I said YES, when Maison of Malaysian Art asked me (through Pakha) whether I would like to open Juhari Said’s new solo exhibition at their gallery.

I said YES without any hesitation and doubt. And why not? Both Pakha and I like, and are passionate about, Juhari’s works. We have been collecting his works – from the iconic Baju Kurung dan Secawan Kopi series to his latest Samudera series – over a period of more than a decade now. The best of Juhari’s works in our collection – they are numerous of them – have kept us happy as well as fascinating us over the years, including the satirical piece, Katak Nak Jadi Lembu, 1999, an edition of which hangs proudly in Pakha’s office in his legal firm. I also noticed that an edition of this piece is also being exhibited in this exhibition.

I didn’t know then that the title of Juhari’s exhibition is “Yes or No”! The title reminds me instantaneously of the famous soliloquy by Hamlet: “To be or not to be”! Pakha tried to tease me (or is it a test?) soon after I said YES, by remarking that, given the title of the show, I still have the option of saying “NO”! I knew very well his personal stand of refraining from opening any art exhibitions for so long as we are actively involved in collecting artworks, which we still are.

On this issue, I find Pakha’ s stand rather eccentric and therefore beg to differ with him. I nonetheless draw a clear line here, in that I will only open an exhibition by artists whom I believe in and whose works I am passionate about. And of course Juhari is one such artist, who has no doubt etched his invaluable contributions to the development of Malaysian art as one of our finest print maker – in woodcuts print in particular – a genre of art making which is laborious and painstaking but yet offers relatively very little in terms of monetary rewards. Given this challenge, it needs someone with strong stamina and artistic convictions to be able to stay long and true to do this art form, and to excel. In this respect we can certainly count Juhari as one of the few artists in this country who has managed to successfully overcome this immense challenge.

Although art is best when it is nuanced, but when it comes to the artist’s own artistic convictions and the direction he wants to take or elevate his art, there is simply for me, no two(2) ways about it. Hence in this context, I like the artist to be strong, unwavering and steadfast. Here there is simply no place for the likes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the weak and ‘tormented soul’ when confronted with the, “To be or not to be” dictum!

And Juhari is certainly no dithering Hamlet! Over the course of his artistic journey, he has amply demonstrated and manifested his strong and principled artistic convictions in his multiple roles as artist, art educationist, art activist and occasionally in his writings. He thus continues the fine tradition in our modern art scene, pioneered by artists such as the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, the late Piyadasa and Latiff Mohidin. But alas, such commodity is rather rare nowadays.

Now please allow me to touch a little bit on art collecting. These thoughts were triggered after Pakha and I attended recently – by default I must say – a talk at the Balai on “an introduction to the lucrative world of art investment” by two Caucasian representatives from an art brokerage company based in Hong Kong. The company apparently started their business – dealing mainly on the hot Chinese contemporary art works – only in October last year.

I said “by default”, because our main purpose for being at the Balai was to attend the opening of Ali ‘Mabuha’ Rahmad’s retrospective exhibition, Kembara di Sarang Seni (A Journey into the World of Art) – to give our moral support to the Californian based Ali, as he is my relative from Muar.

At the outset of the talk, the audience were told in no uncertain terms the difference between collectors and investors. Investors, they say are:

a) unemotional;

b) buy for monetary gain;

c) less concerned with aesthetic qualities; and

d) sees it as a form of stock,

as opposed to collectors, who:

a) buy because they love it;

b) emotional;

c) likely never to sell; and

d) unconcerned about monetary gain.

Being ‘emotional’ collectors ourselves, we certainly felt out of place in that august Balai auditorium and it makes us wonder why this is allowed to be held at the Balai, when the talk is really about money and not about art, and where art has been simply reduced to a mere tradable stock or bond!

However, I find the distinction made very pertinent and useful especially the point about collectors buying art not purely for monetary gains. What then are the rewards for collecting art?

The rewards, to my mind are multiple, which include:

a) the pleasure and excitement of looking at, learning about and living with beautiful and interesting objects (the artworks) ;

b) the thrill of the hunt for artworks;

c) the feel good factor of being able to provide patronage and support to artists and their artworks;

d) if one likes shopping ( like me!), then there will be the pleasure of shopping for artworks; and

e) last but by no means least, the camaraderie one forged way, with other fellow collectors, in the course of one’s collecting activities.

And each of the above does not need one to turn them into monetary gains or profit.

Talking about the camaraderie among collectors, the Malaysian Artfriends – the Malaysian chapter of 30 Art Friends, which is a loose grouping of collectors from Malaysia and Singapore of which Pakha and I are members – recently had a most enjoyable dinner and night out at a fine restaurant in Solaris Dutamas, thrown by our generous fellow members, Tengku Datuk Ibrahim Petra and Datin Nariza. The gathering of the Artfriends saw among others, time flew without us really realizing it – the party went into the wee hours of 1 am, long passed the closing hours of the restaurant. If not for the closing hours, we would have gone on and on talking and chatting about art in general, about our latest art acquisitions, about the latest art happenings and gossips, etc, etc, etc. At one stage, the controversial “condo and cowgate” issue crept into the conversation, but apart from this short lived aberration, politics for once took a backseat in a gathering among Malaysians!

With this note, I end my speech and wish to take this opportunity to thank the host and the artist for inviting me to open this solo exhibition by Juhari Said and to you all for listening patiently.

FATIMAH SULAIMAN

A Malaysian Artfriend

11 December 2011

(Taken from the opening speech of Juhari Said solo exhibition Yes or No at MoMA Art Gallery,Desa Sri Hartamas,Kuala Lumpur.)