Oxygen happening at Eh He Art Cafe

Oxygen, an element essential for sustaining life, is the theme that curator and artist, Yap Leong, pondered upon months before the exhibition took shape at Eh He Art Café.

Akeem Keroncong sharing his comments about Oxygen
Very often we take the air we breathe for granted but when the annual haze invades our neighbourhoods and pollutes our air, we long for clear skies and clean air that does not tickle our throats and choke our lungs.

With the explosion of information in today’s world, pollution in many forms, often disguises the truth.  Racism, sexism, corruption, questionable morals, values and ethics, pollute our sight and clouds our sense of direction.

Burdened with these issues, Yap shared the Oxygen concept with a team of local artists who were equally keen to work on this project.  Their art, presented in the theme, Oxygen, coincided with the 13th Johor Baru Arts Festival from Sept 21 to Oct 8 and will be on till Oct 28.

“Perhaps this is what we’ve been searching for all along – a much needed breath of fresh air amidst the smothering haze of our lives,” said Yap.

“Perhaps this is what we all need – fresh air around us, allowing us to step back and live in peaceful harmony,” he added.

Visit the gallery on the upper level of Eh He Art Café to connect with the artistic expressions of more than 20 artists and be inspired to create less fire which means no haze and less hate so we won’t go to war! 

Take time to read the accompanying information plaques with brief information about the artist and his/her art on display.  Among the young artists exhibited here are award-winning and familiar art personalities like Azrol Syakirin and Mulo of Joho, Akeem Keroncong, Tan Suz Chiang, Pauline See, Mohammad Tirani and Adeputra Masli.

One of the highlights of this exhibition is a running video with some excerpts of the artists’ comments and shots of their work-in-progress.  Among other things, you will see Akeem Keroncong in action, creating his masterpiece for Oxygen.  From his signature bold strokes, you can easily relate to the anguished face, painted in dull shades of grey, and forced to wear a gas mask in order to breathe.

Betapa pentingnya kita harus menjaga alam bumi ini dari sebarang kerosakan buatan manusia yang menyebabkan kepanasan global,” said Akeem, adding that, “dan ini tentang masa depan kehidupan kita memerlukan oxygen.”

See Ca Dai with her sculpture of a mythical mutated creature
Translation: How important it is for us to protect the earth from damage caused by mankind which results in global warming.  And the future as we all need oxygen to live.

Don’t miss Damai, an original song about the environment and the joy of breathing fresh air, where musician, Paul Law, put music to the lyrics by Aidah Abd Rahman.  Damai, meaning “peace”, is a commendable collaboration between musician and lyricist for the theme song of this exhibition.

At Oxygen, you will see art interpreted in a variety of ways as the artists present their expressions, not only in paintings and music but also in sculptures and installations.

Encouraged to participate alongside more experienced artists, younger artists like Rotikok, See Ca Dai, Wong Kha Mern and Chong Yii Ern made a commendable effort to present their art in the exhibition.

Wong Kha Mern with The Sea Goldfish
An imposing sculpture of a creature suspended in the gallery, has a trunk and a tail, resembling a cross among animals like a fish, an elephant, a squid and a dolphin.  Artist Ca Dai, explained that this creature from her imagination is hurt and mutating in order to survive.  Trying to mimic another animal, it is changing but not completely.  In the challenging circumstances, it is seeking a safe camouflage but is helpless and anxious.

Wong Kha Mern used goldfish as an analogy of the human race in her art installation entitled, The Sea Goldfish.  Her art comprises a painting as well as goldfish made of paper mache of various sizes, “swimming” around, with some even wearing gas masks. 

Goldfish are pretty creatures which are usually admired, swimming around an aquarium.  They appear to be virtually trapped within a limited space and are longing to explore the vast mysteries of the sea.  The extended red frame around her painting is like the border that limits the goldfish from freedom.

Kha Mern suggests that many people are like goldfish, contented to stay within their comfort zone.  But the truth is that people are entirely different from goldfish and they are free to explore and go beyond our borders to achieve our aspirations.

Chong Yii Ern with her giant praying-mantis with
broken limbs in her expression of the Weaker Role
In another section of the gallery, Chong Yii Ern’s sculpture of a giant praying-mantis stands on broken limbs.  She reminds us that when air is polluted, not only humans and animals suffer but even insects like the praying-mantis also suffer.  Her sculpture depicts the suffering mantis which is designed with an exhaust vent that appears overworked and rusty.

Entitled, Weaker Role, she used the praying-mantis to illustrate how females stand to benefit when they play the weaker role in couple relationships.  Learning from Nature’s way in how the female sometimes practices sexual cannibalism, the praying-mantis reminds us about the wisdom of being in the weaker role because we don’t have to be physically strong to get what we want.

Look out for this installation which is
a permanent exhibit at Eh He Art Cafe
Yap said his installation for Oxygen, created out of old shutter springs from this prewar shophouse, will remain a permanent exhibit here. 

He explained that the five shutter springs which represent the main race groups, are arranged to stand vertically to reflect the strength and unity in our cultural diversity.  These vertical structures surround a traditional ice-shaving machine. 

Air Batu Campur or ABC in short, instantly comes to mind when we see the old-fashioned ice-shaver because it is synonymous with what is commonly called ais kacang, a favourite tropical treat enjoyed by all race groups here.  He picked refreshing ais kacang, an item which unites Johoreans, a people who proudly insists that its unique taste cannot be replicated elsewhere!

Precariously hung above the ice-shaver is an old saw to illustrate how everyone faces the same threat and that absolutely nobody is exempt, when our environment is polluted and when we don’t have oxygen.  

This installation sends a strong message of the need to stand united in our effort to live in peace and harmony, and to keep the environment clean and healthy for our mutual benefit.

Oxygen the exhibition, on now till October 28, invites us to filter our streams of thought and take a different view of society.  So starting with ourselves, let us do our part to build a better world for us and our future generations.

Eh He Art Café with an upstairs gallery, is located at No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Jalan Trus, Johor Baru.  Open daily from 7am to 5pm. 

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