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Liew Kung Yu: Excellence, Glory, Distinction

His work combines symbols of Malaysia's modernisation with elements of its traditional culture.
By Matthew Ngui | Oct 2008

For the Singapore Biennale 2008, Liew Kung Yu is exhibiting Cermelang, Gemilang, Terbilang (Excellence, Glory, Distinction), which was shown at The Independence Project at the Petronas Gallery in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. "Cermelang, Gemilang, Terbilang" is Malaysia’s National Day slogan.

The artwork comprises two elements. First, is basically a Photoshop montage of various Malaysian icons such as the Petronas Towers, the first Malaysian astronaut, the Proton motorcar; symbols of Malaysia's modernisation arranged in the shape of a Pohon Beringin or ‘tree of life’. The latter appears in Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet theatre) performances. This montage is juxtaposed with the word Merdeka (independence/freedom). Secondly, and in line with the play of light and shadow from Wayang Kulit, this Pohon Beringin image is perforated with a series of holes and slits that, though not discernable from the front, allow for light to pass through them. This casts an image onto the floor surface of one of the Demon King Rawana, the two-headed Kelantan version of a traditional character from Wayang Kulit, a greedy but (in some versions) good villain - who loves showing off, according to the artist. The basis for this character is Ravana, one of the protagonists in the epic Sanskrit literary work, the Ramayana.

Cermelang, Gemilang, Terbilang borrows from both local folk symbolism and the grand narratives of literature and applies this to the modern developing world as a means of story-telling, creating a space where beauty, high camp and kitsch, theatre (the Wayang Kulit analogy) and a playfulness in the installation meet. As the light passes through the almost imperceptible holes in the symbols of national prosperity, an image of a mythical villain is cast. There is an obvious mischievous and playful dig at what symbolises success and the politicians that drive it, but what is also apparent is the love the artist has for his nation and the fact that the work exists and has been exhibited in Kuala Lumpur attests to a maturity in Malaysia’s conception of self. This work is about identity and independence.


Matthew Ngui

Visual artist, lives in Singapore and Australia, exhibiting internationally (including several Biennales, and Documenta). Co-curator of the 2nd Singapore Biennale 2008.

(Courtesy of the Singapore Biennale 2008. Extract from a text published in the event's guide)

Cermelang, Gemilang, Terbilang. 2007
(Excellence, Glory, Distinction)

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