Asia

Shooshie Sulaiman
Dulu atas pedestal, sekarang dalampedestal / Before on pedestal, now inside pedestal

Shooshie Sulaiman’s pictures of unidentified figures initially appear alien and even monstrous: rendered hairless in unusual and even sickly colors, they stand in stark contrast to the aesthetic ideals of conventional portraiture. The subject in Dulu atas pedestal, sekarang dalampedestal / Before on pedestal, now inside (2005), a ball point pen and charcoal rendering of a bald figure with a wide-eyed stare, appears caught in a distressingly static state, at once both uncomfortable and yet incapable of ameliorating his condition. Sulaiman’s subject here becomes an almost frightening sight, the emotive brush strokes replaced by the ball point pen’s erratic black lines, the eyes and mouth scribbled over in a deliberately defacing gesture. Red arrows and strange lines of text jut out from his face, and a splotch of red seeps out from the scribbled black lines around his mouth, suggesting unspoken traumas made all the more prescient by the confining black box around his head, a motif that echoes British painter Francis Bacon’s use of cube-like shapes in his “scream” portraits. Sulaiman’s paintings, on many levels, foreground bodies as vulnerable sites. At the same time, her work also responds to contemporary practices that privilege branding and commerce over creative originality. Sulaiman’s work effectively translates psychological anxieties endemic to nation building traumas in contemporary Malaysia, the result of a nascent free market economy and its social effects. Her commitment to analog technique represents a decisive injunction against the mass-produced that gestures towards freer expressiveness through artistic practice.

Shooshie Sulaiman is one of the leading creative practitioners in Southeast Asia. Her work develops in various forms, from site-specific installations and outdoor performances, to a daily practice of writing and drawing. She started her artistic practice during the 1990’s, when Malaysia opened to the free market and became more international, not without psychological impact on its society. Thus, her work can be perceived as a precious testimony of what the country went through, an emotional landscape of what happened politically and socially during that time.