Leading up to the 31st of August in Merdeka month, CULT Gallery presents an art show depicting Malaysia’s colourful history of “cash crop” plantations through fresh perspectives.
A Leaf Through History by Chang Yoong Chia presents a “message through medium”. Yoong Chia’s use of batik technique to narrate the layered history of Malaysia is laden with meaning. Instead of the common flora and fauna motifs found on Malaysian batik, Yoong Chia chooses to draw gambir, rubber and palm plantations, exhausted rubber tappers, hungry eaters of tapioca during the Japanese occupation, and the endangered original inhabitants of our forests – the orangutans and our very own Pak Belang, the feral tigers.
Eddin Khoo who wrote the essay for the show, noted: “It was the plantation that dragged this tropical landscape into the modern age, transforming the land from spring of harvest to source of capital, fittingly bequeathed the term ‘cash crop.’ The wave of immigration – often in conditions of debt slavery – which followed altered the racial and cultural demographic of the Malay Peninsula indelibly.” He quoted historian Lynn Hollen Lees, who simply stated “Rubber reconstructs Malaya” in her study of the plantation and its subjects, Planting Empire, Cultivating Subjects.
The narratives on Yoong Chia’s batik recount the history of cash crop plantations in Malaysia and how “amongst the rows of plants are hidden joy, hunger, love, sex, envy, friendship and violence”. The artist deconstructs batik from being a fabric that is associated with being decorative to something entirely different through his art: “It is a glimpse into the landscape of profit, invasion, colonialism, exploitation and ecosystem, as well as migration, setting down roots and preserving traditions.” Batik has become a form of visual art storytelling that is compelling us to confront the medium as well as the story.
In this show, he has chosen to explore the medium of batik, which to him has a national identity from the time of independence. The artist by using batik as a medium but with new narratives, questions us with his works, “have the new narratives of Malaysia replaced the layers of our past?”
A Leaf Through History will launch on 6th August 2022 and is available for viewing at CULT Gallery from 6th August – 6th September 2022. Viewing will be by appointment only.