PETALING JAYA, July 11 — It would be easy to say that stepping into the Chin Kon Yit: Revisited exhibition at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art is like stepping back in time. Each of the original 62 watercolours gives a glimpse of Kuala Lumpur as it was in 1998, Penang in 2001, or Malacca in 2003; the last remaining originals of Chin’s acclaimed "Sketchbooks."
He presents each subject, be it a colonial building, a suburban townhouse, or a Malacca trishaw, with such loving precision and detail that you know he is aiming to record every inch of these places and objects for posterity. Indeed, it is these sketchbooks which made Chin’s name synonymous with heritage.
For many, heritage suggests retrospection, nostalgia, elements of the past, yet underlying these glimpses of nine, 11, 14 years ago, is a timelessness that not only has made this exhibition a success but also keeps Chin relevant in the current decade and will for decades to come.
Heritage is not fixed, and in these watercolours Chin shows us the ever-changing and culturally diverse heritage of his Malaysian homeland. He presents this simply and directly in “East & West, Penang 2001,” focusing on two attached buildings, one with a traditional, bright Chinese façade and the other in the stately, Colonial architectural style indicative of Malaysia’s long-standing Western influences.
More recent developments in Malaysia’s changing culture can be seen in watercolours like “Jalan Dormaisamy, KL, 1998,” in which Chin depicts brick suburban townhouses with impressive detail. The interesting signs of modernity are the Washington Apple truck parked in front of a house and the more subtle chainlink fence, only noticeable to the careful observer.
In “Malacca Trishaw, Malacca, 2003,” Chin presents a well-known, brightly coloured symbol of Malacca, but with – unusually for Chin – a human figure sharing the spotlight. Chin has said that such images are, in part at least, sentimental reflections on his childhood, but this sensitive treatment of the trishawman, who stares out at us in a lumpy T-shirt, contrasting so much with the shiny perfection of the trishaw, immediately makes us ask – who is he? Where is he today? Just like all of the paintings in this exhibition, “Malacca Trishaw” presents us with questions not only of the past, but of the present and future.
The pieces in the exhibition cover a range of subjects with a focus on architecture, demonstrating Chin’s interest in the entirety of Malaysian culture evident in the country’s varied buildings: mosques, churches, townhouses, boats passing houses on stilts, and more share wall space without discrimination based on architectural style or import.
He includes less identifiable and perhaps, at first glance, more mundane scenes, as in “Jalan Doraisamy,” often choosing his subjects for their architectural content and their real representation of Malaysian life, rather than for their historical or landmark value.
These scenes, characterised by Chin’s accuracy of proportions, adept control of watercolour, and clean lines, emerge from the blank page without frames or parameters, like dreams or memories within the mind.
Chin considers buildings themselves to be “gifts of time,” but many of the ones documented here are fast disappearing, making this exhibition at SGFA seem at first like a monument to the past. But at the same time, it carries messages for the present and creates dialogue about the future.
Exhibition on through August 15, 2012:
SHALINI GANENDRA FINE ART @ Gallery Residence
8 Lorong 16/7B, Section 16, PJ Selangor
Tel:+603 7960 4740
Hours: Tues – Sat: 11am – 7pm
By Shelby Switzer
The Malaysian Insider
11 July 2012
Chin Kon Yit often picks subjects just for their architectural interest like this townhouse in Jalan Doraisamy, Kuala Lumpur.