle on a yellowing ‘horse racing’ calendar pinned in the centre of the wooden cabinet. “My late grandmother used to have that in her kampong house in Penang,” I mumble, nostalgically recalling how the simple act of tearing off a page from the calendar to denote the end of a month was something that filled me with glee. Tok would always reprimand me for never waiting until the month actually ended before mutilating her calendar. An old lamp, a vintage clock, a cynical-looking plastic Donald Duck, some broken chess pieces, a wooden Trojan horse and a fierce dragon make up the rest of the ‘inhabitants’ of this cabinet of curios.
The talented Azrin, who’s also the creative director of AM Creative Space, is among 50 established and emerging artists displaying their artworks in the modern warehouse-like confines of NSTP’s Galeri Prima (GP) in Jalan Riong, Bangsar for a charity exhibition titled Altruism. A first time collaboration between GP and Segaris Art Centre (located at the Publika Shopping Gallery in Solaris Dutamas, KL), the exhibition, which showcases 80 artworks comprising a variety of styles and mediums, took the team a month to put together.
The participating artists had at some point or another exhibited at Segaris and were invited to select something from their collection for this noble outing. “What better way for artists to play their part for a good cause than through their canvas? This is a great platform for them,” remarks Segaris Art Centre’s CEO, Nizam Rahmat, whom I’d met earlier.
True to its name, Altruism, the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others, or an act of willingness to do things that bring advantages to others, has been put together with the aim of raising funds for communities in need. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Tabung Bencana NSTP-Media Prima, a charity devoted to disaster relief and offering financial assistance to victims of wars/conflicts.
Local boy Azrin who grew up just around the corner from the gallery, in nearby Kg Kerinchi, to be precise, enjoys collecting old things although he’s quick to add that he’s not what you might call an antique collector. “I just like to collect things and then give new meanings to them,” he begins, before pointing out that the clock I’d been eyeing so curiously originally belonged to someone else. “By the time it came to me, I attached my own meaning to it. It represents a self-timer.”
Those familiar with Azrin’s body of work will know that they either revolve around his childhood memories or involve some form of social commentaries. This particular piece which he has selected specifically for this exhibition was completed sometime in 2010 and was inspired by the war in Gaza. “I was musing about humanity; the fact that we waste so much time fighting for unnecessary things. Hence the title, Tik... Tok... Humans are just like time bombs.”
Directing my gaze to the words scribbled on the cabinet, he reads aloud: “Time is what we want most... but is what we use worst. Don’t you think that’s true?” What I had initially thought was just an exercise in nostalgia turns out to be so much more. His cabinet seems to hold a darker message.
In fact, if you look close enough — and ponder hard enough — you’ll realise that all the elements that he has brought together smack of war and animosity. The broken chess pieces, the Trojan horse, the scary-looking dragon. And then there’s Donald Duck. His expression is one of cynicism; there’s certainly nothing friendly about our friend Donald. “You’re right. I decided to use this Donald Duck because I liked the look on his face. It’s as if he’s laughing at our human foibles.”
But wait, what of the oil lamp? I ask, charmed by the vintage item to the right of the cabinet. A smile creeps slowly across Azrin’s face. “The lamp is light, and light represents hope. Despite the darkness, there’s still light somewhere.”
Azrin, who’s known for his assemblage work and has exhibited in countries such as Japan and Germany, confides that what he uses as materials for his work have their roots in his childhood memories. “My siblings (Azrin is the third of six siblings) and I grew up in a squatter settlement in Kg Kerinchi. My father was just a general worker with MAS and mum, a housewife. We never got toys like kids do these days.”
A faraway look in his eyes, he recalls: “I used to play with things that I found. As a child, I really coveted those Tamiya miniatures where you assemble things together but of course I never got them from my parents. Whatever I had, I found myself. I used to spend time drawing pictures of all these toys that I wanted in my work books and text books!”
So it’s little surprise then that when Azrin, who graduated from the-then ITM or Institut Teknologi Mara (today UiTM) in 1991 as a graphic designer, embarked on his assemblage ‘journey’, his materials comprised the kind of items he used to collect as a child. “If you see my earlier works, there’s a lot of this kind of stuff. But of course, as the years went by, I moved on. Back in 2010, I worked with found objects but later I graduated to 3D printing.”
His favourite subjects at school (he was a student at La Salle, PJ) were art and history. “I guess that’s why I like to document the past in my own way, not necessarily to criticise,” adds Azrin, who also has a Masters in Fine Art from ITM.
Much as I’m enjoying my chat with the artist, there are still 79 other artworks to check out. His voice low, Azrin, sensing my imminent departure, confides that he’s delighted to have been invited to be a part of this exhibition. “I see it as my responsibility to help others. I’d be very happy if my work is sold because at least some portion of that money can be channelled to those who are really in need.” Incidentally, the asking price for Azrin’s piece is in the region of RM7,000.
WHEN THE TWITTER SINGS A NASTY SONG by Nasir Che Din
Possibly the largest piece in the exhibition, this artwork by contemporary artist Nasir Che Din using oil and acrylic, offers a striking narrative about the modern day issue of the ‘have’s’ and ‘have-not’s’, the poor and the rich, the wealthy and the destitute, and makes us realise just how wide the chasm is.
LUAR DIAM by Mat Ali Mat Som
A striking sculpture crafted from metal, wood and stone resembling the mystical Malay keris. It’s the skilled handiwork of Mat Ali Mat Som, an artist who uses sculpture as a vehicle to share his knowledge and enthusiasm of silat.
WAR MASTER by Syahmi Jamaluddin
There’s no mistaking the steely stare of the leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler. This bewitching mixed media piece is the handiwork of young artist Syahmi Jamaluddin who has a background in Fine Art.
MENYALAK BUKIT by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed
Here’s another impressive piece, which is akin to a blackboard, with pieces of colourful chalks lining the ledge. This piece calls to attention to what’s happening with our forests thanks to the march of development, a topic that this established artist, famed for his highly textured, three-dimensional practice, is particularly fond of. It’s also the priciest piece in this exhibition at RM60,000.
TRADISI 1 by Abu Bakar Sabran
A mixed media artist, one of the most exciting things about Abu Bakar Sabran is his ability to use various mediums, incorporate various ideas and techniques. In this piece, he has combined copper and aluminium to produce a canvas that’s truly rich and eye-catching.
WHERE Galeri Prima, 31, Jalan Riong, Balai Berita Bangsar, KL.
WHEN Until Dec 8, 2017. 10am to 6pm daily. Weekends by appointment.
Prices start from RM500.