Art we there yet?
In all aspects of human history and culture, art is present—sometimes almost over-the-top, and sometimes with a subtlety that could almost be described as covert. It can be a window to our collective past or paint the vision of an idyllic future. In the present, art is the expression of emotions, struggles and achievements of the society it exists within, and it can become a powerful beacon that allows a society to cope and overcome.
While there may be a strong presence of art in the motifs of our indigenous forebears, and many illustrations of our long and rich history, Brunei’s recorded art history is very young to say the least. Nonetheless, the local talent pool is ever-expanding and recent years have seen a sharp increase in exhibitions, pop-up galleries, and creative maker-spaces. Naturally, as our nation develops, so too does our art. So that prompts the question, as far as art is concerned, where do we stand?
To find out more about Brunei’s art movement, we’ve chatted to a few local fine artists who have dipped their toes in international waters and are also paving ways on home ground. We talk about identity, missions, the roles & responsibilities that ‘Artists’ have in society and here’s what they shared.
Yasmin Jaidin / yasminjaidin.com
“In the art industry, locally and internationally, I think it is very important to label yourself as a Bruneian artist. When I look at artists from all around the world, wherever they grow up, there is a sense of pride, an acknowledgment of where the artist comes from. How they approach or reflect those feelings may differ because everybody has different perspectives of the frustrations and the positives that come out of their environment, and these should show in the work.”
“I also believe that the personal identity and Bruneian identity go hand-in-hand, because the former is basically the essence of where you came from and it forms what has shaped you as an individual.
“In my opinion, the two can and should co-exist, and even though art is made for the viewer, I think that one still has the responsibility to showcase one’s identity in one’s work.”
“There are many art conservationists who believe they should preserve the work as is”, Yasmin says, suggesting an alternative school of thought. “I believe the art objects that I create are my own living objects, that should respond to the ecology around them…”
“Whether they grow, or the rate of their disintegration, it’s all really a part of the work. [Many people] really like that concept; I think it’s all very poetic.”
Fai Zaini / @tag_one_znc
“Usually I try not to set a frame where I’m telling the audience what my artwork is about. When I create, it starts as something from my subconscious mind, materialises, and once displayed, is hopefully able to have a conversation with the audience.”
“I don’t limit my audience by saying, for example, ‘this is just a painting of an apple, nothing more’. With my work I’d rather say, ‘this is an apple, does it incite something from your childhood? Was this the same apple that your mum used to give you when you were a kid going to school?”
“So if I am able to create work that the audience is able to have that conversation with, that’s important, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish. If not, that’s okay too, there’s not just one viewer but many viewers, and many conversations to be had.”
“I see a growth, locally, in the number of artists and self-proclaimed artists from this ‘younger’ generation… I hope we can expand the landscape of opportunities both inside and outside the country. But it’s important for this generation to know, look, you have to sell yourself; not just physically, but digitally as well. You have to showcase and sell your art online”.
Wan Mayang / wanmayang.com
“It was my Design and Technology teacher who told me that having a passion for art does not necessarily restrict one to the path of a fine artist. One can go into furniture design or product design, for example, and still call oneself an artist. So that encouraged me to continue down the path of pursuing art.”
“It was much later, once I started to explore sculpting as a medium, that perspectives began to change and people started to see the value of my work. Many people were really surprised at my work, like “Oh, I didn’t even know Brunei had people who know how to sculpt” type of thing. So little by little, as more artists have arrived on the scene and apply themselves in creative ways, exploring different mediums and gaining attention for their work, perceptions have begun to change and people are becoming more educated about art.”
As a child Wan was exposed to many great legends and folk stories from Bruneian cultural heritage. One particular story legend involved two fighting roosters and a curse. With more than one version of this story, Wan tried to dig deeper, visiting libraries, museums and conducting interviews. Sadly, she noticed, there were very limited resources on these oral traditions.
Zakaria Omar / @zakariabinomar
“When I look at Bruneian art, I can see that we are still very young. In other countries I have visited, they have art schools that are hundreds of years old. Their art has a national identity. Japanese art looks Japanese, European art looks European. From what I can see, our art is still very young. We still don’t really have any art schools. Because of this, our young artists have to look abroad for a fine art education, to the detriment of our own local identity.”
“A few years back, I attended an art exhibition in Korea, where there were some Bruneian students’ work on display. It was a bit sad for me, I couldn’t tell which art was from the Bruneians, it all looked Korean. I noticed an empty space between the Bruneian artists of my generation, and current younger generations.”
“I think it’s important that we do more to bridge the gap and expose our youth to art education from an early age. Art can reflect the culture, life and civilisation of a nation, and we need the opportunity to explore more of the beauty and uniqueness of Brunei culture, and express it through art to share with the world.”
Our culture, what we carry inside ourselves from when we’re born, never changes; even when you’re outside of the country. Whether in Europe, or Africa, you are still Bruneian.
In your heart, and therefore in your artwork, you can still see your identity. Maybe in the colours you choose, maybe in the texture, or the other elements of your art, your Bruneian identity never leaves you.