All about the struggle, acknowledgement and acceptance…

The artworks from the 2019 UOB Painting of the Year competition are on display from Nov 9, 2019, to Feb 20, 2020, at UOB Art Gallery in Singapore

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by BERNAMA

CHEONG Kiet Cheng (picture) won the prestigious 2018 United Overseas Bank (M) Bhd (UOB) Painting of the Year award for her intricate painting “Through the Eye of the Flower”.

The nature-inspired painting was completed with ink on canvas and it is meant to show a sense of optimism.

“Through the Eye of the Flower” depicts Cheong’s two young daughters which resemble hope and a bright future, while the crocodile sits on the periphery to show the dark side of the painting.

Not only does the painting feel optimistic, but also patriotic as she painted images of the “Sun” and the curved “Whale” to show the symbols of the Jalur Gemilang: The star and the golden crescent.

Thanks to her art, Cheong has also been selected for the UOB-Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) Artists Residency Programme this year.

“I am looking forward to spending the month collaborating and learning from renowned and international artists, as well as experiencing a new culture and sharing my work with a wider audience,” she said.

Home to more than 2,900 artworks, the FAAM in Japan collects and exhibits modern and contemporary art in Asia.

It seems that Cheong’s artwork on hope and optimism did her justice last year, but it does not end there.

In fact, “Through the Eye of the Flower” has shone its ray of hope on the winners of 2019 UOB Painting of the Year. The winners were positive to convey their important messages through their artworks.

Nurul Asikin says the ‘Bunga Moyang’ is based on an origami weave by the Mah Meri people usually using pandan leaves and sometimes the nipah (Source: UOB)

Struggling for a Better Future

Meanwhile, the winner of the 2019 UOB Painting of the Year (Malaysia) is 37-year-old Cheng Yen Pheng who presented her unique work, “Tug of War: My Homeland”, a work that calls for Malaysians to change the country.

“I am confident Malaysians can achieve great success and harmony once we go through this difficult but necessary process. In my artwork, I aim to express how struggle arises when we try to strike the right balance between deliberation and decision, to achieve positive change for the country ultimately,” she said.

Since Cheng had learned the art of paper-making, she also learned how to make the canvas herself using homemade mulberry pulp.

“I also learned how to make paper by myself. I planted the mulberry tree, then I used it to make the paper,” she said.

The process of making the paper would usually take her a month, while stitching it would take an additional month.

Cheng’s message of her country’s struggle for a better future can be highlighted on the usage of weed roots which are strewn within the outline of a map of Malaysia.

On the other hand, the lines of the cotton thread shows people being involved in a tug-of-war.

“I met the indigenous people in Miri, Sarawak, and celebrated the New Year. They have a sort of Sports Day. When I play games with them, they played it with such innocence and patience. I felt so touched by them and this idea had been in my mind for a few years,” she said.

The chief judge of the 2019 UOB Painting of The Year (Malaysia) Bibi Chew said although the panel considers aesthetically beautiful artworks, they also consider if the messages are executed well through the medium that the artist uses.

“For instance, Cheng’s use of lalang roots conveys scale and pervasiveness, while the tactility and fragility of the fauna is symbolic of the condition of society.

“She also uses homemade pulp as her canvas to relay a message of how Malaysians are resilient and resourceful even amid adversity and struggle,” Chew said, adding that she applauded Cheng’s skills and creativity.

Cheng received a cash prize of RM100,000 as the winner of the 2019 UOB Painting of the Year (Malaysia), for the Established Artists category.

In my artwork, I aim to express how struggle arises when we try to strike the right balance between deliberation and decision, to achieve positive change for the country ultimately, says Cheng

Acknowledging Different Cultures

Graphic instructor Nurul Asikin Roslan’s career seems to be on the right track, as she won the “Most Promising Artist of the Year” award for her piece “Bunga Moyang (Flower of the Spirits)”.

Nurul Asikin said the “Bunga Moyang” is based on an origami weave by the Mah Meri people usually using pandan leaves and sometimes the nipah.

“They actually have many functions,” she said.

The origami is used for important occasions such as weddings and funerals as a mark of respect for their ancestors.

“‘Bunga Moyang’ enables the ancestor’s spirits to recognise us as visitors. When we arrived, they must know that we are busy, so they won’t disturb us. For me, this is beautiful, so I need to let others be aware about this,” Nurul Asikin said.

She also created the “Bunga Moyang” to raise awareness on the different cultures in Malaysia, especially those that are not widely known, such as the indigenous Mah Meri tribe.

“We must know about the different culture, so that we can live in peace and harmony. So, that’s why I’m taking steps to introduce the culture to others so that people will understand,” Nurul Asikin said.

There have been many artists who have visited the indigenous people or “orang asli” villages and painted portraits of them, but Nurul Asikin wanted to do something different.

“I know they have many items or many tools. There are many qualities inside the indigenous people, so that’s why I took the ‘Bunga Moyang’. Then, I look at the patterns,” she explained.

Cheng highlights the message of her country’s struggle for a better future through ‘Tug of War: My Homeland’, with the usage of weed roots strewn within the outline of a map of Malaysia (Source: UOB)

Completing the piece only took Nurul Asikin two weeks, but the research took her 1½ year just to understand what the origami was all about.

“When I studied the subject and started working on the piece, I felt that ‘We can get something different!’. So, I decided to imitate a modern approach to the design.

“They are using the triangular patterns, so when we combine all the triangles, it becomes polygons,” she said.

Nurul Asikin greatly admired the pattern of the “Bunga Moyang” that she couldn’t stop looking at the piece from start to finish.

“I visited the Mah Meri village and I attended their festivals everyday which lasted for three days. On the last day, I waited till the event finished and I asked them for a ‘Bunga Moyang’,” she recalled.

Luckily enough, the villagers were helpful and Nurul Asikin managed to get all the origami they found during the festival.

“Every pattern, every size brings different effects. The movements and the rhythms of the pattern itself can bring different feelings. So that’s why for me, it’s a very good exploration,” she said.

Nurul Asikin won a cash prize of RM15,000 in the the Emerging Artists category.

According to Anagard, the painting outlines the distinctive architecture of the prayer house (Source: UOB)

The Art of Acceptance

Like Nurul Asikin, Indonesian Anagard emphasises on the importance of accepting the diversity of cultures, ethnicities and faith.

Back in his homeland, the Yogyakarta- based street artist is known for his themes of anti-extremism. He mostly paints murals of animal faces or masks.

Anagard was recently awarded with the 2019 UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year for his piece, “Welcome Perdamaian, Goodbye Kedengkian (Welcome Peace, Goodbye Hostility)”.

“Through ‘Welcome Perdamaian, Goodbye Kedengkian’, I wanted to share the importance of harmony, unity and peace. I was inspired by a house of prayer known as Rhema Hill situated in Central Java, where people of different countries meet to explore their spiritual selves,” he explained.

According to Anagard, the painting outlines the distinctive architecture of the prayer house. It has a roof with a shape of a dove’s head in which it symbolises peace.

The artist used a mix of traditional and contemporary styles, and fused various life forms and symbols to create a masterpiece that is both intriguing and thought-provoking.

Anagard created the piece using a distinctive stencil on aluminium technique which showed an immersive, three-dimensional effect to his painting, which might have captivated the panel of judges.

“I am honoured to represent Indonesia at the regional level and to win the 2019 UOB Southeast Asian Painting of the Year award. It has been a fulfilling experience.

“I look forward to discovering the next phase of my journey as an artist and to continue to push the boundaries of creative art and self-expression,” he said.

The winning artworks will be on display alongside other paintings from the 2019 UOB Painting of the Year competition at UOB Art Gallery, UOB Plaza 1 at 80 Raffles Place in Singapore.

The exhibition started on Nov 9, 2019, and will end on Feb 20, 2020.