Malaysian painter Wong Perng Fey was one of the Malaysian artists of the year-long Malaysia-Australia Visual Arts Residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2002.
Born in Kuala Lumpur in 1974, Wong Perng Fey is an artist who has built his reputation as an experimental and versatile painter since his graduation from the Malaysian Institute of Art under the school’s scholarship in 1998. His works are in many prominent public collections such as the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Bank Negara Malaysia Museum Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur and Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur. He lives and works in Beijing.
Exhibition Opening Speech
by Angela Hijjas
2 – 19 October 2002
Valentine Willie Fine Art, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur
Thank you all for coming this evening to see these new landscapes by Wong Perng Fey.
I would like to thank Beverly and Valentine Willie Fine Art not just for inviting me to open this show today but for having being such strong supporters of our artists’ residency programme. This gallery has suggested to us a stream of fine young artists to support, one of whom is Perng Fey, and it has provided Hijjas and I with our greatest pleasure in seeing their works develop up to this exciting exhibition stage.
Like most of us, I am neither art critic nor scholar, but I come to the new work of any artist with formed ideas about what the world is like, and inevitable expectations about how it might be portrayed. I also have a particular affinity with landscape as it illustrates to me the way we relate to the environment around us, but as in most areas where we have a little knowledge and think we know what is going on, in fact we may not.
Perng Fey’s depiction of landscapes definitely overturns any preconceived ideas of what we are likely to see. These are not pretty kampongs or rivers winding through romantic hills and forests: these landscapes portray what happens to nature and land when they are modified by man. Landscapes are not static, they change, which in itself confronts our expectations of variations caused by mere weather and light. Today, unfortunately, landscapes have been destroyed and desecrated, but it is something we rarely confront, not wanting to question the very real benefits that development has brought us.
Landscapes have shaped every culture, including Malaysia’s for generations, and yet we ignore their plight in our flurry of progress. At the same time, many of us are influenced by the cultural values of more temperate climates where open spaces are commended as ‘vistas’ and exotic gardens are the epitome of beauty. We occupy this place, but we do not know it as well as we should.
From my personal perspective Perng Fey is painting the landscapes that people would rather ignore: the ravaged and the marginal. These are the landscapes that are the closest to us but are the most neglected. Perng Fey’s are the landscapes from our peripheral vision that we really do not recognize as our own, but which are in fact our prevailing visual experience.
Despite this dark side of the work, his skills of composition and handling of his medium seduce one into looking and seeing beauty, but they are simultaneously disturbing.
Another area of Perng Fey’s interest lies in the remains of settlements, most of them tacked together as temporary shelters that have served out their usefulness and have since been abandoned. Like his landscapes, they are devoid of people, as if he is charting our passage across the land, tracing the trail of our transience. They are however, quite beautiful, forcing us to review something that has always been seen as a blight on the
landscape, once again transforming our usual perspective.
These paintings bring the conflicts of occupying a place to the surface: they are compelling canvases portraying something that I did not initially recognise for what they are, they are puzzling and yet beautiful, and I can assure you that a longer acquaintance with these works will not disappoint.
I have been watching Perng Fey’s works develop over the last 9 months and am intrigued by these landscapes that he is understandably reluctant to verbalise. At first viewing each piece seems simple enough, but as the series has developed so has his subject. Just the other day, we were discussing how, by seeing all his work hung together like this, we can experience the development of his ideas as body of work. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to acquire one of them might want to return to this brief opportunity to see the whole collection, because it works so well as a changing viewpoint of landscape and our human habitation.
I congratulate Perng Fey for this remarkable show, and thank you all for coming this evening. Enjoy the exhibition.