Occurring between the 29th of March to the 12th of April of 2021, Seven Ways of Seeing was an exhibition hosted by Cult Gallery. Known amongst those in art circles, the gallery is situated in a house, a guise hidden in the hilly and quiet streets of Bukit Tunku. The Gallery was founded by Suryani Senia Alias, a woman very much involved in the local arts scene and cultivating young, up-and-coming artists. Doing a little digging online won’t show much about Cult Gallery’s digital footprint other than its social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram. It was through these media platforms that Alias was able to get the word out for 7 Ways of Seeing. Comprised of seven talents, nurtured by Alias herself over time, she shares that her intent on showcasing these artists was to show the public seven ways of seeing and perceiving art and the messages it evoked based on the book of the same name by John Berger. In this book that contains 7 essays on how to view art, the exhibition encourages its viewers to do the same. Alias’ initiative while coaxing the public’s view to widening the focal view and perspectives when viewing art is shared with the sentiment to introduce them to the public as solo artists.
The seven artists showcased at Cult Gallery come from varying backgrounds. Having once produced works in groups, they now churn out work by themselves, honing their craft and heading towards being solo artists. Featuring Amir Mansor, Ain Rahman, Faiz Mahdon, Hana Zamri, Haz Yusup, Mazlan Samawi, and Nia Khalisa. Works exhibited discussed a multitude of narratives. Pieces are made and composed with varying materials, and ultimately invoke a deep feeling upon laying your eyes on them. Upon arriving at house 10A, you are greeted by Alias herself. While the exhibition was being carried out, guests were only allowed in once appointments were made a day in advance. When entering the house, you are greeted by a painting of a four-poster bed, placed in an open field surrounded by greenery of sorts. There are large clouds in the sky and the colors suggesting a sunset or an early sunrise. The painting finished completely in acrylic spanning on a canvas of 61 centimeters by 152 centimeters felt like a windowpane. The finishing touches were surreal – an invitation to another world that seemed so necessary. The crossing of the threshold between reality and imagination was a dichotomy one could not imagine conceiving. As you walk your way down the stairs, you are greeted by Amir Mansor’s work, an allegory to socio-political discourse, erasures of cultures, and a response to the COVID-19 crisis. Placed in the corner is gouache works done by Nia Khalisa. The remaining artworks are scattered across the hall – imploring you to walk around to see it.
While surrounded by works from these talented creators and the concepts they have prompted for audiences to explore, one cannot help but wonder the many ways to see the pieces of art – in particular Mahdon’s. Their aforementioned painting on the canvas entitled “Runaway” is characterized by a jarring juxtaposition – a portrayal of a world out of sorts. As we explore his other works across the gallery, we see depictions of fictional landscapes, and within it, more items that are randomly placed across the paintings. There is a subtlety in the placement of the objects across the landscapes of the canvases that evoke deep thought within an individual. When inquired on the artist’s inspiration, Alias stated that Mahdon was creating a collection of works based on Freud’s psychoanalysis of gender and displacement. Putting thoughts together when looking at the paintings then becomes clearer with each glance. There is the allegory of queer exploration and gender dysphoria in the placement of the random objects across the canvas. Dysphoria can be seen in the odd objects, placed in no particular order. Colors used across the paintings are bright and bold – a statement to internalized personalities. An onlooker of Mahdon’s art could go two routes – be moved or staying still, unmoving. Regardless of which way the consumer views his art, the way of seeing is a perplexing kaleidoscope of opinions, an individual’s neurons firing and connecting similarities to one another.
When looked upon by the author, the paintings hold a sense of pain and disdain. There is almost a pair of lenses that sit upon your eyes, showing you a world through the gaze of a cisgender individual. A certain sense of objectification and desire lingers amongst the odd. The depiction of a scene in serene nature is a setting we all desire to be in; a state of moksha and calmness to achieve internally. But the longer you stare at the works, the more similar it becomes to ogling. This the same kind done towards women, queer and trans folk. The longer you keep looking at the beautiful view, the more you are made to feel uncomfortable in the place you stand. The male gaze and this similar objectification are our ways of seeing these works of art by Mahdon. When you view art, like the one presented here, there is a very thin veil often lifted from your eyes. Our takeaway? Even the best of us; allies and feminist respectable folk are flawed. While there is work to be done, we are at the end of the day, human and can somehow find our way back to being complicit to problems we abstain away from. Art like these, should show you, urge you and lead you to the many ways of seeing the world around you, making you view a perspective of an issue or opinion from a variety of angles.
For upcoming exhibitions taking place at Cult Gallery, check out their Instagram page here. Ways of Seeing by John Berger is available at bookstores like Tintabudi and Kinokuniya.