Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Writers Read

Martin Bradley at Northern Writers

Anthony Burgess,Muhammad Haji Salleh,Tash Aw and Preeta Samarasan as well as local writers still residing in Malaysia - Bernice Chauly, Patrick Teoh, Mamat Khalid and Paul Gnanaselvam, have all participated in the rich literary heritage of Ipoh and Perak. It was in light of this that a new literary venue was inaugurated in Ipoh, on June 4th, 2011.
It was another blazingly hot Saturday in June. Muhammad Haji Salleh – a Malaysian poet laureate walked to the rostrum and launched Northern Writers at Garden Villa, 5 Jalan Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, Ipoh. ‘Girls’ from The Ipoh book Club supported the event by bringing finger food, water and a typical Ipoh glamour while writer and academic Paul GnanaSelvan lent his moral and physical support, as did the members of The Kinta Heritage Group. Kamal Sabran, Nur Hanim Mohamed Khairuddin and The Space Gambus Experiment provided freshly innovative music especially for the occasion.
It was after a conversation with ‘Readings’ star Sharon Bakar, in an Indonesian restaurant, somewhere in the depths of Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, that I was instrumental in bringing the writers reading initiative to appreciative audiences - this time out of Kuala Lumpur, and into the Malaysian northern state of Perak. 
Northern Writers continued that trend once set by Ipoh girl Bernice Chauly (poet, actress, writer) back in 2005, when she began ‘Readings’ by writers in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Sharon Bakar continued when Bernice had to take a step backwards due to illness in her family. When she returned, Bernice began another set of readings, this time at the No Black Tie club, again in Kuala Lumpur. Sharon Bakar continues to support writers, at Seksan’s Gallery, in Bangsar, to this day.
In the first of an on-going monthly series, housed in a 100 year old building - lent for the events by Kinta Heritage and the Eu Foundation, I enticed Perak born Professor Dr Muhammad Haji Salleh to deliver some of his renowned poems, including The Forest’s Last Day- found in his collection Rowing Down Two Rivers. Ipoh boy, radio and TV broadcaster/actor - Patrick Teoh regaled a most attentive audience with snippets from his latest book – Teology, Bernice Chauly read from a forthcoming work and Graham McEune had his audience in fits of laughter reading from his book - Up Country – largely set in Perak.
That was but the beginning. Each month Northern Writers presented at least four different writers, from different aspects of writing and reading – poets, novelists, short story writers, writers about writing, columnists, play and screenwriters etc, on the first Saturday of every month, in Garden Villa, Ipoh.
Over time, Choral Speakers from Ipoh SMJK Poi Lam school, international author Paul Callan and local cartoonist Dato Mohd Nor bin Khalid (Lat), were to grace Northern Writers.  Ian Anderson, an ex-Royal Naval Commander living in Ipoh, charting some of the characters who had lived in Ipoh, presented his book Ipoh, My Home Town. Expatriate writers, readers and audiences were all most welcome in the stunningly beautiful black and white antique wooden villa – the only stipulation was that you take off your shoes, and didn't smoke in the building.
Shady trees added ambience to the grounds, which are set back from the main road, as the Anglo-Malaysian building added atmosphere to the events presented. In modernity, the Garden Villa building had been intended, by the Eu family, for the purpose of promoting arts and culture, and a more perfect fit could not have been imagined than that Garden Villa - and the Northern Writers’ events.  
Northern Writers was a non-profit organisation, began by me, Martin Bradley, with the concept of bringing an understanding of writing, arts and culture, entirely free, to areas north of Kuala Lumpur. It was an understanding that those writers who participated in Northern Writers did so free of charge, as did the organisers and supporters. Entrance was free to all who enjoy the arts.

Since the Kuala Lumpur ‘Readings’, which I have attended on many an occasion, and Northern Writers, there have been a number of initiatives which encourage writers to read to Malaysian audiences. In October 2015, from their Facebook Group - Malaysian Writers, Tina Issacs and Gina Yap Lai Yoong came up with a month long series of writer events across Malaysia, called MyWriters, which included multiple readings at multiple venues. Since then, Penang Writer Events (PWE), in Penang, have been supported by Shannon Frances, Mark Walker and Wilson Khor Woo Han. Back in KL there are numerous, and every growing, venues for ‘poets’ to read in ‘Open Mic’ sessions. The more writers who get involved with these events, the better it is for literacy in Malaysia.

Monday, 16 November 2015

China’s Plum Blossom Luxury

Southeast of the renown Chinese city of Shanghai, accessible via the high speed ‘Bullet train’; close to the energetically emerging city of Hanhzhou, is the freshly opened, and extremely comfortable refuge of the Shui Mo Resort. The elegant Shui Mo Resort is set back within wooded mountains of the Chaoshan Plum Park, in Hangzhou’s Yuhang district, 35 kilometres, or half an hour, beyond the burgeoning Hangzhou city and just 5 kilometres from the local town of Tangqi. 
Now a very popular local tourist destination, the Chaoshan Plum Park area, also called "Ten Li of Plum Blossoms are as fragrant as snow flower sea”, is famous for its heavy carpeting of startling Spring plum blossom and its thousands of visitors every year. Within that park area ancient plum trees, many now exceeding 1,000 years of gnarled growth, still produce their fragrant flowers. Set back within the floral calmness of those plum trees, the peaceful and awe-inspiringly Shui Mo Resort itself boasts of over five thousand trees and bushes, and a serene lake for inner and outer reflection.

Overlooked by majestic mountains, the Shi Mo Resort styles itself as a ‘high end, scenic, boutique Bed and Breakfast arts resort’, covering 2,800 square meters within the Chaoshan Plum Park area. It is the brainchild of Chinese entrepreneur-chef Zhu Lian Zhong. The Resort is set beside a stunning 5,000 square meter lake. The architecture and interior designs encompass the best of Mediterranean, South East Asian and Chinese styles to bring a coterie of calming sensations to encourage rest and recuperation from the busy lives enveloping us all. 

Throughout what could only be termed a luxurious resort, Zhu Lian Zhong has spread his vast personal collection of Chinese antiques from dynasties as diverse as the Soong and Ching, as an open museum for his appreciative guests. Luckily my wife and I share a mutual friend with Zhu Lian Zhong - the Chinese Contemporary artist Luo Qi, who kindly arranged for us to stay in the Lakeview Gardens Chinese suite, Room 105, in the very lap of luxury for one night, just prior to our departure from China.

We had been traipsing around after artist Luo Qi for a week through Zhejiang Province, in Eastern China. He had led us to museum after museum, gallery after gallery, summit after forum and fascinating town after intriguing town, until we were cultured out and ready to drop. The one night’s stay at the Shui Mo Resort was a pleasant surprise, and the very fine icing on what had been a carefully crafted cultural cake.

The evening we arrived, having just travelled from the ancient Chinese town of Xitang, we were ushered to our suite with barely time to appreciate the resort’s grandeur until, that is, after dinner and during the following sunny day. 

We each took a quick shower in a resplendent wood, chrome, granite and concrete themed bathroom, actually containing a (Roca) bath. Then a nimble, disbelieving, gaze at the all-wooden Four-Poster Bed, and a not-too-leisurely walk to the dining hall. Therein lay one large, round, wooden table, bedecked with cold starters.

From a place-setting consisting of two elegant white plates with blue Chinese filigree designs, the larger at the bottom, a small bowl containing longans and melon cubes at the apex, we were to launch into the most sumptuous of Chinese meals. There were eight cold appetisers, including the softness of red and brown cold cubed beef and the sweet/sourness of chopped chicken with soy sauce dip. In time there came a sheer heavenly taste of a local lamb dish, on and off the bone, which surprised and delighted us all. A braised pork, soft, succulent in the way only Chinese can make and a health embracing soup.  It was at that dining room, within the Shui Mo Resort, that I finally became acclimatised to the combination of bacon and fish, in one dish, having tasted variations of that throughout our stay within China’s Zhejiang Province. Previously, it would never have occurred to me to combine the two. Dessert was glutinous rice balls, swimming in a slightly sweetened broth, appearing in a small, white, bowl resembling a lotus.

The softness of the luxurious bed, the weariness of the day’s travel and the quiet of the surroundings lulled us to sleep. Morning broke with gentle Autumnal rays of sunshine shining through the resort trees, glinting off the lake and highlighting a bird perched just outside the suite window. It was time to shower with the provided French L’Occitane shower cream and shampoo. Then a quick nosey around on the way to breakfast.

A white marble statue of the Chinese Kwan Yin Goddess of Mercy, had been placed within a rockery resembling Chinese mountainscapes. As we stood watching, admiring, taking pictures, subtle white mist drifted from secreted pipes, making those mini-mountains romantically misty. It was a most beguiling effect, especially with the mid-pink bougainvillaea in the background.

Inside and out, the Shui Mo Resort blended the natural and man made. Genuine Chinese antiques rubbed shoulders with innovative new designs to form a homogeneous whole. It was all so very delicately designed to make guests feel at ease, a place where Chinese calligraphy might be made, poems read and artists sit to philosophise with writers.

Our one night in the Lakeview Gardens Chinese suite of Zhu Lian Zhong's Shui Mo Resort, was a dream come true. And yet, while the resort was undoubtedly amazing at any time of year, I quickly realised that to gain the maximum from the amazing surroundings, it would be better to return at the beginning of Spring, January to February, when the plum trees are in blossom and the air resplendent with their blossomy fragrance.

The very luxurious rooms of the Shui Mo Resort, are priced between Yuan (¥) 1,380 (approximately RM 953) for the Mountain Southeast B room to Yuan (¥) 2,380 (approximately RM 1,643) for the Deluxe Continental B, depending on size and luxury required.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Asian & African and Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition 2015 Preface

The 12th Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition is upon us.  This November (2015) we, once more, celebrate the unity and diversity of artists, venue(s), sponsors and art lovers in the especial series of exhibitions created to enhance artistic understanding. 

The main exhibition is situated in the previous year’s, extremely spacious and well equipped, Shang Kun Luo Qi International Modern Art Museum, within Hangzhou's expanding environs. The annual international exhibition's founder and coordinator, Associate Professor Luo Qi, from the illustrious China Academy of Art has, once more, brought together a coterie of exhibitors and exhibitions of which the main 12th Asian & African & Mediterranean International Modern Art Exhibition is the vanguard.

For well over a decade Luo Qi’s diligence has enabled citizens of Hangzou, Zhejiang Province, foreign visitors, business people and those with interests in art to see a melange of intriguing artworks from a wide range of countries. This year is no exception. Countries as diverse as Canada, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, and of course from China itself, all feature in a range of exhibitions across Zhejiang Province, as well as taking part in what promises to be the most spectacular, sublime and surely the most thought-provoking exhibition in Hangzhou, yet.

To further the understanding of the scope of this series of annual exhibitions, I could express about Chinese trade routes, the Mediterranean Basin or Nanyang. I could explain that, in antiquity, Chinese peoples were explorers with great armadas of gigantic nine-masted ships, with twelve sails apiece (much larger than the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s ships). I could explain about the ancient voyages of Zheng (Ma) He (from Yunnan province), the imperial Chinese armada which between 1405 AD and 1433 AD visited the Straits of Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, India and across the Arabian sea. I could persuade readers that Chinese fleets visited the African peninsular, taking back giraffes, zebras and ostriches to China, then to the Swahili Coast, and finally back across the oceans to visit the Red Sea and Mecca. But this series of Luo Qi’s annual exhibitions is not about a singular collective noun, not just Nanyang, not just about the Mediterranean Basin, or even the sea voyages of the greatest fleet the world had ever known; but about Art, its divers originators, their myriad philosophies and their incipient camaraderie.

Luo Qi never disappoints. Whether it is his own stimulating works in his unique ‘Characterism” or ‘Calligraphyism’ style, blending aspects of Chinese and Western artistic practices and ideas, or whether he is collecting, collating and combining various elements to present to an excited public in his curated exhibitions, Luo Qi always demonstrates his ability to surprise and delight. This year’s series of larger and smaller exhibitions are no exception.

I am both proud and honoured to be considered to be part of this annual and ongoing revelation of the practice of art and its exhibition. I consider myself fortunate to be able to rub shoulders with some of the most important ‘makers’ from across the world, and talk with them, about their work. For this I thank Associate Professor Luo Qi, and all his sponsors, large and small. 

MyWriters Event 17th October 2015 reading poetry

Poems Read

My Clever Poem
Because it's all very intellectual here
I thought
That I would read

A clever poem
Not a cleaver poem
I'm not that kind if hack A clever poem
One that had
Filled with words like Dasein
A little Greek
Or Latin
A Beat poet
Or some
Poet from Latin America I could
My poem
Whisper my poem
I was a
Spoken word
A poet
That spoke
How original
Well I would
Wouldn't I
If I was clever enough
If I was Smart enough But as I'm
I won't

China Granted
Oil scented Fumes
I see you Stride
As gum trees Cuddly
As koala Sprite
Kangaroo Sleek Designer Boomeranged To
Hangzhou Dots
On your Tongue
In your
Is with
In your
One platypus Town
A Ned Kelly No longer
On the run.

Gaudi's Breath
She walks
Gaudi’s breath
Miro strides
Dali time
tartness of Spanish red wine

a wild gypsy
taking her fill strolling with Picasso Drinking life deep.

She’s Aphrodite, Venus, Eurydice Sauntering boulevards
a mandala child
Paint bright, charcoal

Acuarela angel of paper/canvas.
In tropical dreams Equatorial hills,
I wish her

gliding, soaring One day
To return Home

To me

until you return
And I have no thing when you are no longer here the children are silent
the dog, muffled
even the sun seems somehow listless and hesitant the moon hides her face

too ashamed to peek between the clouds birds cease their singing
the breeze is muted.

you are journeying distant lands
seeing new sights
while my sight becomes ever dimmer
the more I look into the space where you are not it is as if my soul too has departed

slipped inside your red suitcase to keep you safe
while I remain empty
until you return

Lost in Port Dickson
Trembling tide Caresses Tentative

Tamalian infant Squeals Delighted
Soft sun
Barely glances
To Brightening sky

Far Driven
Skins of Mangosteen Grounded

I too
Have been Blown By Oceanic Breezes

Called By siren songs Adrift
Washed Up On some Equatorial Shore
To comprehend

Sun burning John Lewis hat
Unaccustomed Sweat
On white cotton

Thinking Of Camus Conrad
Isabella Bird
Black crows Watching Empty Carlesberg tins On

I was not there
I could not see Brother and sister Arm in arm
A sea
Of yellow,
One legged Attendees
On yellow
A mass
Of Chinese
Indians and Malays Smiling in their pain.

I was not there I could not see Along
The roads Proudly waving Flags

Yellow Blue Red White, Slogans for clean Fervent Words For Justice Hope
I was not there
I could not see
A yellow Beetle car Proudly displaying Its battle scars, Former
Prime Ministers Lending

In humility Half million Plus souls Sharing Moments United
In a way Mere jingoism Cannot.

I was not there I could not see The jigsaw
Of humanity Finally

The Malaysian Family
At last
Rent asunder By decade
Of Lies
And half-truths.

I was not there
I could not see
For it was a time
For Malaysians
In their angst
A private time
Like grief
Over a country
Which might have been Determined
To forge one, better Cleaner.
I was not there
I could not see
But my heart
was with them. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

(Art) Fairly Inundated

Thorrrrebe by Andre Tan

Recently, Malaysia has become flooded with art. Art tourism, art conferences, art forums, art talks, art exhibitions, Expos and even art which is up for grabs. On social media we are inundated with invitations for events, the opening of this and the launch of that, so many that any ordinary mortal would have to metamorphose into Thor (the thunder god) to be able attend them all. Ordinarily that would not matter as some exhibitions are clearly more important than others, but at this late Summer juncture, in Kuala Lumpur, worthiness abounds and art lovers must make heart rending decisions about which exhibition(s) to go to, knowing that to visit one may mean being unable to visit another equally as interesting, valid, or valued.

The highlight of the past few years has been the Art Expo, now called Art Expo Plus 2015. Tottering into its ninth year, Art Expo has grown to take pride of place within the region. It is well respected, well organised and has burrowed deeply into the hearts of art aficionados. Began in 2007 by Datuk Vincent Sim Tiak Choo, he, his wife (Mary of City Gallery) and sons have raised the concept of an art fair to new heights, each year surpassing themselves with the quality of artworks on display and collaborations with a wide variety of galleries and auction houses until, that is, this year.

Is it my jadedness, or is this year's Art Expo at Matrade MECC more of a whimper than a bang? In the past Art Expo has always been an assortment of the very best, historical or Contemporary, as well as those 'artworks' which at best could be described as 'illustrations', at worse amateurish. Is this perception because my expectations of this event have been risen by the previous events. Is it that there are just too many fine exhibitions competing for our attention, or that it is just too difficult to keep up the very high standards which the Art Expo has itself set?

There is little doubt that the financial art world, which we had been persuaded to believe would continue to bring in good dividends, has suffered setbacks in Asia due to poorly performing currencies, Malaysian and Chinese included. This coupled with a large number of art biennials and art fairs across the world, to which local artists and galleries are now submitting art, time and expense, mean that there is only so much quality to go around. And, if we are totally honest, Malaysia cannot compare to Hong Kong, or even mainland China/Korea when it comes to prestige amongst art fairs. But the Art Expo in Kuala Lumpur was getting there and, sometimes, our forward progress is not linear, there are often steps backward or sideways too. This year is one of those.

I'll not be crass enough to single out the worse excesses of 'art' or 'illustration' on view this year, but suffice to say that one foreign gallery returned with a show which seemed a carbon copy of last year's, minus some of the best pieces. True we had Dalis and Miros (what again I hear you cry), and for some aficionados that would have been enough to make the Expo worth visiting, but for me there was a large dose of déjà vu.

I was confused to see Dr Cheah Thien Soong’s works at the Expo, having only recently visited them at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. It brought quite an uncomfortable feeling of over-exposure of his nonetheless visually stunning works, which I felt had been somewhat demoted to compete with a large range of art works on offer at the Expo. Incidentally I felt the same with regards to the Dalis and Miros which, perhaps, should have had a separate viewing area.

There were, of course, many highlights to the exhibition, Syed Thajudeen’s large work The Eternal Love between Puteri Gunung Ledang & Hang Tuah and pieces by Zulkifli Yusoff, included. Surprises came from The Art Fellas (Singapore) in the guise of Yeo Siak Goon’s works, in particular his Sunny Day’s Garden (2002) and Sunny day an the Blue Night (2012), and the POPcorn Combo with Andre Tan’s work, again from Singapore. Tan won me over with contemporary Pop Art imagery which was both referential and enlightening. Pop Art has been done to death over the past fifty years but, mixing my metaphors, Tan’s work shows that there is still some blood to wring from this particular stone. Favourites included In the Mood For Love 4, Thorrrrebe and Kitty Rider 05.