Reviews

FEAR & HORROR IN KELANA JAYA

by Laura Fan, The Edge; Options, 14 JULY 2003

Nestled in the heart of suburbia, Newton's Funfair display musings on cannibalism, rape and murder. Yet rather than incite horror, the darkness of the images are tempered with the philosophical and playful styles used to present the images.

This collaborative series by Chang Yoong Chia and Fariza Azlina Isahak incorporates the violence that lurks throughout Chang's oil paintings and the ironic whimsy of Fariza's. The resulting images, hopefully, represent a starting point for a more extensive body of work.

The juxtaposition of abhorrent violence with everyday charm captures a very real undercurrent of Malaysian life. Newspapers report on the testimonies of witch doctors (bomoh) at murder trials and horrific crimes takes place at he most innocuous of suburban malls. Domestic unrest and upheaval takes places against the backdrop of advertisements featuring smiling maidens urging people to Cuti-cuti Malaysia (vacation locally) and emphasise the friendly nature of Malaysians. It's about time this weirdness emerge in art.

The baby cot quilts encapsulate this horrific banality. Two coverings rest next to each other. One features sex, the other death - the universal concern of man. The quilt entitled Aphrodisiac displays a large open vagina inits centre. Small squares bordering the centre depict images of swimming sperms, an ovarian egg, figures being raped and lingerie-like clumps of lace. Hemlock features a central panel of rioters bordered by images of a person burning to death (entitled Cooked), zombies, a morgue, snipers and strangulations.

Juxtaposing the cosy connotations of hand-sewn quilts with these scenes epitomises the social problems and their intrusion that takes place every time a newspaper is opened or the news comes on television. Placing them on an objectthat suggests safety and protection of infants renders the horror of these acts viscerally evident.

There are several thought-provoking collages and drawings as well. Two timely works comment obliquely on the war. The Never Ending Story features the title, Face the Facts: Bombing Works. The texts refers to Donald Rumsfield's contention that for the war against Iraq, superior airpower and technologically advanced missiles can reduce the need for ground support. The image, however, features a collage of a family's financial planning needs, such as saving to buy a house and saving for emergencies.

Beneath the image, text states that this message was sponsored by CNN. By colliding personal finance concerns with the war, the artists raise the question of how the war and mass violence takes place as background news stories amidst a people who can lead lives remove from war.

The second image on the war, Saddam's Run to Fame features three figures with stars in place of heads. Running to the right, they are threatened by a black sky of oil overhead that is beginning to rain on them. The central figure contains 20 stars filled with people's faces. Most are of Saddam while a few are pretty female faces culled from the Cuti-cuti Malaysia ads. Odd though they may appear in a work of art, this mimics the effects of reading a magazine in which news reports on the Iraqi war may also feature cheery tourism ads.

A sweet note can be found in the playful illustration of people interacting with natural forces. Untitled depicts a standing girl conducting the wind while a nude man sits happily on a fish, watching. the rich colour, solemnity of the young girl and the evidence of peaceful coexistence with nature, ends the exhibition in a charming manner.

NEWTON'S FUNFAIR
COLLABORATIVE WORKS BY CHANG YOONG CHIA AND FARIZA ISAHAK
Reka Art Space
Block C Kelana Square
Kelana Jaya