Land Below The Wind

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“Land Below The Wind”, Cheong Sung Kin’s title for his exhibition of ceramic sculptures and teapots, is taken from the title of a book written in 1939 by the American author Agnes Newton Keith. Cheong is from Sandakan and the book was written in the same town in Sabah (then known as North Borneo). Subsequently that title has been accepted as the unofficial descriptor for Sabah.

Keith wrote mainly about her domestic life as a colonial official’s wife and a little of her infrequent treks into the jungle. Cheong’s sculptures are of the landscapes and its inhabitants; from his own observations and the family’s backyard. He grew up surrounded by natural environments and indigenous cultures and peoples.

“Land Below The Wind” was written in a genial style and is still very readable today. But Cheong’s new collection of forest and mountain settings have been through a baptism of fire and come out the other side as exquisite and unique objects of art. Besides, there are not many artists like him today who use wood fire to fire their clayware.

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“Land Below The Wind No. 1” is an imaginative and powerful use of clay to describe living in the middle of the rainforest and having to climb up and down the steps and negotiating the terrain daily. These are majestic trees with their crowns touching the clouds and the branches look like they are holding up the sky. This is not just art but the art of living with the forest.

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Through Eric’s eyes

NOV 1 — This is the last week to catch Eric Peris’s 30th solo photographic exhibition at the Sutra Gallery, which ends on Nov 5. Eric’s first two solo exhibitions were in 1982 at the Rupa Gallery (now closed), in Kuala Lumpur. Since then he has had 28 shows of his own.

In this one, Eric pulled out one example from each of his last 30 shows. What you get is a kind of retrospective view of one of Malaysia’s master photographer’s lifework. He deserves better national acknowledgement for his contributions as an artist, photographer, photojournalist and teacher. (It may yet come we hope.)

Eric, at 70, is a prodigious artist at work and his photographs have encompassed a wide variety of subjects. Many of his shots have been influenced by some of the most famous photographers of the last century.

His visual takes of the world around him have also in turn helped many Malaysian photographers see. Of course, he is most partial to those photographers whose works are in black and white, as most of his works are such.

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Bob Teoh, Eric & Lee HL at the opening

In the early 80s, Eric showed photos of views in and out of windows. His first set was from Thai windows and its architecture and landscapes. Later, he added his views of Malaysian landscapes from train windows.

On show are some vintage images of his unique way of seeing and capturing his surroundings. Not the usual postcard aesthetics of beautiful landscapes at sunset but the more unusual and unknown views that are just as photographic. This is just Eric’s art of seeing.

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Eric was also one of the few photographers who trained his lenses on tin mine landscapes near his former house in the Puchong tin mining area (now Bandar Kinrara). To many, this disused tin mining area was just a desolate and ugly gaping hole.

He turned those sand dunes, mounts and valleys into a record of our land forms, our history of the tin industry; in some ways like what the American photographer Ansel Adams did in the 40s and 50s with his country’s landscape.

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