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Feng Shui For Your Soul

Posted by on Wednesday, 9 March, 2011 at 3:29 PM. Filed under: Reviews

I went to see Munkao at his studio. He is sharing a temporarily vacant lot at Solaris Dutamas with other artists and the space has turned into something of an impromptu commune. Artist Chitoo’s creeper plants are making their way up a trellis, an artist has left her typewriter suspended in action, and knick-knacks and paraphernalia dot the lofty bare-concrete area. It is all – to sum it up the best possible way I can – very arty.

Munkao’s corner boasts his latest paintings, works-in-progress for his very first solo exhibition that opens at Wei-Ling Gallery this month. Munkao’s paintings of animals, popular ones from Feng Shui’s rich symbolism, have been set against plain dark backgrounds, and Munkao is quick to explain that these aren’t paintings, but rather ‘painstallations’.

“You have to write that seriously, OK?” he says. I write it down seriously, but get it wrong minutes later. So un-arty of me, but in my defense, ‘painstallations’ is a novel concept. What it means is that Munkao is turning his two-dimensional works into installations that require, in some cases, a bit of help from the audience.

Work/Life Balance from munkao on Vimeo.

This is a first for the artist and it’ll also be a first for many audience members. How many of us can attest to having peddled a bicycle to activate a water feature in a ‘painstallation’, as we will have to with Work.Life Balance, an image with a galloping horse that could’ve easily made the cut for a Marlboro ad?

Other works that’ll feature in Munkao’s exhibition, timed to coincide with the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit, also come to life. Three-legged toads’ eyes will set aglow, fortune-enhancing bats will boast spooky red eyes, and the octagonal PaKua will be fitted with a CCTV as a remark on contemporary life.

It’s time to Get Rich from munkao on Vimeo.

There’s also Munkao’s giant digital clock that doesn’t tell the time, but instead generates algorithms. Dont be mistaken though: “That’s not a painstallation, that’s an installation,” Munkao says.

It’s admittedly a bit difficult to follow, especially with most of the artworks still in their production stages when I visit and my Feng Shui knowledge at an alarming rate of nil, but I envisage great and auspicious things to come.

After all, Feng Shui has proven to do good. Listen to this early encounter Munkao had with the ancient Chinese art: “When I was eight, my parents brought me to a Feng Shui master and palm-reader and he said I would be an artist, so this is an homage to that.” Jealous. A fortune-teller told me I was going to be robbed.

My gloomy fortune aside, Munkao’s artworks are the result of an eight-year residency with the artist’s parents and the works are a look at how Feng Shui relates to everyday experiences, and, how contemporary art relates to contemporary life.

But, with much of today’s Malaysian art heading the course of serious assessments on life and society, where do Munkao’s latest works – paintstallations, prosperity sculptures, and auspicious neo-landscapes – fit in? And, what will audiences make of the exhibition’s guest curator, a soon-to-be-revealed Feng Shui master who will decide upon the hanging of the artworks in Wei-Ling Gallery based on their most fortuitous locations, and, who may also advise buyers on the best spot to hang them in their homes?

This added element at exhibition openings is, by the way, becoming a tradition of sorts for Munkao, having previously demonstrated how to cook vegetarian fare at the opening of The Best Art Show in the Univers in 2009 (there is a video on Youtube), and when he failed to get bodybuilders to grace another opening, invited a dancer instead.

Mockery or genius? You decide, but know that these quirky moments often manifest as the most memorable and that satire itself can be an art. I still remember being told that at a 1958 exhibition, French artist Yves Klein served blue cocktails to his guests, who purportedly urinated the artist’s signature International Klein Blue the next day.

If you’re unfamiliar with Munkao’s previous works, you can see a selection at www.munkao.com. Retro Munkao includes Ultraman and Godzilla, fun wordplay (like the floating eyeballs in Peeping Tomyam), figures in some incredibly carnal positions in the I Wish My Girlfriend Can Draw zine (NSFW), and in the website’s About page, you’ll learn how Munkao likes “fine dining, movies, long talks on the phone and meaningful walks by the beach during sunset.”

Despite Munkao claiming he’s “never had humour”, he is “a prosperous, serious person”, and that he is “going whaling” after this exhibition is done (don’t ask), I reckon his latest works not only enlighten us on Feng Shui, but also take a much welcomed poke at the stifling seriousness of what fine art can be.

Munkao’s paintbrushes, cleverly placed light fixtures, and soon, your peddling skills look to auspiciously debunk both the myth of Feng Shui and the myth of painting. And, if you’re not solely concerned by whether or not Munkao’s artworks will magnify your fortunes, you’ll also see how Munkao’s latest works are in fact very witty reflections on some aspects of contemporary life and how satire can be a great way to showcase this.

Art is more than end results on a canvas and Munkao, together with project curator, Simon Soon, have etched this notion deeply in this month’s featured exhibition.

Feng Shui – A Solo Exhibition by Munkao, Wei-Ling Gallery, 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur (www.weiling-gallery.com / 03 2260 1106). 17Feb – 3Mar. Mon-Fri, 12.00-7.00pm. Sat, 10.00am-5.00pm.

This article was originally published for Time Out KL (February 2011 issue).


Rachel Jena writes about art for Time Out Kuala Lumpur and New Straits Times. She runs on coffee, loves fried bihun, and would like it to snow in Malaysia. Just once in her lifetime at least.

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  1. feng tau mui says
    10/03/2011 8:52 PM

    Was at the opening night, i thought that Munkao is really gimmicky.
    This post with all the videos and gifs only confirms my suspicion.

  2. feng tau mui says
    10/03/2011 9:11 PM

    Apologies! I meant his works are gimmicky. cant speak for the person la.

  3. Datin S says
    10/03/2011 10:04 PM

    The entire practice of Feng Shui is a gimmick. Ever been to Lilian Too’s World of Feng Shui shop at MidValley or 1Utama? Read her magazines? It’s like Corporate Oprah mixed with Voodoo Magick. God does not play Loto!

    Or maybe Mun Kao has been to one Jai show too many. Jai painted Bomohs and made dirty drippings here and there. Mun Kao tries to top it by inviting a Feng Shui Master and animating his splishies-splashies.

    Mun Kao has fallen into a hole within a hole: one is the vapidness of contemporary art, the second is the deceit of Feng Shui. Ptui.

    I had high hopes for Mun Kao and this series. The press photo in the Prestige magazine made my spine tingle down to my toes. I was high tea-ing with my BFFs at Shangrila when this happen but I could not resist and cross my thighs tightly together until the vibrations ceased.

    I wanted to have all the paintings hung in my master bed room…it’s been so empty since my boyfriend Anson was framed and arrested last year. All my exotic pets are gone. Mun Kao’s set of wild beast would have substituted finely but the flashing and the cheap paddling added on, the purity of the animals are gone, the sacredness of painting is lost.

    What good is an art work if you cannot feel like making love to it.

    I will pray for him.

  4. Nathaniel Merryweathers says
    11/03/2011 1:04 PM

    basing a whole show on a self made pun shows the immaturity of conceptual and installation art scene in south east asia.

  5. gaban says
    11/03/2011 2:41 PM

    expose! Lilian Too is Chi Too’s mother!

  6. kapan says
    11/03/2011 9:59 PM

    they do look alike…

  7. Parpriyat Korvac says
    23/03/2011 9:53 PM

    What perfect irony that an artist who strives for controversy could only garner a pity 6 comments for this post a whole month after the his show ended.

  8. Bricklane says
    24/03/2011 11:25 PM

    Are the works in the show being categorized as conceptual and installation art in Malaysia? hmmmm… so dissapointing

  9. Dr. Sanjaya Mathrani says
    26/03/2011 6:20 PM

    The Critic Speaks: http://www.nga.gov/feature/artnation/johns/interpretation_2a.htm

    Not responding to Datin S here (who is obviously one of Mun Kao’s cronies trying to stir shit up):

    What is immature is the quality of criticism displayed here. What Nathaniel calls “Self-made puns” is in no way self-congratulatory or solipsistic, it is, with its presentation and visual vocabulary, obviously a spirited riff on Chinese identity and value systems. The vulgarity of the work is clearly very deliberate and considered; the artist is drawing attention to the very rose-colored glasses you all wear when you walk into art shows. The fact that you are crying ‘Gimmick’ just goes to show that all you see is the artifice and not the art; those glasses may very well be still resting on your noses, for all you know.

    Actually art criticism is getting to be more of a joke than anything Mun Kao could conceive of on a good day. Critics always resort to partisanism when dealing with complex moral or aesthetic dialogues, and due to this too many contemporary artists see inserting “easy”, didatic, political “messages” as the only recourse to being critic-proof. In light of this, I find what Mun Kao is doing refreshing, occupying an eccentric middle ground between metaphysic and cliche.

    A note on the titles. Mun Kao, you gotta let your work speak for themselves sometimes. I find that your titles severely limit the kind of connections which the audience can draw when engage with your work, e.g. Work/ Life Balance could be simplified to “Balance”, which leaves the viewer a lot more space to draw their own conclusions as to what the bicycle represents.

    Maybe your intentions in naming the titles were facetious, maybe the crude symbolism was the joke. But like someone once said, the difference between a Gucci ad and pornography is akin to someone telling and funny joke and someone explaining why the joke is funny.

  10. Datuk T says
    27/03/2011 2:07 PM

    this should be on his next catalogue

    “I find what Mun Kao is doing refreshing, occupying an eccentric middle ground between metaphysic and cliche.” – Simon Mathrani

  11. Dr. Sanjaya Mathrani says
    28/03/2011 4:00 PM

    I’m not Simon, I’m merely an impartial observer who would also like to take this opportunity to point out the inherent subversiveness in art that anticipates their collectors by announcing their utility. (In doing so, I will also clarify my comment re: “The middle ground between metaphysic and cliche”, lest it sound like promotional fluff to certain commenters I find worth defending myself against, by virtue of them being randomly named after political characters of disrepute.)

    Mun Kao’s art doesn’t escape the symptom that plagues painters: It commodifies its subject. Animals, kistch, catchphrases, Chinese cultural references and such are treated as grist for the mill instead of contexts to explore. This is the artist working in painterly cliche, and is seemingly antithetical to most conceptual art, something which detractors seem to focus upon.

    However what these detractors neglect to point out is that Mun Kao also subverts this very scheme of commodification by making the COLLECTORS themselves the very subject of his art’s ridicule. By marketing his art, Mun Kao manages to reduce his collectors to living stereotypes: opulent, materialistic, living in gated communities, buying ornaments to dissuade intruders from their isolated abodes (after all, what is the purchase of Art today, but an investment in the inaccessibility of a transaction, an inauguration of one consumer above other consumers?), fixated on painting traditions such as Chinese Landscapes only because of the currency created via the reiteration of such disciplines, and obsessed in the fetishization of prosperity, instilling their purchases with an aura of superstition. The exploration between the artist/collector dynamic is where I see Mun Kao’s art ringing the most true; I see him as working in the same tradition of artists such as Piero Manzoni.

    Ultimately, the biggest flaw in Feng Shui – and this ties back into my criticism about his facetious titles – is that even though the artist’s concession of the impossibility of authentic expression plays a big part in his work, it always seems taken for granted and left unexamined, secondary to all the mockery. It all rings rather cynical, and it is my hope that this aspect of this otherwise interesting artist’s repertoire will be put into further scrutiny in future shows.

  12. Dr. Sanjaya says
    28/03/2011 4:49 PM


    Upon re-reading what I wrote, my description of the exhibition as an “exploration of the artist/ collector dynamic” was poorly-worded. It’s more of an exploration of the Asian collector’s psyche than anything else – All trace of the “Artist” seems to be methodically erased, in anticipation of the collectors.

    I guess you could call it a dynamic if you reformulate it as a one-way-relationship, with the artist having purely the role of marketer/ producer; Dialogue occurs in projections of the artworks’ “eventual owners”, instead of directly between the art and the viewer. Again, one has to wonder why Mun Kao, in structuring the way his art communicates thus, takes for granted – or is even aware of – this rift between artistic expression and audience engagement that his work seems eccentrically centered in.

  13. Collector T says
    28/03/2011 11:51 PM

    As someone who buys art, I am incensed after reading the comments. Luckily I didnt buy anything from this show.

  14. CRONYUSRI says
    29/03/2011 1:42 PM

    I’m glad the good doctor made revisions to his passage regarding the artist/collector dynamics.

    The initial passage reminded me of the Jasper John piece he posted in which the verbosity of the critic blinds him from observing the actual characteristics of the works on display. Did the Doctor see the show? Was he present at the opening to observe the level of audience /collectors engagement?

    “Mun Kao also subverts this very scheme of commodification by making the COLLECTORS themselves the very subject of his art’s ridicule.”

    Mun Kao is really not the sort of fellow who engineers an entire show just to teabag collectors while trying to make a buck off them.

    Neither is he working in the subversive tradition of Manzoni ler.

    Mun Kao is a typical artist with esteem issues. He does not have an inflated confidence like Manzoni. The later had the cockiness to crown his own breath and even crap as ‘ART’, thus reclaiming for artists their status as ‘godly creators’ from the market, and sussing out the suckers of the art world. This is the stuff of subversions.

    Mun Kao, on the other hand, has been trying to create a flatten art pasture that is welcoming to art lovers from the world of high concept installation art, fine art paintings, folk art, low brow comics, etc. This is an attempt at convergence. Anyone here remember his half human-half beast series at The Annexe? Convergence. This is typical Mun Kao-ry.

    I don’t understand why the Doctor insist that the artist was effacing himself from his work. In the installations perhaps, but aren’t the paintings showing his ongoing love for powerful animals and anal-itical detailed paintings?

    Thinking back of his earlier oeuvre, I’ve observe that Mun Kao is generally deflating himself, making himself the butt of jokes: stalker, loner, loser, pervert, fool… and yes, he does goes on to mock anything and everything around him, but it’s always done with the sweet cheeky charm of a man-child / wolf-boy. Lots of cocks here and there but nothing ever so shock-schlocking as shitting in a can and selling it.

    Over the years, he has taken potshots at religious figures, political leaders, cherished childhood superheroes or fantasies, and now his own chinese cultural heritage. Mun Kao does not place himself above the things he jokes about. One could say that it’s the chaps innocent manner of showing his understanding and misunderstanding of the world.

    Whereas many local artist attempts at rescuing disappearing traditions involves packaging it with tired painterly paintings doused with sepia/charcoal/bitumen washes and some handwriting for added nostalgia/ authentica; Mun Kao tried choke slamming an ancient practice onto the modern contraptions, s-mashing feng shui with google maps, random number generators, CCTVs, lighting attached to scanners, etc. The detailed animals could have titillated the aged art collectors; the gadgets and interactivity for the younger geeks and hipsters.

    This guy wanted to please everyone, give everyone something to see. If there’s laughter, it’laughter together-gether he was after. Laughing AT collectors? Meh. Not his his style. If it were, it was probably unintentional.

    It is unfortunate then, in trying to please everyone, Mun Kao’s first solo must have tasted to those who take their shit too seriously like a half-cooked meal instead of an exciting buffet.

    For his effort in forging a convergence in the art worlds and art lovers, I would consider Mun Kao to be an idealistic romantic rather than a cynic. Or just a middle child who tries to keep everyone happy.

    If he is to improve as an artist, I would suggest that he should see that some of his efforts are really half cooked, like his attempt at performance art at Best Show in Univers.

    He’s probably have to take the way of the doctorate study: commit fully to one domain, like mastering an exhibition with pure installations, tackle its conceptual conundrums with deeper research, be more independent with his construction and formulations, and really show appreciation for the full power of contemporary art forms beyond painting.

    Either that or learn to pain backgrounds and shadows ler. He can’t go on copping out with his flat backgrounds right if he remains in painting?

    I am doubtful if the doctor’s call to investigate further subversive activities against the collectors is tenable for a shy teddybear like Mun Kao. That task is really an art for the curators and galleristas to master.

    The real cynic and subversive artist here is probably Doctor Sanjaya Matharani, whose most helpful suggestion originally was in simplifying the title, by ONE word while he himself writes in such lengthy and confusing manner. Furthermore, after finding his original comment too harsh, the doctor backtracked and neutralize, what i believe, is his personal grudge towards collectors.

    Good doctor, if you are indeed someone with such an esteemed title, wouldn’t you have a measure of opulence, materialism, and life in a gated community? Why not show real support by ordering a Mun Kao painting today? CALL 03 2260 1106 NOW!

  15. Ms Lahdidah Chong says
    29/03/2011 2:45 PM

    But that’s the problem with the whole argument… Who – aside from Mun Kao, I ask – gives a shit if collectors bought anything from the show?

    I* am unmoved by Dr. Sanjaya’s attempt to paint Mun Kao as a shrewd (shrew? for some reason, I associate that word to that of the rodential persuasion) enfant terrible who, with incisor-like “subversiveness”, bites the nail-polished, Victorinox Swiss army watch-wrapped hands that feeds its rat-like** cunning, gnawing their cheesy appendages off before spitting them out and selling them back to former patrons, happy to be paying to be told to fuck themselves.

    I find the Doctor’s own analysis of Feng Shui dialectically – and diabetically – rose-colored, like the awful sirap bandung they serve at the Mamak at Solaris Dutamas. Dr Sanjaya lacks the critical faculty to determine if Mun Kao’s work succeeds in communicating authorial intent (as conceptual art), or, in their construct independent of intent, reveals the truth surrounding the conditions and context of their production. Does the satire on collectors work because of, or in spite of Mun Kao’s artistic decisions?

    Sanjaya claims Mun Kao inverts the cliche of painters commodifying their subjects, (a statement on painting which I find naive, as if an artist of any other discipline does not inadvertently capitalize on a particular theme or image by singularizing it through their idiom) making the subjects the collectors themselves… In truth, this has nothing to do with Mun Kao’s painterly affinities, Mun Kao is merely working in a warholian cliche – that of art as product – which appears less transparent due to a convoluted context it exists in. This context is South East Asian postmodernism, where pirated brand names exist side-by-side with the real thing; Andrei Codrescu wrote that value in the art world is created solely on the differential between the authentic and the inauthentic. In Malaysia, where such distinctions are blurred, an artist like Mun Kao has to reference pre-existing value constructs outside of art.

    It’s not that Mun Kao has the ability to satirize the stereotype of his collectors, it’s because his idea of how value is created follows a stereotype.


    *The pretense of being ontologically distinct from the doctor is not a ploy to make Mun Kao’s show seem more talked-about and controversial than it really is; this is one of those cases in which critical revisionism only stretches so far before one entity becomes vulnerable to accusations of disingenuity.

    ** The next year of the Rat falls on 2020, a year cemented in public consciousness due to shrewd – squeak, squeak – sloganeering centered on an ophthalmologic pun contrived by a certain Dr M… maybe this Mun Kao fellow IS on to something with this Feng Shui business. What exactly is the difference between the practice of assigning significance to dates based on corresponding animals, and assigning an objective for a nation state based on some Mamak’s eye doctor?

    As a little girl (sic), I wondered why Mahathir seemed to be looking forward to 2020 when he probably wouldn’t be alive by that date. I’ll never forget my mom’s response: “It’s just a number.”

    It’s Time to Get Rich, indeed.

  16. Dr. Sanjaya Mathrani says
    29/03/2011 4:07 PM

    Crony Good sir,

    I did see the show, though not during the opening, a maneuver on my part to avoid bumping into overly verbose people, like this one guy Daniel, for fear of exposing my bias against collectors to his sharp critical eye! No, actually my theory on Mun Kao’s anticipation of the collectors was based on Mun Kao’s own write-up of his show:


    “The night light frog is a home safety artwork that has a dual function as an aesthetic work of art that also protects the home from intruders.”


    “The prism spins, thereby distorting the video image that appears on the TV monitor. If a robber enters the home and chance upon the distorted image of himself on the television, he might change his mind as the prism has the power to change our perspectives on life.”


    Is the artist not, in jokingly announcing the utility of his art, projecting kind sort of image about their intended owners? Don’t these images fit the Feng Shui people he references and pokes fun at?

    Its naive to assume that the artist’s intent governs what their work can or cannot convey. I am not, as you imagine, accusing Mun Kao of putting himself above his collectors, I am saying his work critiques the very fabric in which they exist in (I DID say it was a stereotype of the collector, not a direct statement about them.) Don’t you see the distinction in that? One doesn’t nessesarily have to be above the things they criticize, in fact, in my opinion, some amount of love and recognized affiliation for the subject at hand often precedes the critique. How could someone point out the flaw in something if they didn’t idealize it to some extent in the first place? A critique of something that assumes a position higher than the subject is not a critique at all, it’s judgement.

    Your describing the artist’s personality to counter my intepretion of his work miss the point, of COURSE I’m trying to find things the art communicates beyond the artist himself, since all that is personal about his expression seems effaced. Beyond Mun Kao’s personality, I think Feng Shui conveys a wider metaphysic, and it involves that of commodity, consumerism and the nature of art patronage.

    If anything I’m saying Mun Kao’s work has a degree of honesty, despite being so impersonal, as it reflects the conditions that allow it to exist as commodity.

    I’ll respond to you later Ms Lahdidah.

  17. Ms Lahdidah says
    29/03/2011 4:54 PM

    “It’s naive to assume the artist’s intent governs what the art can or cannot convey”

    I find you very naive of conceptual art, an art form in which artist’s intent, far from being secondary, is the very mechanism that creates the art. How well the artist manipulates his media to convey this intent is the criteria here. All the hip, fresh, self-refrential subversiveness you’re reading here lies in what the media indicates, but doesn’t embody in itself.

    Dr. Sanjaya, was your phd in literary theory or art criticism? Because you seem to be conflating both in order to be a apologist for conceptual complacency.

  18. Dr. Sanjaya Mathrani says
    29/03/2011 5:37 PM

    I don’t hold any doctorates. I am a veterinarian. 40 years in the business.

    Madam, you are deliberately misrepresenting conceptual art in order to make an argument against me. The artist’s intent may take precedence over the forms he chooses, but it remains that the viewer will take what they want away from the work.

    In this case, it is more apt to analyze the work based on calculated guesses as to what an impartial observer would read in the art, and the concept that stands out the most clearly is the painting’s utility – as bicycles that light up kistch, as toto number pickers etc. Logically, this would communicates a clear picture about the person who would use them.

    Conceptually then, doesn’t Mun Kao succeed in manipulating the media’s utility for the purposes of his art? Granted, he doesn’t so much convey itent, but he paints a picture of this collector stereotype. Thus, Mun Kao’s painterly affiliation and all the cliches associated with it still persists, but it complements – rather than distracts – the subtext about collectors. Cronyusri pointed out that Mun Kao is an artist of convergence. That is what I see Mun Kao doing here, introducing painting and installation disciplines to a mutual contamination.

    I must admit that Mun Kao’s show did suffer from his trying out too many things at a go, though the tension between Mun Kao’s painterly instincts and conceptual experimentation I found unique – like I said, it was an eccentric show. The unifying subtext seemed strong enough for it to feel subversive, though.

    I don’t have a grudge against collectors, I have a grudge against people richer than me. I know that’s shallow, but then again, aren’t we all?

  19. chi too says
    29/03/2011 9:30 PM

    no… lilian too is not my mother…

    she is unfortunately, my aunt

  20. Parpriyat Korvac says
    29/03/2011 10:58 PM

    What perfect irony that an artist who strives for controversy could only garner a pithy 20 comments for this post a whole month after the his show ended.

  21. Lillian Too says
    29/03/2011 11:14 PM

    21 is a better number

  22. The Alabaster Man says
    30/03/2011 12:12 AM

    Dr. Mathrani,

    I began to read your cogent reply to CRONYUSRI, but when I got to the paragraph that began “It is naive to assume” my eyes began to roll back into my head. When I recovered my wits, I soldiered through the rest of it.

    I hope you don’t assume that a buyer of Mun Kao’s pieces use them as substitute for their home security system. That seems like too much of a literal reading of his work. Literal as in “without metaphor”. So much for utility. Nowhere do you acknowledge a sense of play in the work, this betrays an unfamiliarity with his past work.

    Here lies the key: it would be useful to look at the intended audience for his past work. CRONYUSRI has given a fair summary, I see no reason to improve on it.

  23. Soon Chin Malik Too Kao Kao says
    30/03/2011 1:58 AM

    fap fap fap

  24. Dr. Sanjaya says
    30/03/2011 10:37 AM

    Alabaster Man,

    I admit I am unfamiliar to Mun Kao’s previous work, you young folks are probably better judges as to how this new exhibition extends his past themes. I, too appreciated Cronyusri’s take on Mun Kao’s exhibition (especially what he said about convergence) and had no interest in undermining it in any way.

    Out of respect for those involved discussion, I must apologize for my liberal use of the word “naive”, though I should point out I didn’t mean it in a condescending way, I was responding to what he said about artistic intention and trying to make a general statement about art interpretation. I certainly didn’t use the word the way Ms Lahdidah did, re: “a statement on painting which I find naive”, “I find you very naive.” I’d hate to sound defensive, but it’s hard to maintain an impartial tone when this woman seems to have an irrational grudge against me. Is she a collector?

    A.M., you have misunderstood my statement on Utility in Feng Shui. Maybe I am missing something, but I don’t think the element of play in Mun Kao’s work eluded me, and mine was far from a literal reading. I did acknowledge the “utility” of Mun Kao’s works as a joke.

    I was merely saying that in the conceptual component of his show, the artist succeeds in caricature – not the kind of figurative caricature championed by Zunar, but a caricature of perception. The way commodity, collectibles and such are viewed in certain circles is what’s being lampooned here. Of course the home security system is a joke… but what are the mechanics of this joke? The use of a mirror in one of his installation pieces is telling. Through exaggerating the work’s utility, what does he evoke about those who would use/ buy them?

    Instead of showing us a literal representation of the things he satirizes (like, say, a drawing of a fat fengshui master shitting gold) Mun Kao represents how the subject of his satire SEES art. In creating gaudy white elephants – this is not to say that they are not beautifully executed – appropriating commodity, he doesn’t so much represent the absurdity of modern life, so much as filter his works through it. This is where his work holds some truth about the world and in which he shines as a conceptual artist.

    As a painter… You’re going to have to humor me here, but as an impartial viewer (there is obviously going to be a lot of us discussing the artist’s work once it gains posterity) I have to say, if there was any symbolic intent in the animal imagery, it seemed secondary, something that complemented the satire rather than being central to it.

  25. Mohamad says
    30/03/2011 11:19 AM

    I understand that the artist took a risk by straying from conventional painting. Collectors are less likely to buy conceptual pieces than something executed on permanent media, like canvas.

  26. Ms Lahdidah Chong says
    30/03/2011 1:21 PM

    Dr Sanjaya,

    AS IF I consider you significant enough to hold a grudge against. Is your ego is as bloated as your art criticism? I love how your credentials include being a veterinarian, yet the fact that the bat is considered an auspicious symbol in Feng Shui eludes you. Ever heard of the 3-legged frog?

    Your comments continue to be deliberately obtuse and acultural – your presumption that these symbols have lost its meaning among people and can only communicate artifice is unfounded. Symbols of prosperity are staples in Chinese culture, are still able to command significance among many.

    Your dialogue seems to be increasingly hostile against upper-middle class chinese folk (- fat fengshui master shitting gold? really? -) and you seem to be opportunistically using Mun Kao’s work as a soapbox to vent your disdain.

  27. The Alabaster Man says
    30/03/2011 2:20 PM

    Dr. Sanjaya,

    I don’t know if I would call Mun Kao an artist of convergence. His main preoccupations seem to be bathroom humour and social awkwardness, which are close to my heart as well. Lowbrow themes seem to have no place in Malaysian art, where many artists seek to elevate the public discourse and end up saying nothing new. Only great themes like identity, gender, censorship, race, time, loss of culture etc. I like the lack of pretentiousness. The lack of depth is refreshing as well. You either get his humour or you don’t.

    Upon reflection, I guess you could call Feng Shui satirical. Satire has two audiences: one is the butt of the joke, the other laughs at them. It’s a timeless gag to make fun of the people who give you money. But once you explain a joke, you’ve killed it.

  28. Dr. Sanjaya says
    30/03/2011 4:48 PM

    Ms Lahdidah: I think you would be hard-pressed to find a Chinese person who wouldn’t admit that those cultural pratcies have lost its meaning. But forget it. I shall cease responding to you until you demonstrate the ability to show some respect. You’re being a B word – C word, even.

    Alabaster Man: It would help if you clarified what you meant by ‘low brow themes’. (Those were Crony’s words, not mine).

    Who’s to determine what artistic themes are greater and more timeless than others? Why, the artists themeselves! I go by the belief that an artist doesn’t channel the truth, he/she actively participates in its construction. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, loftily reflecting the world from it’s self-constructed state of privilege… When an artist speaks through his work, he is also expanding the possibilities in which we can think and talk about the subject in itself.

    Do I think Mun Kao’s art leave me room to contemplate racial identity and loss of culture? No. Do I think it communicates – demonstrates, even via the theme of commodity how value systems AFFECTS racial identity and loss of culture? Yes.

    As far as I know, there’s a whole study devoted to explaining jokes. It’s called discourse analysis :) (Why everyone here seems to imagine that what Mun Kao’s work is able to convey is limited to his lack of lofty ambition, his personality traits, is beyond me.)

  29. The Tlgy says
    30/03/2011 5:58 PM

    YO alabasterman!!! WHATZUPPP y you got a prob with LOWBROW???

    naodayz artis-artis tempatan like to satire this satire that :)

    go join RAJA LAWAK yo!!!…

    my crew just want to show respect to JUXTAPOZ and other international graf

    we JOKE with our cans a the time!!!

    “Low Brow has no place in the Malaysian scene” WTF hahaha

    WHO ARE YOU!!! Crime Minister of art scene?

    LOWBROW IS LOWBROW!!! We dont fuck with diorg HIGH peeps (kakakakaka)

    so dont fuck with us OK!


    >+the+ T.L.G.Y roc la familia<

  30. Mohamad says
    30/03/2011 6:23 PM

    I think the effort on the artist’s part to explore different ways the audience can interact with his painting commendable. Perhaps he is more interested in sharing the experience of his art than telling people what to think of his art?

  31. The Alabaster Man says
    30/03/2011 7:38 PM

    The Tigy,

    Wow, it’s the first time I’ve been told not to fuck with graffiti artists. If you could spare a minute to read the whole paragraph, you’ll find my argument isn’t what you think it is.

  32. THEY says
    31/03/2011 12:53 AM

    The Tigy,

    why when i click on that ( The Tigy ) it goes to my mySpace account !!…???

    This is nothing to do with me. I DO NOT associate myself with this sort of things nor write in such manner. It is an act of a person with low self esteem and low morale who doesn’t even have the guts to sign off with his/her own identity…. just be who you are and don’t be such a poser.


  33. bibichun says
    31/03/2011 3:09 AM

    all bitches,
    so your point is?

  34. admin says
    31/03/2011 11:17 AM

    A reminder to keep the discussion on track and to PLAY NICE. Thank you.

  35. >_ says
    01/04/2011 2:11 PM


  36. lolo says
    03/04/2011 9:30 PM


    “In some parts of the academic world the idea of authorial intent has become an object of contempt. We are sometimes told that, since the meaning of the author cannot be known with certainty (especially in the case of dead authors) we should interpret texts based on our own ideas, without even considering what the author meant. The absurdity of such a practice becomes very clear as soon as you imagine it in the context of ordinary conversation: A person says something, say X. You respond by saying, “That means …Y.” The first speaker responds, “No, that’s not what I meant at all.” And you say, “I don’t care what you have to say now. I know that what you meant was Y, and that’s the end of it.” In short, the denial of respect for authorial intent entails a contempt for authors which ends by sanctioning in students a contempt for speakers that ultimately leads to a complete breakdown of effective communication.”

  37. Kali says
    10/04/2011 8:04 PM

    Dear to all the critics,

    As he stated that it was an installation and the problem that he faces is not the subject maater or the approach of exhibiting the painting and the bicycle element. But the way he present the subject as feng shui issues is the main concern in his work do have some probelmatic area. When you are trying to speak your language through the instruments of installation, there is a way of talking or speaking. As his approach are less aesthetically appreciated because the subject are being portray in very literal way that people cant find any other aspect in your art could be appreciated or look beyond. It is shown that Mun Kao’s characteristic of experiencing new creative approach, fun making, playful approach even he tries to say he is so serious, but it is shown in his works that he want to have fun in his making. That is fine, but maybe the lights device that he used in his bat painting perhaps he could use a better way to display it, compositionally, or maybe the type of light he uses, or anything that doesn’t make people think it is so unnecessary to be there. As the concept is always fine, it can be traced that dadaism seemed to have some inspirational influence on his works. That’s all i want to say about his work, but keep it up Mun Kao. Please do consider the point i was saying. : )
    Terima kasih.

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