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Malaysia Institute of Arts, Fine Arts Department's orientation day (1993)


1. Can you talk about how you became an artist? How old were you when you started drawing and were you the sort of kid who drew all over his school exercise book?

Technically, I became an artist when I graduated with a diploma in fine arts, majoring in oil painting from Malaysia Institute of Arts (M.I.A). Or I should say, I learn how to make art there. But being an artist is something that involves the community and is a role or identity that’s constantly evolving.

I enjoyed drawing on and off when I was a kid. But I prefer watching TV and messing about with friends and cousins. BMX is a bigger deal to me than Buncho poster colours. As a teenager, I was actually more of a sports jock. The arch from a beautifully executed single-handed backhand, cross-court passing shot with just the right amount of topspin is more important to me than the quality of a hand drawn line. I wanted to be Stefan Edberg. And just between us, there were moments, undocumented of course, I was Edberg 🙂 and it was glorious.

2. Was there anyone among your family who were artistically inclined and did you get help or support from them? Was arts supply an issue during your formative years?

Not as far as I know. I think they are still not quite sure what I do for a living. For some reason I never felt a need to clarify. But they do know I’m not doing anything illegal and that seems to be good enough for them. Which is somehow funny to me. Perhaps that’s why this “arrangement” remains.

But I am grateful to my aunties, uncles and eldest sister Anna, for taking on the responsibilities of being head of the family after my dad’s passing when we were kids. As we got older, Anna made sure everyone in my immediate family was alright and provided for. Without her taking on this burden with such effortless grace I wouldn’t have had the time and space to find my way to what I do now.

I think my family, both immediate and extended, is supportive by not limiting my options to things that a working-class kid from Klang usually does. That would be logistics, I think. Thank goodness.

Art, and I’m referring to painting or drawing, wasn't a big part of my life then. I think I had access to art materials that were available to most kids back then. I’ve never felt deprived in that sense. I was just more interested in playing outdoors and doing physical activities.

3. Can you talk about the different media that you used when you were growing up? Did you start with pencil, ballpoint pens and paints and was there any one medium you preferred over the other?

Like I eluded earlier, most of my more meaningful art related memories are from my art school days. Partly because I was in the process of becoming a young adult in an interesting time. The availability of the internet and the digitization of everything happened around that time. All the social, economic and political effects from the Reformasi movement that we are living through even today started in the 90s. As a young artist/person back then, all these transformative changes made me question the basic premise of art. What are the functions and purposes of art and art-making in a world that’s in a state of flux? Surely, we can do more than provide decorations and entertainment. These are questions that I still think about today.

4. You studied fine art and oil painting at the Malaysia institute of art. How did this training impact you as an artist?

I’m quite lucky I had an important realisation when I graduated. I think M.I.A has something to do with it. And it’s something that still anchors my practice today.


I know, I don’t know. 

It’s a strange compliment to pay my alma mater. In hindsight I think M.I.A revealed to me how little I know. It’s as if they are saying M.I.A is just a starting point. Art in all its different forms and functions is out there in the world. Waiting to be discovered, learned and used. Obviously, I did learn the formal aspects of image making there. But they also instilled a certain work ethic, discipline and methodology to find things out for myself when I was there. For a total of RM7k+ in tuition fee, that’s quite an education.

5. My video making practice has been screened in Malaysia and Indonesia in 2022 and 2023. Is this different from the previous screenings? What has changed and if so why?

As a project, MVMP is actually a screening plus a dialogue. It is not just a video essay, and doesn’t work if it’s only a screening. The video essay serves as a catalyst for the post-screening dialogues. The video and dialogue cannot be separated.

MVMP is my attempt at community engagement. It’s a project that is actively looking for a collaborating host to reach different communities. The video essay is always tweaked and re-edited slightly in response to the different hosts, venues and audience. All screenings of MVMP so far are slightly different.

So, the dialogue component.

These can range from the technical to the philosophical side of art and art-making. And I work with the host to decide on a specific topic of discussion that is meaningful for the host’s community. Basically, they have a big say in what the focus should be. They are equal partners. Put simply, I make the art, they do the staging. 

MVMP X Five Arts has (a personal record) 8 dialogues. One for every night. With different people joining me on stage post-screening to talk about various aspects of art and art-making. These dialogues are programmed mainly by Mark Teh. A member of Five Arts and my former frequent collaborator. So, you can expect a Five Arts spin in these dialogues. Which I welcome, especially because 2024 is the collective’s 40th anniversary.

The first Five Arts project I worked on was 30 years ago. Some of the thinking behind MVMP can be traced back to those Five Arts projects I worked on in my youth, and certainly share similar aspirations. A part of my practice is informed by and benefitted from working on those Five Arts projects. So, I’ve added a Five Arts sequence specifically for this screening.

Technicalities aside there’s also an emotional dimension that is hard to describe. My last project with Five Arts was 20 years ago. So, enough time has passed. Yet, certain ideals and aspirations remain. Working on something together again feels like meeting an old friend. So, there is much to say.

6. What was the feedback you received from people in Malaysia compared to people in Indonesia about MVMP?

There are more similarities than differences. Perhaps people from this region, to an extent, do share a common reality. “Politik orang kuat” and its effect is certainly one of them. Naturally, a chunk of it revolves around the technicalities of video making. People are generally curious about how MVMP is put together. I think it’s because MVMP looks and sounds fairly complex, although it’s not. People are also curious about what I’ll be making next? Which is a welcomed question because it denotes interest in process or the long view. Which I think is important in art appreciation.

There are also many discussions about how to sustain a creative practice. A career in the arts is no longer a fool’s errand. Everyone has become a brand. In that sense, MVMP can be seen as a very elaborate business card. More and more of what it means to be an artist is being codified and commodified. It feels like there is less space to make useful mistakes. So, discussion about strategies on navigating the push and pull between commerce and creativity is also common.

But there’s also confusion and puzzlement. What is this? Is MVMP a documentary, video art or experimental film? And what are you? An artist, video artist or filmmaker? Which is always something fun to discuss because so much of our perception of reality is based on convenient classifications or visual cues. But these classifications are not precise although they work in most situations. Unpacking these visual cues can reveal our biases and blind spots. A big part of MVMP is to serve as a catalyst for these unpacking.

7. Have you considered about the format the video? If it is saved as a digital file is there a risk that it might become obsolete in the future? Have you thought about archiving your video works so that it will still be accessible for future generations?

When I was younger, I didn’t take documentation seriously enough. Partly because I don’t have enough technical and material resources to invest in that part of my practice. But also, being constantly distracted in my 20s is understandable, I guess. 

But for the past decade or so I feel a sense of responsibility to document and archive my work as best as I can. Of course there are all those professional reasons to do it. But, as a practitioner it’s also very useful to have an overview of my work in an organised manner. Because what I did in the past helped me figure out what I’m doing now and my present work will inform my imagination for future works. In this way, I don’t need to rely solely on “inspiration”. There is always something to develop or work on. Art becomes a part of daily life and doesn’t have to be a spectacle. Making art is a practice not a series of fleeting special occasions. MVMP came out from this process and is an example of the creative potential of documentation.

I “archive” or keep my videos and paintings on my website ( and different online platforms so they are easily accessible to the public. For more serious future-proof archiving, I will need help from experts and generous funders because it’s likely a costly venture. I can make art on my own, but I cannot be an artist on my own. Actually, even if I could, I don't want to. There’s a social dimension to that role, and I want others to be involved. Part of my task is to provide entry points.

8. Painting is considered a solitary process while video usually involves working with other people. Do you see a difference in these disciplines and do you have to be more socially adept when working with other people?

My paintings and videos are counterpoint to each other in my practice. I don’t think one can exist without the other. They serve different purposes and have different functions.

My paintings are reserved mainly for ideas and concepts. It’s something I do when I want to be alone with my thoughts. It’s appealing to a side of my personality. They reference slightly different sources and require the audience to have a different visual vocabulary. I have no qualms selling them. In fact, the sales of my paintings have been funding my video-making. 

My videos always include other people. Maybe that’s why I try to keep money out of the picture. And they often foreground stories not concepts. There’s also a more evident sense of place. They are Malaysian pictures. Part of the appeal is being outside with others, negotiating and improvising. So, it does require a desire to engage. Because it’s about finding overlaps in perspectives or meaningful differences with others. I suppose, it’s a way to locate myself in this place we call home.

9. What are the tools you use for shooting and editing video now? Do you have an editing suite at your home or studio or do you rent an editing suite and equipment?

My most recent video essay, Pelacur Muzik, a collaboration with Takahara Suiko (Taka) of The Venopian Solitude only has about 5% of footage that I shot. The rest are footage I found online. This is a creative choice that’s partly inspired by Duchamp’s “ready-made” objects. But mainly because I want to represent the internet as a subject. Because it has had a big impact on my practice.

My equipment hasn’t changed much. I shoot with an entry-level DSLR. And I edit with an average PC and small monitor speakers. I don’t rent equipment and don’t know how to operate an editing suite. [ I edit with an (apparently) obscure editing software. ] I have a small collection of lenses, light and grips that is sufficient for the kind of video I make. Once in a while I’ll add gears when the project calls for it. But I think I’ve passed the “gear head” phase. So, nowadays I try to find solutions with the tools I have. Which can be more rewarding at times.

10. Who are some of your influences on painting and video? Have they changed over the years and will they continue to change?


There are too many to mention and it’s constantly evolving. Since this interview is about MVMP, I should mention Amir Mohammad because I was introduced to video essays as a genre through his 6horts (2002). And how one can tell stories with little resources. 

I think MTV or music videos from the 90s and 2000s also had an impact on my video works. This play of moving images and sound as an end in itself. Video works as a sensory experience instead of only as plot points and expositions. 

There are people who think I don’t watch Stephen Chow or K-Drama, but I do. I watch Tiktok videos and doomscroll the gram too. I watched and listened to all kinds of stuff. And I look at and love all kinds of paintings. Both my videos and paintings are a reflection of this interest. I don’t have any loyalty to any particular style. Whether audio or visual. I’m more interested in how they are perceived and how I can use these perceptions in my work. There will always be new audio and visual culture and I have a feeling I’ll be curious and adopt them in my work. 

Ideas surrounding representation are fascinating to me. I like images and sound. Especially when they are layered together. Done right, they become more than the sum of its part. And can reveal connections that are not immediately obvious.

Recently I’ve developed an interest in words as a medium. Both written and spoken. MVMP is my early attempt at using my words creatively. But using myself as a subject is an anomaly. It’s a discomfort which became a creative challenge. So, I won’t be doing that often in the future. But I am excited with the possibilities that words will add to my painting and video making practice. So, let’s see.

Rizal Asking Questions

Unedited response to 10 questions from Rizal Johan

(You can read the Rizal's published article here.)

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