In its most primitive form, Juhari Said, a dedicated Malaysian printmaker relates printmaking to the domestic activity of ‘kuih’ (cake) making. In traditional Malaysian delicacies, metal moulds are forged and wooden moulds are carved with beautiful designs. The thick batter mix is usually rice or glutinous rice flour-based, with either sweet or savoury filling and pressed or poured into the mould. Out comes the kuih bahulu and putu kacang (Malay delicacies); ang koo and kuih bangkit (Nyonya kuih); and ‘love letters’ and mooncake (Chinese cookies/cakes). All ‘embossed’ with patterns symbolising the occasion it is made for. “The parallel of the baking process to that of printmaking is unmistakable, although those ‘prints’ that were conceived in the warmly maternal hearth were never referred to artist proof, test proof, etc.” Similarly, carved wooden blocks were used to stamp designs on fabric, way before the batik technique was invented. Subsequently, in batik cetak, intricate metal filigree blocks were dipped in melted wax and stamped on the fabric to resist the dye, later in a dye bath. This process is still in use today although not widely. It has been superseded with yet another printing invention, the commercial silk screen.
And, for affordable dissemination of information, a printing press was introduced to Malacca circa 1846, when Munshi Abdullah was actively churning out stories and illustrations to go with it. The press used copper block moulds to print illustrations & text. Munshi Abdullah was the first local to learn how to the use the machine brought in by the British colonial masters. He was also the scribe that composed letters in Malay for the British officers and translated English books to Malay, including the English dictionary and Bible.
During the 18th century, British artists captured the beautiful scenery in early Malaya, through watercolour paintings and used aquatint, with its tonal effects to create romantic landscape prints. In Penang (1770 – 1860), there were aquatints by William Daniels and William James Huggins. A search on eBay turned up an aquatint print on auction – Malaya: 1813, Fort Cornwallis, Prince of Wales Island, hand-coloured Aquatint.
Mokhtar Saidin (2007), a professor of archaeology reported that there were even printmaking activities from the Neolithic era in East Sabah, 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Stencilled hand prints were found on the cave wall together with other charcoal drawings and paintings.
PRINTMAKING – TRADITIONAL, COMMERCIAL, ARTISTIC
Culturally, there is the traditional printmaking (food, textile, books) which was originally for utilitarian purposes but due to its intricacies, amount of time and skill required, it is now valued for its aesthetic quality and of limited edition too (due to limited market at that time).Of commercial printmaking vs. artistic printmaking, Juhari Said (2010) has this to say– In printmaking, repetition is fundamental to its aesthetics. But in commercial context, repetition functions as a force to dominate the mind of consumers. Objects, signages, slogans and music are repetitively bombarded onto consumers. Promotional callings repetitively enunciate, their amplified sonic beams impale our auditory orifices again and again, as if we are living in a world of deaf citizenry.
Fundamental printmaking requires a high degree of sensitivity and skill due to its lengthy and very technical procedures. Undoubtedly, the soul and personhood of the artist may be manifested through such process, especially when it merges with ideas and experiences. Printmaking is also communal in nature, and it encourages humility. Its end results exist in multiples, which enable them more affordable pricing. They are thus more easily circulated, while retaining a sense of originality through the presence of the artist’s touch.
Fundamental printmaking therefore differs from commercial prints that are dependent on capital and driven by profit. Its processes are compartmentalized and fragmented, hence express the desire for profit instead of the artist’s soul.
Nonetheless, these two forms of printmaking are closely interrelated in today’s context. We must acknowledge this development because progressive move demands us to be realistic. We need to ascertain, however, that the execution is handled wisely so that it continues to nourish our imaginative thinking, which usually dominates the life of creative individuals, causing restlessness within them, in search of expressive outlets.
CONTEMPORARY PRINTMAKING – THROUGH THE DECADES
Contemporary visual art activities in Malaysia was said to begin in the 1930s, in Penang (northern state in Malaysia). Art historian, Zakaria Ali writes, “Since the colonial era, Penang has become a centre of art, then, it was followed by the establishment of various associations and art groups, including the Penang Art Teachers’ Circle. A few names of Penang artists were also listed in the Malaysian art history as a pioneer, including Abdullah Ariff, Yong Mun Seng, Chuah Thean Teng and many more. Artist, Hoessein Enas was also active in Penang art scene before being persuaded by Frank Sullivan (first Honorary Secretary of National Art Gallery) to migrate to Kuala Lumpur.”
Contemporary printmaking appeared in the 1940s with the introduction of woodcut prints into Malaysia by art students who graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore (which was still a part of Malaysia until 1965). Many were inspired and intrigued by the reproductions of woodcuts in books from China. As there were no formal classes on this subject, they taught themselves, experimenting and closely following the woodcut masters’ work. Both teachers and students made do and improvised with the simplest of equipment – a carving knife to carve the wooden block and the back of a wooden ladle acted as the ‘baren’ to rub the back of the rice paper to transfer the image. It was not the tools that mattered so much but the subject matter. Theirs leaned more towards daily life, such as construction workers, hawkers, people who live in squatter houses and scenes from the Malay kampung (village), woodcut being a suitable medium to convey the roughness and toughness of eking out a living in Malaya (as Malaysia was called, before the formation of Federation of Malaysia in September 1963). They were realists. Among them were Lim Yew Kuan, Chuah Mia Tee and Tan Tee Chie.
Prints from graduates of Nanyang Academy were greatly sought after by Chinese newspapers in Singapore, from 1950s – 1970s to be used as illustrations for their articles. This was the artists’ only means of showing their work to the public, a form of recognition of their artistic abilities. In 1955, they formed the woodcut printmaker’s club at the Nanyang Academy. Some of their active members were Foo Chee San, Lim Yew Kuan and See Chen Tee.
Malaysian artists in the capital, Kuala Lumpur also organised themselves into groups – Wednesday Art Group (1952) and Angkatan Pelukis Semenanjung (1956). As there were still no formal art schools in Malaysia, these two groups held painting classes and nurtured the artistic development of its ‘students’. Then in 1962, an Art department was formed in the Specialist Teacher Training Institute (STTI), Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, offering a one-year supplementary course for secondary school art teachers. Some of those who graduated became artists in their own right, which is wonderful because not only were they skilled in their art, they were also teachers who had the training and could impart art knowledge and interest to the next generation. It had a modest printmaking workshop consisting of table-top printmaking presses such as intaglio machines for etchings, a lithography press for aluminium and zinc plates and a small letterpress machine for type-setting using lead type as well as silkscreen facilities for both fabric design and printmaking processes.
But realising the great need for more teachers in nation building, many trainee teachers, who were also budding artists were sent overseas to study art. Among the many was Lee Joo For, who became a very active printmaking practitioner in the 1960s upon his return, although his primary medium of expression was still painting.
GALLERIES, EXHIBITIONS AND COMPETITIONS
The National Art Gallery (NAG) was established on 27 August 1958 under the patronage of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. Its vision is to be a foremost centre for the development and the custodian of national heritage. Its collection of artworks known as the National Visual Art Permanent Collection portrays the creativity and cultural arts aspirations of Malaysian artists, in local and international aspects. In 2011, it changed its name to National Visual Art Gallery with the introduction of the National Visual Arts Development Board Act 2011. This is to reflect the wider scope of art in Malaysia today encompassing any form of art that stimulates the visual senses, such as photography and multimedia. Unfortunately the inclusion of printmaking is only implicitly implied.
Chew Teng Beng (1974) commented that since NAG’s formation just after independence, much emphasis and vigour has been injected to promote visual arts in the country and hopefully to carve a distinct Malaysian Identity. But, the emphasis was mainly towards paintings. One could hardly see any print in a show then. This is echoed in a study by Ong Tiong Guan, about the development of printmaking after Malaysia achieved independence. There was not a single print on exhibit since the First National Loan Exhibition (1958) up to 3rd National art exhibition (1960). Then in the early 1960s, two brothers, Chew Teng Beng and Chew Kiat Lim introduced their monoprint, using only rudimentary equipment. This was followed by T. Karan’s monotype Flying Birds which was collected by NAG. Lee Joo For’s Bird & Fish (1959), a coloured woodcut was also one of NAG’s earliest acquisition.
The late Rahime Harun (1996), an art entrepreneur and printmaker puts the story of printmaking in Malaysia as beginning in 1963, when a Thai artist, Praphan Srisouta, first foreign artist to hold a print exhibition in Malaysia, donated three woodcut prints to NAG and another the following year. After the exhibition, his monoprints became a popular medium with Malaysian artists because it was very direct and spontaneous. Painter could do this with minimal technical knowledge and basic equipment. In 1964, NAG hosted an annual exhibition and only one artist (Phoon Poh Hoong) submitted two coloured monotype prints entitled “Harbour & Market scene”. Both prints where acquired by NAG.
As there were not many printmakers in the country then, much of the printmaking exhibitions held in the 60s were from foreign countries. Foreign embassies in Malaysia were generous to hold travelling exhibitions, such as Picasso’s graphic show in NAG sponsored by French Embassy. There were also shows brought in by the US embassy, German embassy and British Council.
“The only form of printmaking existing in Malaysia in the 60s was the relief process done by some painters and art teachers.” recalls Chew Teng Beng. Woodcut and linocut prints were common under this relief process, the least complex of all printmaking techniques. This soon became insignificant and the only exhibition of woodcut prints was by a group of Nanyang Academy painters in 1966. There had so far been only shows with a mixture of paintings and prints. No Malaysian artist has yet to hold a solo show on prints.
The early 60s saw the return of artists who studied in Europe, such as Tay Hooi Keat, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Chia Yu Chian and Lee Joo For. Their presence and work captivated the art scene. Rahime Harun attributed Lee Joo For as the one who “made an impact on printmaking as an art form. Besides working in painting and sculpture, his involvement with graphic print works paved ground breaking territories in printmaking in the early sixties. In 1965, NAG collected five of his graphic works. His series of intaglio, relief and lithographic prints were filled with images of monolithic symbols and icons which transcend personalised interpretation that were deeply rooted from his philosophical quest.” In the same year, Hashim Hassan submitted a coloured woodcut print called ‘The Old Hut’ for an exhibition organised by NAG and was subsequently acquired by them. He used the reduction method instead of multiple block technique.
Lee Joo For was actively teaching printmaking at STTI, Cheras. In 1966, he and his student, Eng Sim represented Malaysia in the graphics section of the 15th International Biennial and were the first Malaysian printmaking artists to exhibit overseas. This was followed by more print exhibitions overseas by Chew Teng Beng, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, Kok Yew Puah and Long Thien Shih.
By 1969, an eleven-year span, a total of 29 original prints were collected by NAG, comprising of local artists’ works and donated works from foreign embassies, private sectors and individuals. An interesting development, though short-lived, happened as a result of exposure to foreign exhibitions on printmaking. It influenced the formation of the New Scene group (1969). The silkscreen works utilised cut-out stencil technique. Another dominant characteristic was the ability to compose intricate and complex design extracted from basic visual elements. The movement faded in the late 1970s but fortunately, works of Choong Kam Kaw and Kok Yew Puah which embodied this concept were collected by NAG as a testimony to this movement.
Another wave of Malaysian artists studying overseas returned in the late 1960s after receiving between one to two years of full-time training in various aspects of printmaking. Abdul Latiff and Chew Teng Beng studied in printmaking in America, Kok Yew Puah in Australia, Lee Joo For, William K.K. Lau and Sulaiman Esa in England and Long Thien Shih in France. It was a late beginning for printmakers as compared to painters but nevertheless it did result in many impressive exhibitions locally and overseas.
The National Art Gallery became as major driving force promoting printmaking in the 1970s. It organised three printmaking competitions and exhibitions in 1973 (the first printmaking competition in Malaysia), 1974 and 1977, with the purpose of stimulating interest in graphic art industry in the country. Themes for printmaking also changed from scenic panorama to one seeking national pride and cultural identity with the introduction of the first National Culture Congress guidelines in 1971, which was greatly needed in our multi-racial population to foster goodwill and unification.
In the 1973 printmaking exhibition, entries by Long Thien Shih and Kok Yew Puah, which were integration of ideas from eastern and western influences, outshined other participants’ works. The competition also attracted entries from Institute Teknologi MARA (ITM), under the tutelage of artist / printmaker, Ahmad Khalid Yusof who was trained in England.
Although the next printmaking exhibition and competition, National Open Graphic Prints 1974 , attracted a large number of entries, and created awareness among artists and the public of the rich possibilities of printmaking, it could not garner a large enough market to sustain the printmakers, economically. So, many changed direction and opted towards the more lucrative painting market.
The 1977 National Open Graphic Prints Competition managed to attract some leading contemporary artists’ participation. This helped to give the exhibition credibility and prestige. Lee Kian Seng (a graduate from University of Fine Art, Japan) submitted his silkscreen on stainless steel and set the situation which demanded the viewer’s participation. It was called “Of Image Object Illusion – Off Series Mechanism” and won the main prize. Sulaiman Esa’s intaglio print called ‘Waiting for Godot’ caused quite a stir too.
Ever since the Young Contemporary Competition was organised by NAG in 1972, printmaking was judged together with other medium. Prints, normally constrained to the size of the paper or printing press, could not create an impact against large works from other art medium. Salon Malaysia 1979, a major competition cum exhibition, also had no separate category for printmaking. As a consolation, Ismail Latiff’s coloured intaglio print won the Honourable Mention prize. Only in Salon Malaysia 1989 was there a separate category for printmaking. Over the years, the situation did not change much. It continued to win only minor awards while accomplished prints were disregarded to win any awards despite showing complexities and merits in their works, opines Rahime Harun.
Chew Teng Beng pressed on and successfully held his solo show introducing handmade paper as an art form in 1978 at the Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery. The situation improved in the 80s where there were more print exhibitions, such as Three Artists Graphics show featuring Ponirin Amin, Ismail Latiff and Mansor Ibrahim in November 1981 at Wisma Loke, Kuala Lumpur; exhibition in Singapore by Malaysian Artists Association (PPM) in 1983 with mix of a few prints and more paintings and Print and Drawing Exhibition by Mustapha Haji Ibrahim in Hotel Equatorial. In 1989, Chew Teng Beng was selected to represent Malaysia in the First ASEAN Symposium in Aesthetics – Workshop and exhibition (printmaking section). Lye Yau Fatt, a self-taught artist, was very adept at dry brush watercolour. In 1986, he took a printmaking workshop in the United States of America. Producing prints on his custom-made etching press, he is known for his intricate mezzotint prints.
Women printmakers are rare in Malaysia. Nirmala Shanmughalingham did her post-graduate studies in printmaking in London from 1992-1995. She employed silkscreen print on canvas as her main medium of presentation besides doing photo documentations and installations pieces. Certainly one of the region’s most important women artists, she has remained committed to using art to awaken social conscience.
Ilse Noor, of German descent, migrated to Malaysia in 1974. Ilse’s work and printmaking itself was given prominence when Shell Company commissioned her to do an architectural series in her distinctive etching style. Wong Siew Lee has a Diploma in Technology (Building) but decided to pursue her first love – Visual Arts, by enrolling in Central Academy of Arts (CAA), majoring in printmaking in 2001. She showed such promise that she was given a scholarship to complete an Advanced Diploma in Visual Arts (printmaking) the following year and was mentored by Loo Foh Sang, himself.
In the 90’s, British Council was actively bringing printmaking exhibitions to major cities in Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Kuching, Sarawak. Also visiting were works by contemporary print artists from United States, Japan and Germany. Grafika (1996) held in NAG’s Creative Centre featured Ilse Noor’s combination of aquatint and etchings, Juhari Said’s woodcuts and Jamil Mat Isa’s silkscreen on Perspex. It was both an exhibition and the launching of a new group aimed at promoting printmaking in Malaysia.
ART COLLEGES, PRIVATE GALLERIES, PRINTMAKING STUDIOS
Painting, sculpture, drawing & printmaking are compulsory subjects in Fine Art courses. Universities and colleges offering Fine Art, therefore will have a printmaking studio but in different capacities. The School of Art and Design of Institute Technology MARA (now known as Universiti Teknologi MARA, UiTM) established in 1967, offers four-year courses in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Photography, Ceramic, Textile, Fashion and Industrial Design. Its printmaking studio (Fine Art Dept) is complete, with all the facilities for intaglio and other processes. Students may major in printmaking or take it as a minor or elective course. It was then the only higher learning institution in Malaysia where printmaking was available. Among the printmakers from this university are Ismail Latif, Juhari Said, Bahaman Hashim, Awang Damit Ahmad, Zulkifli Yusof and Ponirin Amin.
In 1974, another printmaking studio was set up in the Department of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. It was started by its Professor Chew Teng Beng, with full facilities for intaglio printmaking, relief printmaking and stone lithography. Today, its students and teachers are expanding their usage of printmaking techniques to include many of the latest technology including and not limited to digital prints. Ismail Hashim, Othman Mansur and Rahman Mohamed are among those who had their training in this workshop. There’s also a thriving banana tree patch next to the studio which provides fibre pulp for making paper once it’s broken down in large drums!
Other learning institutions with Fine Art courses and printmaking studios include Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (previously known as SITC) in Tanjong Malim, Perak and The National Academy of Arts and Culture (ASWARA). Similarly, private art colleges like Malaysia Institute of Art (MIA), Central Academy of Art (CAA), Kuala Lumpur College of Art (KLCA), Sunway University College, Dasein Academy of Arts in Kuala Lumpur, New Era College in Kajang and Equator Academy of Art in Penang also have printmaking studios in their Fine Art Department. Central Academy of Art, under the guidance of printmaker Loo Foh Sang, who trained at The L’Ecole Nationale Superieur Des Beaux-Art, Paris was a driving force for modern day printmaking in Malaysia. He organised, not one but three Annual International Printmaking Exhibitions from 1996 to 1998. CAA and KLCA are now defunct.
Established artists have begun to setup studios in their homes or rented spaces. Terusi Art Studio was formed in 1998, offering classes and creating works in ceramic, sculpture, painting and printmaking. Their printmaking studio has two printing presses for etching with copper or zinc plates and is available for hourly/daily rental, inclusive of materials like ink and chemicals. Artist and printmaker, Suzlee Ibrahim has his own space called Ruang 16 with emerging printmaker, Faizal Suhif as resident artist.
When private galleries began to emerge, actively supporting Malaysian artists, printmakers were also welcomed. Grafika II (1997) was held in Maybank Gallery. Art Case Galleries organised The Art of Printmaking (1999) exhibition bringing together both local and foreign printmakers. Their emphasis was on showing different printmaking methods and to create awareness among Malaysians, with a long article in the New Straits Times explaining ‘The Skills in Printmaking’. In 2007 Wei-Ling Gallery organised and held Okir, Juhari Said’s exhibition where the works are no longer just prints derived from woodblocks, but are actual blocks of wood itself! Eighteen free-standing blocks of wood, 5ft-9ft tall, were individually carved to form an elaborate pattern on the surface area of the wood, ‘accidentally’ becoming sculptures.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES – INNOVATIONS & TECHNOLOGY
In 1993, NAG organised a major printmaking exhibition entitled “Communication in Graphic – Printmaking”, with Long Thien Shih as guest curator. It exhibited five decades of printmaking works in Malaysia from 1950 – 1990s, from woodcut, lino, etching, silkscreen, collograph, monoprint, lithography, computer print, photo etching and litho offset. This is testimony of Malaysian printmakers’ long journey, of persistence and dedication, from woodcut days to innovative processes and technology-based prints, bringing printmaking from the fringes of art into mainstream art.
In the next decade, printmakers, while respecting traditional discipline and methods of working, now have the challenge to evolve their art with an open mind and find new ways of making their art, work for the medium. Juhari Said, had a taste of the immense discipline, precision and concentration required to be a superior printmaker like the Japanese masters when he obtained a six-month research grant from Japan Foundation, culminating in an exhibition called Kilimanjaro in Nagasaki in Tokyo, Japan 1994. With the imagery of Kilimanjaro as in the coffee brand, Juhari extends his ‘coffee shop chat’ commentary of his previous series to a discussion of whether problems of the world (like nuclear treat, war, suffering) can be resolved over a cuppa? “Akal di Mata Pisau” 2003 exhibition saw his use of ‘peribahasa’ (Malay proverbs) to not only poke fun at human frailties but also wanting to “stimulate the intellectual growth of society”. His commitment is so strong that he chose to eat, live, raise a family and work in his 4.5 acres plot of land at the edge of Kuala Lumpur which he calls ‘Akal di Ulu’, equipped with printmaking studio and doubles as art space for local and international art events.
In conjunction with a travelling exhibition called “British in Print” brought in by British Council in 2006, NAG organised the “Print in Malaysia”. This time, the artists were not only printmakers widely familiar with traditional printmaking but they were also active in other creative fields. Rather than this diversity reducing the quality of their work, it in fact enriched their work! Juhari Said, in its catalogue observes that “not only they were capable of producing traditional prints like woodcuts, silkscreen and etching; they are also successful at expanding the meaning of printmaking itself. This is made through their experience, thinking and expertise. Some of them even use printmaking techniques in their typical works, sculpture, installation and performing art. All this serves as a reflection of an exciting growth, for as artists, not only are they creative beings, but they are also clearly being clever at creating works. Such art should be encouraged to thrive, much like the human spirit itself.” The list is long and includes Ilse Noor, Loo Foh Sang, Lee Kian Seng, Long Thien Shih, Rahman Mohamed, Ponirin Amin and Kelvin Chap.
Rentas Sempadan (Borders Crossing) is an international printmaking exhibition held at the Penang State Art Gallery (2007) with 90 prints from 58 artists crossing borders of 20 countries into Malaysia and later to Thailand for International Print Exhibition at Hatyai Art Gallery. Figuratively, the works also crossed borders of printmaking from the traditional to the contemporary, expanding the scope with innovative use of technology and new materials, thus further blurring the boundaries of printmaking.
Five contemporary Malaysian printmakers in an exhibition at Galeri Petronas challenged the idea of print being 2-dimensional. Izan Tahir, Juhari Said, Ng Kim Peow (Kim Ng), Shahrul Jamil and Zulkifli Yusoff exhibited prints that were not only suspended from walls but arose from the ground, protruded from the walls and descended from the ceiling, allowing visitors to walk around it, view it from different angles and interact with it. This is ‘Go Block’ (2009), redefining contemporary printmaking in Malaysia.
This momentum fuelled the next Penang International Print Exhibition 2010 (PIPE2010), where Go Block artists, this time brought printmaking to the streets involving models in printed pareos and trishaws. The exhibition proper had overwhelming response with high-quality entries from 566 printmakers worldwide! All these were due to the Internet as the open call for entry went viral. Their official website had 12 thousand visitors, not including sites that reposted.
It is now clear that technology not only affects how printmaking is done but how it is appreciated, distributed, shared and understood globally. The age-old grouses about printmaking being a ‘sidelined’ art, not appreciated, lacking in support and awareness and unmarketable can be overcome with smart use of social networking, blogs and art online sites to disseminate information, generate excitement for this art form and find new market of buyers and collectors. Printmakers (young and veteran) can harness technological advances to enhance their medium, find fresh new ideas and network with global printmaking community. At printing time, printmakers, Rahman Mohamed and Frank Woo are working with The Arts and Crafts Guild, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (ACG) to set up a blog for Malaysian artistic printmakers, www.printmakingmalaysia.blogspot.com. It will explain what printmaking is, its techniques and work ethic required, trace the artistic journey of prominent printmakers, maintain information about printmaking studios for rent and post events, workshops, news about Malaysian printmakers’ accomplishments. Frank Woo, former president of the guild (2003-2005) hails from Hong Kong and has resided in Malaysia since 1995, with involvement in painting, sculpture, installation and printmaking (using a myriad of alternative materials to produce innovative prints).
To bring this a full circle, National Visual Art Gallery (formerly NAG) in 2011 held an exhibition of the prints taken from its Permanent Collection. It was called “Back Then, These Days”. ‘Back Then’ represented traditional printmaking from 1958 until the 90s. ‘These Days’ features newer methods like digital prints, 3-dimensional prints using unconventional materials like cement and Duratrans-lightbox combo.
CONCLUSION – AND THE FUTURE
The boundaries between genres in visual arts are becoming thinner – there are no longer rigid lines that separate painting, print, sculpture and even installation art, with each of them merging into the other. Development in digital printing makes printing available to the masses. Inkjet and LaserJet printing have become commonplace in most homes and offices, and now three-dimensional printing via rapid prototyping machines have emerged in many design offices and art schools. This development will provide new venue for printmaking artists to explore. Artists are always trying to find and explore new horizons in their art-making. This is also true of the printmakers. Besides those who are still doing conventional printmaking, there are printmakers who keep experimenting and giving new definition and pushing the limits of print.
It is common for printmakers in Malaysia as well as around the world to claim that their art is being marginalised. These claims have been heard again and again, each time they attend any printmaking seminars or conferences. The intricacies of printmaking might be only understood by artists and among art circles, not by the general public at large. But this does not (and should not) hinder the public from appreciating the prints as an art form in the era of post modernism where plurality in art is accepted. Jörge de Sousa Noronha (2008), a lithographer who lives in Paris has this to say- “For anyone born in the era of computers, printed images are simply information, without any suggestion that they represent something more, without any connection to actuality or events. Unfortunately or not, the appreciation of the magic of printing a creative image on paper from a matrix especially created by an artist is becoming an exercise reserved to the rare “adults” initiated into those arcane arts.” On the other hand, there are still people who romanticise the past and value the handmade quality of prints. They prefer prints on paper that bear both the visual as well as tactile texture; the feel of the actual paper as opposed to viewing it on the screen.
Printmaking is a labourious process and need special equipment and facilities, thus not many artists have the opportunity to have their art produced in these techniques. Printmakers in Malaysia still have to get their supplies overseas especially if they do etchings or lithography. Alternatively, they have to make do and improvise with materials and equipment acquired locally. Fortunately, art schools in Malaysia are still producing graduates trained in printmaking and these graduates are the future printmakers or at least, ardent fans of printmaking in Malaysia.
Jane Khoo – President of The Arts & Crafts Guild, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Malaysia
Associate Prof. Rahman Mohamed – School of The Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia