The book, Living Art, is a survey of living, creative practices September 2, 2020 – Posted in: In The News, Reviews

By Shalini Ganendra 

NUMEROUS romanticised notions surround the field of creativity, including divine talent and magical product delivery.

What the recently-released Living Art publication deftly reflects, through the careful and very readable case studies of 14 established local artists, is that sustainable and successful creative careers also require clear method, diligence, reflection and challenge. Living Art is a survey of living, creative practices.

Discussion and writing revolve around questions, posed to each artist, covering: (1) Growing up; (2) Learning Process; (3) Space and Place; (4) Current Practice; (5) Working Process; (6) Materials and Tools.

The presentation is neat. The language is simple. The insights are refreshing and revealing (and with, thankfully, no mention of commercial sales).

 The book is beautifully presented.
The book is beautifully presented.

The sharing by these artists not only open windows to insights but also indicates the kind of questions that are useful to ask for development of projects, exhibitions, collecting and general appreciation.

Thus, the import of the publication goes beyond applauding the strong practices of Malaysian artists: Mad Anuar Ismail, Noor Mahnun Mohamed, Sharon Chin, Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim, Hasnul J. Saidon, Gan Chin Lee, Jennifer Lui Hsin Ying, Ise, Elias Yamani, Eiffel Chong, Azzaha Ibrahim, Shia Yih Yiing, Ilse Noor and collective Pangrok Sulap.

This book shares with us how they think, work and where they do so. The practices and career developments of each creator are discussed in wonderfully accessible language, interspersed with crisp visuals by David Lok (DL Studios) of their work spaces and demeanours.

Sharon Chin shares that “drawing is personal” and compares it to the way we write or speak. Veteran sculptor Mad Anuar reminisces about becoming closer to the wood that inspires his carvings, through long stays in the forest communing with nature and trees. “There are vibrations, you see? If you sit still and stay with the trees, you will feel it after a long while. There are no words to describe this. Some say it’s intuition.”


 A great insight into how the artists work.
A great insight into how the artists work.

Meanwhile, Gan Chin Lee discusses his painting project on New Villages and the extensive research he undertook to understand better the lives of those he paints.

“Their ideologies are so different. It’s important that we learn to understand each other and be able to communicate. How do we gain acceptance and tolerance for each other?”

Photographer Eiffel Chong muses: “The dark room is a good analogy for our lives — in life, in order to get a good outcome, you need preparation and patience, and there is a lot of waiting involved.”

Artist Ilse Noor reveals that as a child, she initially wanted to study archaeology, not art, for its promise of adventure, but was then inspired by drawing through art classes.

She has continued since, with the adventurous spirit that brought her to Malaysia, to become a master print maker.

As the author, Dr Emilia Ong herself admits: “Besides learning a lot about the detailed processes… I also loved listening to the various approaches in practice and the motivations behind artistic decisions. I think these conversations cemented my own belief that art practice is ultimately not about mastering technique, expression or craftsmanship, (even though those are valuable outcomes of art practice) but about finding meaning and purpose in life.”

 Living Art.
Living Art.

This book will benefit everyone — general audiences, students, artists, curators, galleries, collectors and academics — through the insights and struggles shared; information that enriches individual and community engagement with creativity; appreciation of varied processes; and the people behind them — taking us beyond the 14 notable talents. Living Art is a highly recommended read.

Limited copies available at Areca Books or through online order:, and in Kinokuniya and MPH bookshops.

Datin Shalini Ganendra is a cultural advisor and scholar.

This review first appeared on 23 August 2020 in The New Straits Times

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