Officiating Of “The Malaysian Series” – Works Of The Late Redza Piyadasa

Tuan-tuan dan Puan-puan yang dihormati

Sebutir bintang tidak lagi mengerdip di cakerawala seni dengan kembalinya ke Rahmatullah Allahyarham Redza Piyadasa pada 7 Mei 2007. Sesungguhnya Allahyarham Redza Piyadasa adalah seorang abdi seni: bukan sahaja sebagai pengkarya seni tampak yang disegani, tetapi juga sejarahwan yang dihormati serta pemikir yang membawa pembaharuan dalam alam seni.

  1. It is my pleasure to be here to officiate at the opening of Piyadasa – The Malaysian Series. I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit this fine gallery again.
  2. This exhibition is a tribute to the late Redza Piyadasa, a Malaysian cultural icon much revered by his colleagues, peers and students. I am very happy that the public is given this valuable opportunity to experience a part of the prolific legacy that Piyadasa left behind. Congratulations to Galeri Petronas and the organizers on this spectacular effort. Your effort to instil an appreciation of the arts in our society is highly commendable.
  3. In a career spanning over four decades, Redza Piyadasa made his mark as educator, historian, curator, writer and critic, and as producer of a rich and diverse range of artistic works. He was a critic among artists. An artist among critics. An intellectual among Malaysians. A Malaysian among intellectuals, who stood for all races and religions. He never accepted anything without asking many questions. It is impossible to do him justice in a short speech. I would, however, like to take this time to honour a true Malaysian – of a variety that is a rarity, and in my opinion, becoming more and more of a rarity.
  4. He was strong-minded and fiercely outspoken. Piya dipped his brush into his own soul to create and recreate his style by responding to the changes around him. Soon after returning to Malaysia from Hornsey College of Art in the UK, he put himself on display as the radical newcomer. His works and teachings were in clear contrast to the artistic practices of the time. A non-conformist, he integrated emerging and experimental techniques from elsewhere into Malaysian art to create an unconventional style. In so doing, he produced works that did not always sit easily among the traditionalists. His boldness endured throughout his career. His writings were daring. Some have been disputed. Some of his biting criticisms have, in turn, been criticised. Yet, as one who enjoyed argument and deliberation, he welcomed debate. His views may not have always garnered agreement, but whether or not we agree, we cannot help but admire his wide knowledge, sharp probing mind, clarity of expression, and most of all, honesty and openness.
  5. Secondly, Piya strived for distinction in his field. His hard work and determination paid off. He emerged an original master in the realm of conceptual art. He produced celebrated works such as Wall Piece (1966), Trengganu II (1968), Trengganu III (1968), Marakesh IV (1970), May 13 (1970), The Great Malaysian Lanscape (1972), Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Model (1977) To Be Completed (1978) and the pivotal Malaysian Series. Apart from earning a coveted scholarship to pursue a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Hawaii, he won numerous prizes and awards. Among them, the 1998 Prince Claus award for lifetime contribution to the arts. He became Malaysia’s representative at many international exhibitions and the chosen delegate on diplomatic art visits abroad. He co-established the Five Arts Centre in 1983 and ran Saujana, a pioneer commercial gallery in Malaysia.
  6. As critic and historian, his writings have been and remain chief points of reference on art of this region. His most seminal written works include Masterpieces from the National Art Gallery, and Modern Artists of Malaysia, which he co-authoured with TK Sabapathy. He was also an important contributor to publications such as The New Sunday Times, Dewan Sastera, Dewan Budaya, Tenggara and Malaysian Panorama. In the field of academia, he was committed to nurturing a thinking generation of artists. He taught at University of Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Institute Teknologi Mara and The Centre for Advanced Design.
  7. Third, Piya was a true national promoter. He used his position and his networks to actively promote Malaysian art and artists. Galleries in Japan, Australia and Singapore procured important contemporary Malaysian works under Piya’s advocacy. He also played a seminal role in assembling a plethora of local collections. He was among a minority who took on the gruelling task of increasing representation of Malaysian art overseas. Representation is still deficient today, and sadly, we are left short of one invaluable activist.
  8. Fourth, Piya was socially-conscious and socially-responsible. Till his final days, he lamented the lack of Asian art studies in educational institutions, and the insufficiency of publications and infrastructure that can help advance Malaysian art. He spoke strongly of the danger of apathy and the danger of the younger generation being left culturally bankrupt as a result – unaware of their cultural heritage. He believed that in building the nation’s future, it is insufficient to limit ourselves to a formula of science, technology and commerce. The achievement of our people should also be measured in the realm of the arts. It should be made part of our strategy in community-building and human capital development.
  9. Finally, Piya was an artist-thinker. He always questioned his role – beyond that of a technical craftsman – as an intellectual in the public space. He had a deep concern for the future of Malaysia as a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious society. It was from this concern that The Malaysian Series was born. His intuitive understanding of Malaysia was revealed in his portrayal of images that reflect the social histories of different ethnic groups. Among the works in this series are Two Malay Women (1982), Indo-Eurasian Family (1984), Baba Family (1987), Malay Couple (1988), The Haji Family (1990), Kapitan Cina (1994) and Indian Mother and Children (1999). Piya poetically and provocatively confronted the theme of a pluralistic Malaysian identity.
  10. Piya was a rare bridge for our sad Malay – non-Malay, Muslim – non-Muslim divide. He provoked all communities equally. He was an equal offending intellectual with malice to none. He cared deeply for the marginalised. He was not a man for all seasons but a critic for all reasons. He challenged and stimulated one and all. A renaissance man. A polymath. A role model whose death diminishes all of us. Like Piyadasa, we must all embrace this subject of unity in diversity and strive towards achieving it in a real way. In Piya’s words, “Barriers (to unity) can only be crossed if we have a profound affection for diversity in this country”. I believe it is our responsibility as Malaysians to use our minds and actions to create a reality of openness, and to avoid parochialism at all costs.
  11. This exhibition – The Malaysian Series – is an engagement, written in the unifying language of art, which I believe in its own way can play a role in building a civil society. One cannot come away from it without appreciating the rich, varied and precious cultural heritage that underpins our social fabric.
  12. Sesungguhnya Negara kehilangan besar seorang pendukung seni yang jujur, seorang pengamal seni tampak yang prolific dan seorang seniman besar. Mudah-mudahan pameran yang diadakan ini mengabadikan jasa Allahyarham sambil mendorong ramai pelukis mencipta karya-karya menurut jejak langkah Allahyarham Redza Piyadasa.
  13. I have great pleasure in declaring “Piyadasa – The Malaysian Series” officially open.


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