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From Gelam to Glam: An Interview with Artist Rizman Putra

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Step into a dizzying world of neon brushstrokes and intricate patterns at Art Outreach’s second edition of Art Encounters titled From Gelam to Glam. The initiative sees multi-disciplinary artist Rizman Putra transform two shipping containers on the lawn of the Malay Heritage Centre into unforgettable art installations.

Rizman blends his decades worth of experience in visual arts, performance, and music into this mind-bending, neon-hued line work that reaches all corners of the containers’ interiors. His creations are inspired by the sprawling Gelam tree, after which Kampong Glam was named, as well as artefacts featured in the Malay Heritage Centre’s ongoing special exhibition.

Visitors can enter the containers and engage with Rizman’s installation in awe, which is open to the public every Friday to Sunday until 7 June 2020. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the talented artist’s sketchbooks that are on display next door as well.

We speak to Rizman about his multidisciplinary practice, his experiences in working on From Gelam to Glam, and what he hopes to achieve with the installation.

How would you describe your practice?

I am a multi-disciplinary artist, my work predominantly centres around performative mediums but I majored in painting when I was in Lasalle College of the Arts, where I began questioning the boundaries between visual arts, music and performance. In the visual arts, I have presented my works from drawings, paintings, photographs, installations and performances. I have also been involved in theatre as an actor and even at times, as a director. As for music, I am the frontman of a 26-year-old indie band Tiramisu and co-creator of NADA, a retro-futurist electronic Malay pop group.

What inspired you to become a multi-disciplinary artist?

My personal belief as an artist is that expression is limitless; we should express our emotions in a myriad of ways to connect with the world around us. The training I had in school helped me to push my interest in creating multi-disciplinary works. Apart from painting, I took popular music theory and movement classes as electives. At the same time, I hung out a lot at The Substation and the now-defunct Plastic Kinetic Worms, where I experienced a lot of multi-disciplinary works and experimental presentations. I feel that was my true education in contemporary art, and that inspired me to experiment freely without self-censorship.

What’s your favourite thing about being an artist?

My favourite thing about being an artist is the opportunity to create worlds that bridge the unexplored and the perplexing to audiences of various backgrounds. I like that I get to push the boundaries of the audience, and yet include them in the absurd experiences of my choosing.

Being an artist also enables me to understand myself better as a person in relation to the larger world around me. It helps me to discipline myself to create works that I truly believe in, rather than having to conform to deadlines and creative conflicts when working in a vast collective and commercial environment.

You’re the featured artist for the second edition of Art Encounters. Could you tell us more about your experiences and process in working in the containers to create From Gelam to Glam?

I began conceptualising and sketching ideas for the residency in December 2019 as I’m always eager to start on a new project.

For From Gelam to Glam I wanted to focus on creating an experience that would intrigue and envelop the audience. I also wanted to find a way to work with colours, as I’ve been working mainly with Chinese ink and monochrome. It got me thinking about the time when I worked as a props designer more than a decade ago and how I used fluorescent paint to spice up the interior of the space.

I also intended to reflect the picturesque neighbourhood of Kampong Glam and how it transforms seamlessly from a vibrant heritage hotspot during the day to a boisterous nightlife spot.

How do you think your work builds a relationship with the surroundings of Kampong Glam?

I feel that the work reflects the eclectic blend of history and culture in the Kampong Glam district. It pays homage to both the area’s historic roots as a thriving port town and enclave for Malay and Arab communities, and its vibrant present life as a melting pot of restaurants and lifestyle shops. The installation’s visceral nature is one that I hope reflects the passing of time and eras that Kampong Glam has witnessed through the years.

Was there anything you hoped to achieve or highlight with this project?

I wanted this work to capture a sense of magic and remembrance; to create an atypical experience in the middle of a heritage centre that people would look back on as one they shared with friends and family.

What do you hope viewers will get out of your work?

As of late, my works have progressed through a phase where I began to create immersive works on a significant scale. I’m interested in how drawing and painting can go beyond a two-dimensional presentation by engulfing the audience and making them see the raw brushstrokes, the flaws that come with it (like paint drips), and the irregularity of the lines on the ceiling.

It’s just like how one would discover Neanderthal drawings in a cave and have their imagination stimulated. It has been created for children to imagine that they’re in another dimension, or for adults to pretend that they are children again.

This interview with Rizman Putra was conducted by Stephanie Yeap over email in March 2020. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.

From Gelam to Glam will run from 28 Feb to 7 Jun from 10am to 6pm, Fridays to Sundays except public holidays. Admission is free. Follow our Facebook page for updates.

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