Texts by Eva McGovern


Indonesian artist, Agus Baqul Purnomo has, for many years, observed and commented upon the natural world found within his home of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. His colourful Abstract Expressionist works have discussed events such as the Mount Merapi eruption in 2010, through to specific Quranic verses that communicate the divinity of Nature and a philosophical understanding of Man's place in the universe. As an expressive and emotive painter, he recreates Arabic calligraphy, the Roman alphabet and numbers to produce frenetic paintings of various energies.

Currently, he turns his curiosities to the skies, continuing a series of random numeric sequencings that create dynamic displays of day and night. However, this is not a faithful reproduction, but rather a harnessing of bright colour and intuitive mark making. Rejecting the representational he therefore works within repetitive gestures to create hypnotic worlds in motion. This attention to inventive movement and its possibility to share the intangible drives Agus Baqul's practice, where the end result is always what the artist calls a 'sweet surprise'. Audiences must therefore imagine scenes of sunshine, clouds and starlight, within this esoteric and cryptic style. As such it is only through his titles that we orientate ourselves in time and space, before getting lost once more within the whirling vortex of his work. His use of numbers also does not provide any additional clues, but could symbolise the intricate codes of Nature or perhaps a deeper form of spiritual meditation that is characteristic of Agus Baqul's practice. It is an abstract beauty, found from within the mind of the artist, and not through what the eye can see or read. At times wild, at others mesmerising, his works are intricate visual sensations that create intense psychological experiences. A meditation on abstract ideas and spiritual realisations.


Ahmad Zakii Anwar is one of Malaysia's preeminent Realist artists well known for his highly atmospheric works across painting and drawing. Motivated by the beauty of human forms and drama of mysterious spaces his work is a mixture of emotional theatre and philosophical meditation. Originally hailing from an advertising and illustration background, Zakii shifted to a fine art practice in his early thirties. Since then he has covered a wide range of subject matter from still life, heroic animals, spiritual forms, male nudes, his iconic 'Smokers series', Balinese dancers and striking images of people in their everyday lives.

Currently he has been focusing on charcoal drawing and presents a series of Malaysians encountered in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (the artist's hometown) and Penang, for Art @ Whiteaways. These large-scale portraits feature individual men in varying poses and attitudes. Each have been discreetly photographed by the artist during his wanderings - a characteristic method for selecting his subjects - and then carefully composed to achieve his desired effect. The final work is an amalgamation of multiple photographs, combining the preferred hand gesture, body posture and facial expression to become an idealised version of the original person. Nothing is left to chance in order to fulfill Zakii's need for perfection. Such staging aims to transform the elderly, the alienated and anxious into powerful and noble images, celebrating the magnificence of the ignored every day.

However, forgoing his characteristic ambiguity of meaning and narrative, Zakii's figures are bluntly titled by race. Orang Cina, Orang India and Orang Melayu, although seemingly innocuous in any other context, have become the most commonly used, abused and most politicised categories in Malaysia today. Disturbed by the recent racial polarisations of the 2013 General Elections, Zakii attempts to dialogue with the never-ending complications of ethnicity in Malaysia. Confronting our fears and insecurities head on, each work becomes an important conversation on perception and discrimination, emphasised by a dramatic use of shading, light and space. As single figures against a stark white background their isolation becomes a metaphor for the segregations of race as propagated by structures of power for political control in Malaysia today.


Chan Kok Hooi creates fantastical and surreal scenes of past, present and parallel worlds as a form of social critique. These reveal the challenges and contradictions of human life with humour and pathos. He often deals with themes of abjection and alienation as well as the effects of technology on human relationships. However, his anxieties are layered into playful and visually rich images, filled with curious enigmas. Clearly influenced by a Surrealist juncture between dream and reality Kok Hooi's practice is a mixture between unconscious expression and a logical critique of the social condition.

Chan Kok Hooi was born in Penang and continues to live there today. The conditions and character of his local environment necessarily affect his work, unfolding in various direct and indirect ways. For this exhibition he presents a body of work that explores the necessities of Chinese life 衣,食,住,行 (yi shi zhu xing) - clothes, food, lodging and transport. However, it is a critical and disillusioned viewpoint since all his works speak of a morally confused society. Burdened by material needs and isolated from communities the legacies of the past are easily forgotten for superficial gain. Inner Rain depicts an unusual bathroom (a reoccurring subject for Kok Hooi) where the toilet bowl is a swimming pool, and there is a miniature couch and bikini clad woman looking out of small window. Gazing down in wonder and distress at this superficial scene are the Chinese God of Storm and the Goddess of Thunder. The former and latter representing the conflicting forces of the material and spiritual. His paintings of old photographs such as decaying Facebook profile icons or imagined relatives in their youth have been partially inspired by rising house prices in Penang, driven even higher by investors aiming to make money from these properties. These types of trends shift the local in unexpected ways challenging identity and disorienting our sense of the past. Rendering culture anonymous Kok Hooi aims to remind us of the need for individuality and community in these changing economic times.


Chong Siew Ying expresses an emotionally driven sense of beauty through elegant figuration and philosophical inquiry. Working across a range of subject matter from portraiture, the human form, animals in motion and sweeping landscapes, her practice expresses various anxieties, longings and liberations. A classic and formally trained painter she left the country in 1991 to complete her art education in France and maintained studios in both Paris and Kuala Lumpur, until 2010 when she once again made Malaysia her full time home. Since then she has continued to develop a body of work around romantic and imagined landscapes. These mysterious places combine tropical, European and Chinese motifs (all major influences in Siew Ying's life) to become sites of personal introspection.

At Whiteaways we follow the journey of a beautiful bird across her intimate landscapes to consider ideas of belonging and the conflicts involved in this process of self-awakening. As if stills from a film, these monochromatic works absorb the artist's many interests from Chinese ink painting and philosophy, notions of the sublime as well as the travels of her own multi-centred life. However traditional cultures from China whether ink painting, philosophy or poetry continues to be one of the biggest influences on Siew Ying's practice. They allow for a deep introspection in order to grow philosophically as well as express her own personality and cultural heritage as a Malaysian Chinese artist. However upon closer inspection, viewers realise that her works are not executed in ink but are in fact charcoal drawings layered with a clear emulsion and swept with brush strokes to emulate wash. This is a new technique perfected over many years by the artist in order to bridge the gaps between the traditional and contemporary.

However Siew Ying is well known for her mastery of human form and has also chosen to exhibit earlier drawings of male and female nudes. Here she aims to share the body as a mode of expression that is both emotional and spiritual. It is not simply a glorification of the figure but rather a psychological investigation of loneliness and isolation. As such gender is irrelevant, and each, whether male or female become a reflection of the artist herself as a personal meditation on the trials and tribulations of life.


The processes of making art and the stories it can tell are the driving forces behind Jalaini Abu Hassan practice. Over the past twenty five years, Jai has created a highly recognisable painting and drawing style that began with Abstract Expressionism and currently sits within a theatrical and imaginative type of Realism. He has also built up a visual language of floating forms, pop icons and motifs from Malay culture that are often interspersed with scenes from his own life, mysticism and social commentary. These are rendered through an experimental approach to draftsmanship which includes the use of one of his most well-known materials bitumen, as well as recent experiments with printed fabrics layered into the surfaces of his canvases. His work is therefore a testing ground for mark making and medium where chance is encouraged and mistakes celebrated. Such intuitive and unexpected encounters help to create new avenues for both his formal and narrative curiosities.

The stories he tells are reflections of his own life as a kampong boy, a father, an artist and self-imagined shaman. Through humour, pathos, and word play he communicates the depth of these experiences, which sometimes unfold into commentaries on local politics and its contradictory forces. For his exhibition at Whiteaways, Jai creates a moving reflection on the recent General Elections through a series of charcoal drawings called The Defeated Winner. Each depicts a supporter from the Opposition or Ruling political parties. However the party flags they hold are ambiguously drawn and viewers are unsure as to whether they are the devastated losers or disillusioned winners. Nevertheless, emotionally they all bear the scars of a divisive and hard fought election where both parties suffered losses. Representing the spirit of these disappointments, Jai's poignant works share a type of Malaysian paradox, where even the winners are losers in a tense environment of political uncertainty.


Entering the local art scene in the early nineties Kow Leong Kiang was influenced by a Malaysian figurative tradition that explored cultural roots and traditional ways of life. Simultaneously compelled by the intimacy of portraiture, the nostalgia of rural landscape, the responsibility of social commentary, and later on, the complexity of human nudes, the strength of his works over the past twenty years has been emphasised through a command of form and atmospheric application of paint. Early on in his career he began focussing on subjects in the North Eastern State of Terengganu, where the artist's now iconic works of a beautiful young Malay girl first emerged. Representing the idyll of traditional kampung life, she was soon a highlight of many shows over the oncoming years due to her mysterious beauty and connection to landscape. However, Kow now focuses his attention on her male counterpart presenting a series of young men against a similar coastal backdrop. Characteristically romantic and wistful each figure is a portrayal of the enigmatic and raw qualities of the rural Malay man. Strong and proud through the rendering of their physical appearances, Kow also infuses a sense of emotional conflict and frustration within their silent contemplations. Perhaps this is due to their deep connection to landscape, which is the heart of their identity and livelihood. Coming from urban Petaling Jaya, Kow has always been captivated by the rural and has combined landscapes and human forms to discuss community, politics as well as formal investigations of his figurative practice. This then becomes a contemporary pastoral scene which is both idyllic and complicated. However, Kow's particular works at Whiteaways, are less political and more a projection of the physical and emotional nature of men. Always looking to develop his technique as a formally driven artist, he also uses gold and silver tones across their bodies and background. Perhaps this is about glorifying his figures even further, as mythical beings from Malay film and folklore, or simply a technical decision to play with new combinations of colour and figuration. Nevertheless such a gesture is indicative of Kow's need to push his practice through formal experimentation in order to discover the physical possibilities of painting as well as the emotional expressions of the human form that has defined his career to date.


Inspired by Nature and in particular the colours and patterns of flora and fauna from a childhood spent on estates and plantations as well as travels to Indonesia, Rebecca Wilkinson creates inventive and detailed works or what the artist terms 'tactile textures'. Originally a textile designer she shifted to fine art practice in 1997 and returned to live in Penang in 2008, where apart from her fine art practice, she also campaigns for the cultural preservation of George Town.

Here at Whiteaways she brings together two bodies of work. One, Offerings: Gwangju made up of ten works produced whilst on residency in South Korea, the second, Offerings: George Town inspired by her home in Penang. Both act as a visual diary for her imaginative curiosities and personal concerns through still lives of items found in temples, stalls and markets. As a departure from her previous works - landscapes about the jungle and sea - these small arrangements are 'offered' in thanks to the places she has found pleasure and fulfillment in. Although stylistically adjusted in terms of colour, perspective and proportion they nevertheless attempt to remain true to the spirit of the locations they have been conceived in. Her Korean works are therefore filled with discoveries of the strange, wonderful and unexpected, as fond recollections of time spent abroad. While, the works made in George Town are rooted within a more significant place of affection and worry for the sights and sounds of a cultural heritage she strives to protect on a daily basis. Together they create a visual conversation around what can be learnt and appreciated both home and abroad.