Are you an artist wondering how to prepare for an art exhibition?
It can be intimidating to delve into the deepest parts of yourself, to draw from within, and to present these parts to the world.
Two emerging young artists, Amani Azlin and Binti, were feeling just that as they prepared to show a body of their work for CULT Gallery’s latest exhibition, “6 Ways of Seeing”.
The exhibition from 18 to 30 March 2022, will be the first time that both multidisciplinary artists are showing a large volume of their work. Binti, with 24 pieces, and Amani with 15 pieces.
Amani Azlin, 28, received a degree in graphic design from the London College of Communications, University of Arts London. She began her career as a fashion photographer before moving into film and video and most recently, fine art photography.
Meanwhile, Binti, 24, received a formal education in Foundation of Cinematic Arts at the Multimedia University, Selangor, and explores creation in performance art, poetry, photography, and visual art.
Both share their process and experiences in preparing for the exhibition.
Amani Azlin’s work has revolved around themes that affect her deeply, namely themes of identity and womanhood. Her previous works for the PAUSE show 2021 at the Tun Perak Co-op and for CIMB Artober 2021 explored her first self-portrait series.
“I was very affected then by certain ideas and experiences as a Muslim woman. I felt that they were rarely portrayed in art and I wanted to change that.”
“Also, when I was in university in London, I experienced the weight of racism and Islamophobia for the first time, as a woman wearing the hijab.
A simple light fabric suddenly weighed heavily on me. Similarly, when I returned home, I experienced different yet no fewer constricting expectations as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman. The idea seemed to be that when you have the hijab on, everything that you do is open to public scrutiny and ridiculous expectations because you’re so publicly Muslim.”
“Putting that intimate part of myself forward in that show, my main piece was a self-portrait in a hijab that was made with a very long and heavy piece of white fabric, framed against a dark background.
The weight of the fabric is further reinforced with heavy rocks. My emotions were strong and fiery while preparing for the show and I connected intensely with that piece from start to finish, as I was wholly involved in the process and leveraged my face and body to tell my story.”
In “6 Ways of Seeing” however, Amani Azlin taps into a more playful part of her upbringing, that is, the rubber band or gelang getah. Rubber bands are universal, transcend generations, and are a very Southeast Asian household item. Through her artwork, she conveys how these mundane everyday items can be used to generate new meaning and experiences.
Meanwhile, Binti presents 24 art pieces for the “6 Ways of Seeing” exhibition which are autobiographical in nature. Each piece captures a year of her life. For these pieces, Binti “wanted to sit down with herself, and look back in order to look forward.”
This resulted in her returning to her childhood home in Johor Bahru, to explore her deepest memories. She says, “Geography and placement play a big role in the creation of my work. As much of my work is reflective, I felt the need to go home, to see and touch old photo albums, school yearbooks, clothes, rooms – mementos of my life. Being around this conducive energy helped me tap into my authentic self, and move into the right headspace for my work.”
Binti’s final piece for the exhibition entitled, TWENTY-FOUR – SELF LOVE, reflects aspects of her life and work as a young artist.
“There is a line in the work – Malays in Hollywood. It refers to me trying to make it in the arts scene, aspirationally named Hollywood. In the background is a pattern of words or ‘Brain Cruise’, where I list the characteristics of what is required to make it in “Hollywood”. I found a lot of joy working on this series, which is very colourful compared to my previous work. I allowed myself to trust my instincts and to create work that is true to myself.”
In preparing for the exhibition, both artists worked long hours to translate concepts to artwork. Amani Azlin said, “As part of my work process, I like to explore with my camera – meeting people and discovering new surroundings. I take lots of photos of everything. It is my way of sketching ideas. For example, for the rubber band series, I would go around taking photos of rubber bands in sundry shops, around my home, or in friends’ homes.”
“Having worked for a few years now, I realise that strong ideas tend to stay, and one day connect and flow. Thus, I like to collect ideas to revisit later. For the Muslim woman series for instance, I felt the ideas strongly, and when the opportunity arose, I tapped into them. I also frequently visit friends or fellow artists’ studios where we actively engage and exchange ideas.”
Meanwhile, Binti’s way of preparing for the exhibition was to divide her body of work into four groups by periods of her life – as a toddler, starting primary school, high school, then college and work life. Reserving specific times for certain bodies of work focused her memories, and added meaningful layers to her work. The process helped as “this series was challenging. It is the most that I have created in such a short time span – 24 pieces of work in just two months.”
In preparing for the exhibition, the artists stressed the importance of growing connections. Both artists shared that working with CULT Gallery helped them to go beyond the boundaries, towards growth as artists.
“It was very rewarding working with CULT as they did not push but guided from the sidelines,” says Amani.
“They were effective in guiding me in showing my work, framing it, and presenting it as photographic fine art in a gallery space. They also mentored me and gave constructive feedback, challenging me to stretch myself, ” said Binti, adding that CULT challenged her to scale up in her work.
Suryani Senja Alias, founder and managing director of CULT said, “We are always looking for ways to showcase young artists with a strong visual vocabulary, and who are able to express themselves through profound meaning in their work, challenging the way we see things.”
In order to be selected for exhibitions in the first place, the artists also had to regularly showcase their work. Binti said, “When I was 23 years old, I contacted numerous galleries to show my portfolio. Some reverted to me and some I never heard from again. You must have the courage to put yourself out there and pursue these connections. Be resilient and have thick skin. More importantly, be purposeful in your approach.”
Amani said, “Jangan malu (Don’t be shy). Just keep putting your work out there, even if it’s not finished. Also aim to collaborate. When I travel, I reach out to artists whom I follow on Instagram and invite them to collaborate with me. Look outside your world, keep reaching out to people and be genuine about it.”
Finally, both of them emphasise self-care when working towards exhibitions. Amani says, “Take care of yourself, as your body is the medium through which you channel your ideas and your work.” Binti adds, “For me, the hardest part of creation is understanding when to stop and rest. Listen to your body.”
Cover image features Binti with Suryani Senja Alias at the exhibition launch on 18 March 2022. (Photo courtesy of CULT Gallery.)