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Boundless Zone: World-Wide Community through a Print

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

By A. Rahman Mohamed

The invention of paper and printing in China , Korea and Japan and later the advancement of printing technology by Guttenberg in Germany did change the whole world. Prior to this, books and manuscripts were copied manually by hand. With the invention of printing, materials could be duplicated easily and taken a shorter time. The dissemination of knowledge and information reached a wider audience.

Subsequently, with the abundance of printing equipments and materials, artist took advantage of it and used it as their medium of expression. In Malaysia, printmaking as a gallery art form was traced in 1940’s with the introduction of woodcut as an art form. Recently in 2007, the evidence of printmaking activities from the Neo-litic era in the simplest form of hand prints was found in the east Sabah. It is believed to be done about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The batik makers in Malaysia employed a wood block and copper block to print a wax resist on the cloth.

Printmaking is the most democratic medium of the visual art. Because of its multiple editions, a print can be show at different locations simultaneously. Furthermore, because of its mobility, make it possible to be shipped and transported from place to place.Printmaking is a vehicle for global communication. Printmaking is somehow a communal type of art making. Presses and other equipments are needed, in these sense artist usually shared the common workshop. This is either in the form of cooperative workshop where all of them share the cost of running it, or the artist can choose to rent a workshop on time block basis. Printmaking is where art and technology meet. These techniques and technology know how act as a kind of adhesive that bound these printmakers together. Knowledge sharing is common among them.

The sense of sharing among printmakers does not confine only within one particular workshop or studio. The exchange of ideas and technical know how also happen between the studios. Today, with the internet technology, the printmaking community has become a truly global community. Printmakers could easily get access to tons of printmaking community around the globe, without even step away from their desk.

There are many printmaking communities on the web, some are national, other are regional or international in nature. Barenforum is one of the widely subscribe printmaking community. Although it concentrates mainly on the art of Japanese Hanga Watercolour block prints, this community accepts all printmakers regardless of their medium. MTSU Printmaking Link carries a comprehensive List of the printmaking organization worldwide. Most of the web based print communities are either on national or regional basis. The California Society of Printmakers, the Pittsburgh Print Group, the Boston Printmakers areamong the regional group in nature, but still accept international printmaker as an associate member.

Besides those formally set up organizations, there are plenty more of informal print communities that runs on the personal friendship basis without any formal bodies. These groups are as active as the formal printmakers group. Many exhibitions and activities were carried out in the informal way. As these printmakers produce multiples for each of their editions, artists also share their prints among them. Print exchange is a common thing done by printmakers. Exchanges took place either on individual basis, or in many instances it is a well organized activity. Prints exchanges between universities printmaking workshops or departments are the commonest of all. Many printmaking organizations are also managing exchanges among the members as well as between these organizations.

In the month of July 2007, exactly one year ago, School of Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia hold an international printmaking exhibition entitled, “Rentas Sempadan” a Malay phrase for Borders Crossing. This show gathers fifty-nine international artists who produced ninety works, all of which, overtly or otherwise, touched upon the theme of ’’Border Crossings”. In a sense, these artworks have Literally transcended geographical boundaries. Works from overseas reached Penang through the mail or currier services: crossing borders. Local works crossed the Thai border to the Hatyai Art Gallery, Thailand, made a U-turn and re-entered Penang. Participated artist are from Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New zealand, Norway , Poland, Spain, The Netherlands, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United kingdom, and USA.

This exhibition was actually three exhibitions in one. Its consists of two print exchange programs and a loan exhibition. The two exchange programs were, On the edge International and Emission International Exchange. Both exchanges were done in conjunction with the Impact IV Printmaking Conference which was held in Berlin, Germany and Poznan, Poland in the year 2005.

The twenty international artists participating in the “On The Edge” portfolio are invited to reflect on their own interpretations of the theme and asked to consider the formal, artistic, personal, social and or political aspects of the word “edge”. How can artist intergrate the edges of the printing surface/paper to inform the concept of the image? What is the significance of cultures and ideas? All participant are encourage to show “On the Edge” in their respective countries to promote contact between cultures on a global scale. This project was organized by Katarzyna Cepek and Emily Wilson of Arizona, United States of America.

The other exchange portfolio involved was “Emission International Portfolio Exchange”. In the exchange portfolio organized by Mary Robinson of South Carolina University, USA, participants were asked to contemplate and respond to the idea that an emission by one the globalization and the disappearance of borders between countries, person, group or nation affects others.

Technological advances inspire the printmakers to try out new things, new ideas, and new materials. Traditionally printmakers produced woodcuts, lithography, letterpress, and etchings. One of the early advances of printmaking is the silk screen. Silkscreen is relatively so easy to do and cheap that the art world was initially reluctant to accept it as an art form in the same categery as the woodcut or the etching. Lithography, on the other hand, was more readily accepted. After extensive debates, however, the making of silk-screens and lithographic prints gained entrance into the mainstream.

In the 1980s, the wave of computer and digital printing hit the shores of commercial printing. Now printmaking is no longer under the exclusive control of printmakers. Anyone with a printing machine can print. Soon printmaking became commonplace, devoid of any mystery. Younger printmakers look at printmaking as a given. At first people thought that with digital technology the world would turn paperless. However, printmaking has become even more extensive with the aid of the computer.

Digital technology not only creates images but also has become the very medium itself; the means and the medium are one. The art community is still suspicious of the digitals. Entrenched practitioners of the traditional medium defend their territory from the assaults of the digits; others grudgingly accept them if they bend to suit traditional demands. Still others accept digits as an art form. Discussions persist on whether the digits are art.

The multiple techniques in printmaking have separated the printmakers according to mediums. Hence, numerous associations and societies have sprung up accepting members who practice one medium or another. The society of woodcut printers caters only to the woodcut printers. Exhibitions and competitions call for artworks of specific medium.

On the other hand, multiplicity of techniques and mediums of printmaking plus the readiness to accept experimentations and explorations of the unknown path produces works that are crossing the border of the conventional prints. Such works are difficult to categorize into the narrow confines of traditional printmaking. These cross borders need to be more exposed, as in this show.

The horizons of this exhibition have been widened, consistent with the vision of globalization. The opening up of borders to printmakers from twenty nations signals that the public is ready to accept their print-works as art. The multiplicity of hybrid prints delineates its own boundaries. Having an international print exchange will give opportunity to the printmakers and the audience alike to gauge the changes and trends in the field. More than that, the dissemination of verbal and or visual information contains in the prints is more important. Those prints communicate to the viewer. These activities promote a better understanding among the printmakers from different part of the world. Indirectly, participants learn about other culture and geography as well. There are many instances that these exchanges foster lasting friendship, even if, they do not have the opportunity to meet each other in person.

A. Rahman Mohamed

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