Anthropocene Series: A triptych by Nadiah Bamadhaj

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Anthropocene Series A triptych by

Nadiah Bamadhaj

PART OF  S.E.A. FOCUS CURATED: hyper-horizon 20–31 January 2021

Anthropocene Series A triptych by

Nadiah Bamadhaj

PART OF  S.E.A. FOCUS CURATED: hyper-horizon 20–31 January 2021


Anthropocene combines the Ancient Greek words “anthropo”— meaning “human” — and “cene” — meaning “recent”. The term describes what scientists have argued is a current geological age dominated by human impact on earth. While there is yet no established consensus from scientists about when the Anthropocene started precisely, climate change, threats to biodiversity, and the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste materials are all confirmed anthropogenic impacts. Part of a larger series, this triptych of charcoal on paper collages by Nadiah Bamadhaj looks, from an aerial view, at landscapes that are heavily marked by the human hand. The artist selected three sites from different corners of the planet — Sidoarjo Mud Lake, Indonesia, Huangu Salt Mine, China, and Carrara Marble Mine, Italy — each of which show increases in carbon emissions through deforestation, significant if not permanent impacts on biodiversity, and have visually marked the earth’s surface.

Anthropocene Series: Sidoarjo Mud Lake, Indonesia (detail), 2019



Anthropocene Series: Sidoarjo Mud Lake, Indonesia Huangu Salt Mine, China Carrara Marble Mine, Italy 2019 Charcoal on paper collage and ink Installation size 100 ∑ 340 cm (triptych)


Anthropocene Series: Sidoarjo Mud Lake, Indonesia 2019 Charcoal on paper collage and ink 100 ∑ 100 cm (part of triptych)


Anthropocene Series: Huangu Salt Mine, China 2019 Charcoal on paper collage and ink 100 ∑ 100 cm (part of triptych)


Anthropocene Series: Carrara Marble Mine, Italy 2019 Charcoal on paper collage and ink 100 ∑ 100 cm (part of triptych)


A Conversation Between Nadiah Bamadhaj and Lee Weng Choy


WENG CHOY: With a global pandemic, it’s been hard for so many people to work, to concentrate, to create. Perhaps we can start by talking about where you are in your own practice at this moment. I was very taken by a brief exchange we had, where you said that you “started drawing again”. For me I’m interested in that “again”. Am I correct to read in your message a sense of delight that you’re returning to a particular practice that has given you great pleasure? Please talk about this coming back to drawing. And, also, if you could talk more generally about what drawing means to you. For me, I associate drawing with an open-ended process of thinking. NADIAH: At the beginning of the pandemic I observed a lot of artists on Instagram taking the opportunity of being in lockdown to make new series of works. That was not the case for me. I literally stopped working as I was in a deep depression because of a number of circumstances in my life. Lockdown allowed me the time and motivation to address those circumstances and do something about my situation. After those problems were resolved I started designing my first “independent” drawing installation. It was truly liberating, and yes, in the first week of January 2021 I began executing the designs in paper collages. So “started drawing again” didn’t come from being in lockdown. It came from a form of emancipation that was three years in the making. My drawings come from an accumulation of methods that I have developed in order to manipulate paper to produce a particular series of results. I work closely with my assistant on this, as she does most of the meticulous texturing of the surface of the paper, whereas I tear and charcoal, and she then glues it all down. We are now a well-oiled machine of textures. But fundamentally, my drawing is not different from any other art form I see being produced by my peers online — a series of


decisions. My drawings have never flowed out of me, they take concentration, decision making, and, most mornings, the art of overcoming fear. I get stumped in studio. Then I think on it, meditate on it, resolve it, and move on. Art is an open-ended process of thinking, yes. It’s a constant dialogue with yourself. WENG CHOY: In a lot of interviews with artists who are concerned with issues, the questions set up an occasion to explicate what the artist thinks about — climate crisis, or sexual politics, and so on. But too often I find that the questions don’t dig deep into the artistic practice itself. The questions don’t go beyond taking positions. Let me be clear — the positions are important. But that is not what makes an artist an artist. That’s our responsibility as humans. I consider you an artist who cares deeply, but it isn’t just that you care deeply about the issues, what’s also at stake is how this care manifests in your practice. Could you speak to that? NADIAH: I find when I make work about political issues, in actuality I am making work that reflects my personal condition or psyche. But most of the time I realise this about six months after the work has ended. There are always two rivers running in my practice, the issues I present to the public, and the issues inside myself — be it shame, elation, feelings of being rejected, or fear. I think I use the “issues”, or the “messages”, in my work to work out whatever internal crisis that’s going on at the time. This is not to say I am manipulating the public with issues around my work — they are very important to me. But usually they stem from something deeper that I’m going through that I am unconsciously displaying or working out. There is always a backstory to the stories in my work. WENG CHOY: To extend on the previous question — when I think of “care”, I think of


“investment” — from emotional to political to intellectual — and with that last register, I think of research. Could you speak about research in your practice, and, in particular, the Anthropocene series. NADIAH: In October 2019, I was asked to make a presentation on art and sustainability at “The Cooler Earth Sustainability Summit” in Kuala Lumpur, hosted by CIMB Bank. I took a deep dive into works by artists talking about the environment and climate change. The works were incredible and illuminating, though not all were necessarily sustainable. In the process of writing the presentation I waded through many podcasts on art and/or sustainability, online summaries of the 2018 UN-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, the 2019 UN-based Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Report, wildlife extinction rates, the Pacific garbage patch, and air pollution indexes, and thereby worked myself up into a pre-Covid climate change panic. When I got home from the conference I wanted very much to incorporate what I had learnt into my upcoming work. But the most visual and striking part of my research was watching the documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch 2018 by filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, which gave me the strongest ideas for my Anthropocene series. The documentary impressed upon me how much the earth is marked by the human hand, and I went onto spend hours scouring through Google Earth looking for sites that reflected that marking, which could be therefore be interpreted through my style of drawing. There were five sites that I planned for in the series. But I only finished three before Covid hit. I see the Anthropocene series as ongoing and I look forward to a time when I can return to the work. WENG CHOY: An artist researches, she produces forms of knowledge, and, sometimes, also an artwork. As a mode of communication, I think what art does


differently is that it demands a certain kind of investment of time and emotions from the viewer. Art isn’t journalism. Both are important, but they function differently, although of course they sometimes overlap. One thing that art demands is looking and re-looking. This is a quality of your work. It asks us to look, and look “again”. The Anthropocene series is a work you did at the end of a particular period, in late 2019 — before the pandemic. Could you speak about what it means for you to revisit and look again at this body of work? NADIAH: At the time I made them, the Anthropocene series was so important for me. I poured all my attention and technique into them. It was hard work compared to what I had been making before them. In terms of the techniques applied, I look upon this triptych as marking the beginning of the above-mentioned change in my situation and practice. Conceptually, I look upon them as a luxury, compared to what we are going through now. Luxurious because in the message in the work, our implicated extinction is generations away — not as a result of a trip to the shops, as it is right now. WENG CHOY: When we spoke earlier, you talked about how you feel that this moment is something of a transitional period for you. There are many personal reasons for that, and we don’t need to get into all of that. Obviously, there’s the pandemic, which has made many of us become more introspective and has forced on us a sense that we cannot pretend that it’s just business-as-usual and that life will return to normal after “it’s all over”. But beyond the particular circumstances of this moment, the theme of transition has other resonances. I have always been interested in the transitional periods of artists. Could you speak to that.


NADIAH: I am going through a transition. The pandemic has merely precipitated that. Sometime in the middle of this pandemic I made a commitment to myself to only make work that lives up to my own standards, and not those of anyone else. I had lost my way for a few years, trying to make work to accommodate the market, as I am a sole income earner in a family and staff of seven people. The pressure to maintain this domestic machine is enormous, but pandering to the market was catastrophic. That was a huge mistake on my part. I now want to focus on what I’m good at — unframed drawing installation — a completely “unmarketable” product, apparently. But I must try to do my best, and at the moment this is my best. With the death of my father in 2018, and my mother living out her retirement years, I am constantly reminded that there is not much time left. I can feel this in my body every day, and I have to get the best work out before this vehicle fails me.

Lee Weng Choy is a part-time consultant with A+ Works of Art, Kuala Lumpur. He is also the president of the Singapore Section of the International Association of Art Critics, and has done project work with several organisations, including ILHAM Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, National Gallery Singapore, and Factory Contemporary Arts Centre, Ho Chi Minh City. Previously, Weng Choy was Artistic Co-Director of The Substation, Singapore, and he has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art — Singapore. He writes on contemporary art and culture in Southeast Asia, and his essays have appeared in journals such as Afterall, and anthologies such as Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Over Here: International Perspectives on Art and Culture, and Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985. He writes the “Ask a Critic” column for


Nadiah Bamadhaj (b. 1968, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia), works and lives in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She graduated with a double major in sculpture and sociology from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. Her practice includes works in a range of media, from drawings, sculptures, installations and digital images. She has worked in non-governmental organisations, lectured on art, and written on both Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2000, she began her full-time art-practice, and in 2002, she was awarded the Nippon Foundation’s Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship. Her artwork often focuses on the social intricacies of place, and often employs themes of myth, architecture and dwelling.

Anthropocene Series: Carrara Marble Mine, Italy (detail), 2019


Published in conjunction with the presentation Anthropocene Series: Triptych by Nadiah Bamadhaj, at S.E.A Focus Curated: hyper-horizon from 20th to 31st January 2020.

Artist Nadiah Bamadhaj Writer Lee Weng Choy Editor Aminah Ibrahim Graphic design Kenta.Works


Published by A+ WORKS of ART d6 - G - 8 d6 Trade Centre 801 Jalan Sentul 51000 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia +60 18 333 3399 Facebook/Instagram

Images credits Front cover Nadiah Bamadhaj Anthropocene Series: Huangu Salt Mine, China (detail), 2019 Back Cover Nadiah Bamadhaj Anthropocene Series:  Sidoarjo Mud Lake, Indonesia (detail), 2019 Courtesy of the artist

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A+ WORKS of ART is a contemporary art gallery based in Kuala Lumpur, with a geographic focus on Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Founded in 2017 by Joshua Lim, the gallery presents a wide range of contemporary practices, from painting to performance, drawing, sculpture, new media art, photography, video and installation. Its exhibitions have showcased diverse themes and approaches, including material experimentation and global conversations on social issues. Collaboration is key to the ethos of A+ WORKS of ART. Since its opening, the gallery has worked with artists, curators, writers, collectors, galleries and partners from within the region and beyond, and continues to look out for new collaborations. The gallery name is a play on striving for distinction but also on the idea that art is never without context and is always reaching to connect — it is always “plus” something else.

Anthropocene Series A triptych by

Nadiah Bamadhaj

PART OF  S.E.A. FOCUS CURATED: hyper-horizon 20–31 January 2021