#InTheNameOfArt: Chang Yoong Chia On The Inspiration Behind Family Tree

·4-min read

Chang Yoong Chia is an artist who explores different kinds of materials with the sensibility of a painter. Yoong Chia’s work includes paintings on canvases, painted animal and plant remains, household objects, stamp collages and embroidery exploring wide-ranging topics such as politics, religion and culture and nature. 

The repeated gestures and complex methods reflect a commitment to craft in which the labour adds another layer of meaning to the work. Placing an importance on the material, he believes that each medium has its own characteristics and symbolism, and new interpretations are conjured when found. 

With Family Tree, Yoong Chia explores alternative motifs as a way to understand the history of cash crop plantations in this country. It is a glimpse into the landscape of profit, invasion, colonialism, exploitation as well as migration.

And when unprofitable crops are replaced by newer ones, the ground beneath us is overturned and everything that came before is covered in dirt, while we live on the surface of things and pretend Malaysia is all leaves, flowers, and butterflies.

 

What was the process like and what inspired you to do so? 

This exhibition started as an open call, meaning that Ilham Gallery announced that there will be a selection and application process for artists to submit proposals to realise their artworks. And through a judging process, they’d select 31 artists whose work are presented in this gallery.  

At the time, I was already doing batik about rubber plantations, and I thought this could be an opportunity to present my work. Because it has a large space, I’d be able to display my work through rows and columns of trees, like a snapshot of a rubber plantation.  

Also, I feel a connection to the gallery because a few years ago, they had an exhibition called Love Me In My Batik. And even though the gallery has been increasingly associated with tourism, that exhibition left quite the impression on me and deepened my connection to batik as an art form.  

Why do you feel a strong connection to the process of batik making? 

In addition to the exhibition in Ilham three years ago, my time in Hokkaido, Japan played a crucial role in developing my appreciation for batik. I was invited for an artist residency in Hokkaido for a two-month residency during winter. I’ve never seen so much snow in my life, and it was incredibly overwhelming. 

At that time, I wanted to bring Malaysia to the winter landscape of Hokkaido. I thought it’d be possible to bring the heat of Malaysia over, because batik requires molten and liquid wax to make. It was an exciting phase of my artistic career as I was experimenting with the process of making batik.  

Why is rubber tapping integral to the message of the artwork?  

I researched a lot on the Internet, and there’s one thing that came up consistently across various batik making websites: the statement that floral and leaf patterns are common across batik motifs because Islam forbids idolism, hence the lack of human or animal imagery. That’s not true. But because this statement was so prevalent, I decided to play with that concept. Instead of using things that we’d normally associate with batik, why don’t I explore something that’s Malaysian, yet unexplored? 

And that’s the reason why I looked into rubber plantations. Malaysia used to be the biggest exporter of rubber in the world, it’s such a big part of the economy, the social structure of Malaysia and I thought it was a good idea to bring that into people’s consciousness. 

What is the significance of the title, Family Tree? 

There’s a bit of wordplay with the title. Usually when we talk about family trees, you’d see a graph of a tree with either branches or roots that branch out. There’s also this notion of family that’s interesting to me.

In Malaysia, we always say like “we’re one big family”, so the definition of family in this artwork could also extend to Malaysia as a whole. Lastly, the fact that rubber tappers come from different ethnic groups, but can share something in common.   

 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAUFI NADZRI; ART DIRECTION BY JOYCE LIM; GROOMING BY ERANTHE LOO; LOCATION COURTESY OF ILHAM GALLERY