Art: Posting stories

24 Sep 2011, John Tiong

The works of nine Malaysian artists have been nominated for the Asia Pacific Breweries APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize 2011. JOHN TIONG speaks to one whose collage tells the history of the world through postage stamps.

ARTIST Chang Yoong Chia loves to create things which are out of the ordinary.

Among these is a quilt with 120 images of people he saw in obituaries.

The latest, a collage entitled The World is Flat, is made entirely from postage stamps, cut and pasted to resemble a world map.

The World is Flat also evinces the visual history of the world going back centuries.

About the size of a two-panel window (84cm x 134cm), it took nine months to complete. But Chang has been more or less rewarded for his efforts — it has been nominated for the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize 2011, a triennial art award organised by the Singapore Art Museum.

The first awards, in 2008, saw another local artist, Ahmad Fuad Osman, winning one of the juror’s prizes.

Now Chang is among the nine Malaysians whose works have been nominated.

South Korea has the most number of nominations, at 10, followed by Japan, Australia and Malaysia, all of whom have nine. There are 130 nominations by 129 artists for this year’s award, from the 24 participating countries.

Chang used stamps for his art piece because he wished to portray the history of postage which, at one time, was seen not only as a means to send letters but also a medium to learn about another country.

Chang, who has held exhibitions at the National Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore Art Museum and the Gwangju City Art Museum, said he spent hours researching on the internet before working on the art piece.

The piece showcases how the internet has replaced postal services as a means of sending and receiving information.

There are also layers of meaning within the world map and appended collages.

The images are cleverly crafted to evoke the sufferings of American slaves, the Jews in Hitler's Germany and China during the opium wars.

"Stamps, which originated from Great Britain, represent to me the colonizing period of the Europeans, particularly that of the former," said Chang.

The heavy colonial overtones are exemplified by six stamps of Queen Elizabeth, used with such dexterity that we have images of six queens seated round a table filled with gold bars and jewellery. This conveys how colonialism was used to accumulate riches from all over the world.

The image is positioned between Australia and South America to show the extent of the British empire at one time.

A hilarious twist to it is seen in one image portraying the queen in a canoe with an official near the west coast of America.

China has images such as the panda and the Great Wall, while Japan’s imperial ambition is given emphasis with the image of a large octopus spreading its tentacles over much of Asia.

George Washington is shown holding an axe while Abraham Lincoln is shown standing before a cotton field of black slaves over a map of the United States.

A grim Hitler is shown with a train next to him, depicting how Jews were transported to concentration camps. An image of a blood diamond hangs over Africa to show how profits from mining precious gems were used to finance civil wars in the continent.

India has Gandhi in his famous dhoti standing between two British officials, representing how he helped India gain Independence through peaceful ways rather than through violence.

The boundary of the United States and Canada is marked with images of the flags of both countries'.

"Everywhere you look, there is an interesting story being told," said Chang, who is a Malaysian Institute of Art diploma graduate.

The most trying part was collecting the thousands of stamps from his friends, before sorting and pasting them to create the images he desired.

Chang's favourite artist is Pieter Brueghel The Elder, a Late Renaissance Flemish painter. "His paintings are so layered you can view them purely as landscapes, sociological studies or even as moral analogies," said the soft-spoken artist.

The other Malaysian artistes nominated for the awards include Nadiah Bamadhaj, Samsuddin Abdul Wahab, Chan Kok Hooi, Muhammad Hanif Hosainel Majidi, Fauzan Omar and Liew Kung Yu.

The grand prize is S$45,000 (RM111,350). There are also three Jurors' Prizes of S$10,000 and one People's Choice Award, also of S$10,000.

The 15 shortlisted finalists will be announced by Oct 1, when the public can also go online to nominate their favourite finalist work for the People’s Choice Award.

The Finalists Exhibition opens at the Singapore Art Museum from Nov 11 to March 4 next year. All the winners will be announced at the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize Awards Dinner on Nov 18.

-Singapore Art Museum opens Mondays to Sundays, 10am to 7pm, Fridays, 10am to 9pm

Of Greco Roman columns and colonades

WHILE Chang Yoong Chia spent nine months to do his stamp collages, graphic designer Liew Kung Yu spent over a year snapping pictures to come up with a digital print collage on Kodak Endura paper titled Bandar Sri Tiang Kolom. The 2.13m x 5.75m collage is made from hundreds of individual photographed images, cut out and layered precisely to form a 3-D collage of a town. "It opens like a page from a giant pop-up book," said Liew.

Liew went around the country, taking pictures of houses and structures which use pillars to beautify them, including bus stops. HIs piece pokes fun at the obssession of some Malaysians from the very rich to the ordinary kampung folk, for pillars, especially Greco Roman columns and colonades.

"Even in the Malay kampungs, some houses have been redesigned, so pillars become an integral part of the house, to the detriment of the functions of the house which needs to have airy space at the bottom for proper ventilation," Liew said, adding that Bandar Sri Tiang Kolom is three-dimensional with garish pillared mansions, bungalows, shophouses clustered above huge pillars in a wall supported by pillars.

Bandar Sri Tiang Kolom forms one of the series of four art pieces Liew exhibited at his solo exhibition Cadangan Cadangan Untuk Negara Ku at the Petronas Gallery, Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), two years ago.