Friday, October 30, 2009
Shahar Koyok presents his first solo art exhibition, ‘Through My Eyes’, which focuses mainly on the Orang Asli’s struggle to find their place in the 21st century. — Picture by Supian Ahmad
KUALA LUMPUR: As a teenager, because of his ability to speak and write in English he was called "orang putih" (white man) by his Orang Asli community.
Artist Shahar Koyok, who is from the Temuan tribe, learnt the language during his secondary school education at a boarding school in Banting.
"It is a blessing for me to be able to master the language. It has indirectly helped me to present the complexity of the Orang Asli issues in my work, as well as to share their stories with the rest of the world," said Shahar who is fondly known as Shaq.The 24-year-old is depicting the difficulties his community is facing in finding its place in the modern world through his art.
In his first solo art exhibition some 37 pieces will be displayed. One of them is an oil painting entitled "From Sublime To Ridiculous", in which the Orang Asli's struggle to cope in the 21st century are expressed through the scene of a head-to-head combat between an Orang Asli warrior and a drag queen."I'm trying to tell the viewer that the Orang Asli are determined to preserve their heritage even if the foreign and Western cultures are having negative impact on the community," he said at a recent preview of his works.
Another interesting piece is called "Wuz Dat?, an acrylic painting of three Orang Asli hunters trying to shoot down a shimmering disco ball dangling brightly above them with their hunting blowpipes.The message the young artist is trying to convey in this is "clash of cultures". "I am showing the dark side of modernity, which I think has contributed to the identity crises faced by many Orang Asli youth today. "Adapting to alien culture could diminish their cultural roots," he said.
Shaq still lives with his family in the close-knit Temuan tribe family in Pulau Kempas, Banting.His interest in art began in his childhood, when he drew on any available surface -- except paper. The walls of his home, drawn on with a piece of used charcoal, were not spared his artistic expression."I drew dreams. My dreams, to be exact, of my world, my heritage and my kampung surrendering to modernity. It was what I wanted my people to have, to be part of the country's development and modernisation," he said.
As he grew up, however, his art took a satirical slant, filled with underlying messages of the chaos that his village has been thrown into by the development and modernisation that he so wanted as a child. "I have six siblings and I am the second youngest. My father is an oil palm farmer and my mother was a tailor who also wove baskets to supplement the family income. "My childhood was a rich one... I went on hunting trips, learnt to set animal traps, and catch wild boars and porcupines. I also learnt about plants and herbs, and how to dig ditches for their irrigation," he said.Shaq, who will be graduating from Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam, next month, knows he has been fortunate to have received a good education.
But as the only artist to emerge from the Orang Asli community, he also knows he has a lot more to do for himself and his beloved people.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
A mission stemming from a passion.....
By YAM PHUI YEE
SHAHAR Koyok was swimming in the trench when he saw the flames licking up his “playground” – the forest where he had spent his childhood hunting, playing, collecting jungle produce, and learning about how humans, plants and animals live together.
The land clearing by developers turned into a peat fire that eventually took firemen two weeks to put out using helicopters.
Unique interpretation: Shaq’s humorous take on the contrast between the traditional orang asli and contemporary culture is seen in his work, ‘Waz Dat’.
“I was so sad that I cried. It was very emotional for me. The place I used to play is not there anymore, it has become completely ‘black’ from the burning,” said Shahar or Shaq, who was about seven then. That incident became the backdrop for his painting, Burnt, one of the pieces to be showcased in his first solo exhibition.
His first Solo will feature works that mark significant events while he was growing up as a boy in the orang asli village in Pulau Kempas, Banting, Selangor.
Shaq could perhaps be the first contemporary aboriginal artist of his generation.
His first Solo will be a milestone for the 24-year-old Temuan youth, who will be graduating in Fine Arts at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) during the exhibition period.
Shaq hails from a village where there was no piped water nor eletricity. His early drawing materials were pieces of charcoal from the previous night’s cooking fire and the tree bark walls of his hut.
Although friends scoffed at his ambition to become an artist, Shaq’s art teachers in school encouraged him a lot.
Shaq’s teacher took him to the city for a children’s art competition and that first trip opened him to the world beyond his village, a world he had only seen on his grandfather’s TV set.
Even though he had to walk 2km to his grandfather’s house to watch TV, he would faithfully travel to catch another episode of Astro Boy, Thundercats and James Bond films and think about the outside world often.
Fast forward 17 years, the determined guy would be holding his very own solo exhibition.
Until recently, he still made trips back home to paint on-site, often portraits of his fellow villagers and scenes of the village nestled in a fresh water swamp forest.
Dream comes true: ‘Emerging’ by Shaq is inspired by the artist’s childhood dream to become an artist while growing up in a village with no electricity, piped water and painting materials.
“I love portraits. The face can tell a lot of stories,” said Shaq, who has won prizes for drawing portraits of the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Malacca and the UiTM Malacca chancellor.
Visitors to the exhibition should look out for the face of a young boy with big, round eyes in Shaq’s paintings, often a portrait of himself.
In Kubang (‘Playing in the Pond’), he is the thrilled young boy throwing himself into a swamp (swimming was his favourite pastime in the village). And in Witness, Shaq is the boy in the painting who is both astonished and confused.
His painting, Emerging, where the young and topless Shaq holds a palette and paintbrushes among the foliage, speaks of his passion as well as mission.
As in so many other orang asli villages, Shaq’s village faces problems of logging and land clearing which threaten their livelihood.
He documented these observations and expressed these frustrations on canvas.
“I’m a witness to what happened to our jungle – the burning and logging. I don’t know how to stop them and I’m not good at public speaking so I paint. Then at least I have something to show others and hopefully make them aware and understand” he explained.
He remembered developing a keen interest in the English language while studying in boarding school where he earned the nickname "Orang Putih" from the village children.
He just ignored them.
“I thought someday if I become a successful artist, I should be able to speak in English. I need to be able to communicate with people about orang asli, my journey and what happened to us. Being an artist is the right way to go,” said Shaq.
Shaq hopes that his art will raise awareness on the orang asli and their plight.
“By being an artist, I want to gain recognition and influence so I can help to solve the land problems of my people. It’s a big task, and I will just be doing a small part,” said Shaq.
Upon the scheduling of his first Solo, he hopes that people of all races and incomes will attend to gain the broadest understanding of his art and his people.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
"Orang Putih is home," Shaq's peers will tease him whenever he goes back to his Temuan village in Banting, Selangor. Shaq doesn't like the nickname but it tells a lot about him.
While in boarding school, Shaq developed a keen interest in the English language.
"I brought back a lot of English books from my school, and the village kids would tease me, but I ignored them. I thought someday if I become a successful artist, I should be able to speak in English. I need to be able to communicate with people about orang asli, my journey and what happened to us. Being an artist is the right way to go," said Shaq.
Big dreams: University student and Temuan youth Shahar Koyok aspires to be a successful artist with paintings that reflect his childhood in the village and the land issues faced by the community.
While in Form Four, his art teacher told him that he had to work hard to enter a university if he wanted to be an artist. Shaq did just that, sometimes forsaking his favourite pastime of swimming with friends to study. His friends laughed at him, saying that he wouldn't make it just like they didn’t.
But Shaq proved them wrong. He pursued a Diploma in Fine Arts in Universiti Teknologi Mara in Malacca, and later completed his degree at the Shah Alam, Selangor, campus. Along the way, he won numerous art competitions. Shaq also held group exhibitions and will be holding his first solo in early 2010.
His drawings features the joys and pains of his childhood and his response on land issues his community faces.
While inching closer towards his dream, Shaq keeps going back to his village to motivate and share his experiences with the youths, many of whom have dropped out of school and spend their time loitering and drinking.
"I organised a presentation in the meeting hall about my experiences in university and showed them pictures and videos. A few of them just laughed at me.
"The best thing to do is to encourage them from young, maybe while they are still in kindergarten or in primary school. I think it will work better," said the determined artist.
Story by: Yam Phui Yee