Friday, October 30, 2009

Home is where his art is.....

From New Straits Times
29/10/ 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.

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