heading article1s the art of choong kam kow

Manifestation of Culture and Nature


CHOONG Kam Kow is a Malaysian artist of Chinese origin. In recent centuries, there has been many Chinese leaving their homeland to migrate to South-East Asia to seek new adventures. The waves of migration and settlements have brought about direct exchanges of culture, mutual influences and new flourishment. Their long settlement in the foreign lands has not only led to a stronger sentiment of their own ancestral culture but also activated new forms of cultural integration and evolution.

The distinctive multi-faceted culture, oceanic geo graphical environment and the meeting-point position of the East and West have made South-East Asia a fascinating region. The open door-position and the cultural assimilation with local people have further given rise to a strong and distinguished form of culture inherited from the hybrid of indigenous tradition and immigrant cultures.

As an artist born in such a historical, cultural and geographical background, Choong has a special yet successful academic, artistic and educationist career and vast experience. After graduating from the National Taiwan Normal University with a BA degree in Fine Arts, he further pursued his studies at the prestigious Pratt Institute, United States, where he obtained his Master¡¯s degree in Fine Arts. In his long career as an educationist, he has held numerous important positions, as Head and Senior lecturer, Fine Art Department, MARA Institute of Technology; Dean of School of Fine Art, LA SALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore; and at present, President of Malaysian Institute of Art, Kuala Lumpur. He is also a Fulbright Scholar and Research Fellow who has twice studied and undertaken research on contemporary art in USA under this award.

Choong was brought up in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society of Malaysia and was exposed to, and influenced by, Abstract Expressionism, Hard-Edge, Conceptualism and Pop Art of the West during his stay in New York in the 1960’s. In his artistic journey, he has gone through the cultural impact and integration, aesthetic assimilation and preservation process, and engaged himself in significant explorations. Choong is humble and frank yet when it comes to artistic engagements, his approach is full of challenges and dynamism. His art reflects his ceaseless probes into culture and history, theory and practice, humanity and matters, techniques and media and the mastery power of these aspects. He has the intellectual spirit of the present era and beyond and uses it to probe into his cultural surroundings, integrated and synthesised, to define new meanings and values.

Choong’s solo exhibition is held under the invitation of the Guangdong Museum of Art. He will present 39 pieces of works selected from four important series of works: the Festival Series and the Dragon Series which reflect aspects of culture and tradition; and the Rockscape Series and the Earthscape Series which probe into the mystery and heritage of Nature, all were executed after 1990. As the symbol of Eastern tradition and culture, the forms of Malay cake, ketupat, and Chinese rice-dumpling, chung, together with embossed paper-pulp mat and traditional artefacts were composed into intriguing, meaningful and thoughtful configurations.

Through these significant forms, he has projected the festive joys, mutual respect and goodwill spirit of the various races of Malaysia. He employed various materials (handmade paper and canvas of different surface quality and shapes) and applied different techniques (hand-painting, silk-screening, printing, embossing and spraying) to materialise and strengthen his idea of integrating the Eastern aesthetics and contemporary factors in the Festival Series. In the Dragon Series, he used Chinese traditional paper- cut or Malay wood-carving (dragon) as basic forms to project the cross-regional and cross-era spirit of the dragon culture. The Rockscape Series was inspired by the fascinating formation and surface quality of rocky cliffs. He probed and captured the wonderful crisscrossed patterns and textures of rock surface to project the beauty and rhythm of nature. By doing so, he has skilfully revealed through this works a strong sense of life co-existing with the eternal Nature.

In the Earthscape Series, he used the kaleidoscopic colours to reveal the strata of earth formation and textures as an aesthetic vehicle to bring him back to the nostalgic nature of his childhood land. Manifested in the series of works is the Eastern philosophical notion that “all things spring from the bowels of the earth, live on the earth and return to the earth”.

The art of Choong contains the profound meanings of culture and life at the deepest level of senses. In his works, tradition and modernity, East and West, Nature and humanity, and Yin and Yang are co-existing and complementing which formed the fundamental contents of his art.

At the Guangdong Museum of Art, one of our objectives is to extend our focus of attention and studies to cover the achievements of overseas Chinese artists. We hope that by hosting Mr Choong’s solo exhibition and finalising some related preliminary preparation, we will be able to systematically embark onto this long anticipated task. We sincerely thank Mr Choong for his support.

Wang Huangsheng
Director, Guangdong Museum of Art
8 October 2004

(Originally printed in “THE ART OF CHOONG KAM KOW - Manifestation of Culture and Nature”,
 Guangdong Museum of Art, China 2004)

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drchoong kam kow
Dr. Choong Kam Kow is a well known
senior contemporary artist,
a leading art & design educationist and
an independent curator in Malaysia