by HAZATUL SYIMA HARON
SIMULACRUM. Oxford Languages defines it as an image or representation of someone or something.
That is the theme of an ongoing group exhibition organised by Titikmerah Collective at Zhan Art | Space in Petaling Jaya.
The show features over 50 artworks by 18 visual artists, comprising core members of the collective and invited artists.
Ajim Juxta, one of Titikmerah’s founders, said the collective wanted a wider theme that doesn’t limit the subject matters done by each individual artist, thus not compromising their works’ narrative and idea.
That, he said, is how “Simulacrum” came to be as artworks presented to the public are often secondhand truths that are subject to various interpretations and changes, according to what they mean to the artists.
Planning for the group exhibition started before Covid, but it was shelved several times due to movement restrictions.
“Simulacrum” features works from established and new artists, namely Ajim, Adeputra Masri, Fathullah Luqman, Syahbandi Samat, Engku Iman, Caryn Koh, Blankmalaysia, Ho Mei Kei, Zahran, Arifin Amin, Amey Azizan, Ellis Khan, Izzati Suza, Amalia Syakirah, Dysphic, Ahmad Syahrul, Skye and Tera.ZF.
Upon stepping into the gallery, one can be forgiven if one assumed that dark undertones preside over the exhibition. A majority of the artworks on display seemed dark and intense, as if reflecting the effects that the pandemic had over the artists.
But as you look closer at the artworks, it’s not so much a “dark” theme running through “Simulacrum”, but rather the stark depictions of the artists’ inner feelings and thoughts on subject matters such as job burnout, political manoeuvrings, life choices and illusion versus reality. Essentially, their state of mind at the point of creation.
My personal favourite is a ballpoint pen on canvas titled “Burnout” by Syahbandi. Priced at RM1,600, the artwork depicts a stacking of rocks with each rock representing the stress level and challenges in one’s life.
It asks the question: How much burden can you bear before you break apart? The piece has been sold.
For Ajim, his biggest masterpiece on show — “Sanubari: Marak Malam” — was a result of him “burning the candle” at night to create the piece. It is a “scream” embodied in a painting, in contemplation and reminiscent of the essence of his previous works. The acrylic on canvas work is available at RM12,000.
New artist, Ellis, only started creating art during the pandemic. The former gallery manager has two pieces on show — a digital collage print on photo paper called “Little Help” (RM1,200) and a digital collage print on Giclee paper titled “Introversion” (RM1,500).
Another digital collage print on Giclee paper aptly titled “Simulacrum” (RM1,500) by Ellis is no longer displayed as it has been taken by a buyer.
So far, the exhibition has seen five of the artworks on display sold. Zhan Art | Space founder Desmond Tong said the five sales were by five different artists and he expects more sales as the exhibition winds down by the end of this month.
“Sales have been a little bit slow, but I do see it picking up,” he said.
Titikmerah’s Ajim said the trend now is people are starting to “spend out” on art, ie with the travel restrictions lifted, art buyers are going out of the country to add to their collection.
He said some galleries are saying that their sales are slowing again, as buyers are now not restricted to local exhibitions featuring mainly locals artists.
But the local art scene is seeing a pick up in activities. Even the newly refurbished National Art Gallery reopened recently with four new exhibitions and an exciting set of art programmes for the year.
Tong told The Malaysian Reserve that Zhan Art | Space has seen an increase in artists wanting to exhibit their work.
“Our calendar this year is full. Next year, we’re already 80% full.”
Growing Art Industry
Ajim and Ellis said they have noticed an increase in the number of new artists, as the pandemic made people become more expressive and creative due to the restrictions.
Covid also caused job redundancies, thus those unemployed with a modicum of interest in art deciding to take it up full time.
The pandemic also caused social media to become more influential, including in encouraging people to create art to cope with their feelings and state of mind.
Titikmerah’s Ajim said when the collective was founded in 2014, there were few artists back then that were tied to galleries or institutions.
The rest were floundering on their own without representation, with many never making it or staying on the fringes, or leaving the scene totally.
That’s where the collective stepped in to give a voice to all artists, including new ones, by getting together to exhibit, share ideas and continuously learn from one another.
Now, Ajim said, art collectives have become the norm and more artists get the chance to showcase their creations.
Also, back then there were fewer galleries in existence. Now, many artists have their own little studios where they can exhibit their own works or those of their collective and others.
The art world, however, has not been spared the worldwide problem of rising prices that has plagued consumer goods especially.
The pandemic and its accompanying restrictions had resulted in a shortage of some art products such as acrylic paints due to delayed and costly shipment, as well as “panic buying” — causing prices to go up.
Both Ajim and Ellis cited increasing prices of canvas and paper products commonly used by artists.
Framing of artwork has also gone up. Ajim said framing a 2” by 2” artwork used to cost RM50, but now it’s risen by 20% to RM60.
Similarly, the commission taken by a gallery in Malaysia has also increased.
Some 10 years earlier, the commission was an average 40% (some galleries even set 30%), but now, especially after pandemic, the average is 50% and can go up to 60% if the gallery takes the artwork to an art expo abroad.
Ajim said this actually depends on the gallery. An upcoming toy exhibition being organised by Titikmerah Collective at his studio in Taman Tun Dr Ismail will only be charging a commission of 30%.
“Simulacrum” runs till July 31, 2022, at ZHAN Art | Space, The School, at Jaya One in Petaling Jaya.