KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — “Can’t be bothered” — this seems to be the phrase of choice for many a youth today. This pervading sense of disenchantment is best exemplified by their embrace of YOLO — “You Only Live Once” — a desire to break from society’s pre-written storyline for them.
It’s this mood of rebellion that Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered, an exhibition that is part of this year’s Urbanscapes 2016 festival, seeks to explore. In a nutshell: Youth culture through the lens of skateboarding; an intriguing proposition given the sport has developed its own distinct language and visual identity over time.
The exhibition will be held at Medan Pasar’s heritage OCBC Bank Art Deco building (2 Hang Kasturi) — dubbed Urbanscapes House during the festival — from April 23 till May 8. New works by 16 artists and collectives from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia will be featured, including installations by Galeri Petronas creative director Nizam Rahmat and Donald Abraham (Malaysia); Speak Cryptic and Dyn Starr Galactica (Singapore); and Bambang Toko and Popok Triwahyudi (Indonesia).
Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered is curated by artist Iman Ismail, who uses visual art to investigate different subcultures around the region. A LaSalle College of the Arts graduate, he received the Della Butcher Award in 2003 and currently oversees contemporary art presentations at the National Museum of Singapore.
Inspired by his stint as one of 27 curators for the Singapore Biennale 2013, Iman came up with the idea of working together with artists from around South-east Asia. He says, “I became aware of how connected South-east Asia is. The pilot show held at Aliwal Art Centre in January was a testing ground to see the different reactions. The response from visitors to the show was encouraging and overwhelming.”
Iman credits his network of peers in the creative industry, including artists, designers and craftsmen as his starting point for the exhibition. He says, “The decision to take the opportunity to work together with these creative minds in this platform came naturally. Understanding the individual practices and knowing what each artist could bring forth in terms of responding to curatorial direction was the fun part of putting this show together.”
Growing up, Iman had always been a fan of art. He recalls receiving his first drawing pad at the age of three: “It was because I was drawing on the walls and my mom’s recipe books; that got me into trouble. At the age of five, I decided that I wanted to be a ‘drawer’ as I felt that I was pretty good at drawing. Of course, later on my mother corrected me, explaining that the right term I wanted to be was ‘artist’ — instead of a piece of furniture.”
An early role model for Iman was the late Datuk Sudirman bin Haji Arshad. “Watching him on TV and learning that he was both a fantastic artiste and artist inspired me to journey into the creative path. Though I cannot sing to save myself, I know I can draw.”
Besides art, Iman was also interested in skateboarding in his childhood. “I stopped skating before entering art school, but my interest in skateboarding and longboarding was rekindled in 2012. By this time, older and more cautious, I would only cruise with the skateboard and could no longer do tricks; I was too afraid of getting injured.”
Skateboard graphic artwork had always been a point of creative reference for Iman as there were quirky and eccentric designs plastered at the bottom of the decks. This led Iman to consider exploring the form and function of the skateboard deck and to deconstruct the sometimes negative connotations tagged to skateboarding.
“For the exhibition Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered, I wanted a different approach. I feel that many fail to notice that skateboarding is no different from other conventional disciplines and interests. It is a form of personal expression and creative outlet. At the same time, the exhibition showcases an array of coexisting subcultures that are increasingly popular today — urban culture, street culture, DIY culture and visual culture.”
For Iman, curating Cannot Be B(o)ardered was different from other exhibitions that he had participated in. He explains “I feel that the ‘soul’ and ‘feel’ of a show has to be welcoming and at the same time engaging. It is the essential experience for the audience and also the presenting artists. For Cannot be Bo(a)rdered, the development and artistic processes were organic.”
Featuring the skateboard as a medium to challenge existing stereotypes is an inspired method of constructing new narratives via wildly different creative expressions. The only question that remains is — can you be bothered to give Cannot be Bo(a)rdered a chance to show you this?
Cannot Be Bo(a)rdered
Date: April 23 to May 8, 2016
Venue: Urbanscapes House (2 Hang Kasturi), Medan Pasar, Kuala Lumpur