Malaysia hosts artwork on anniversary of tsunami to reflect on contradictory power of water

Oi Nuen Sprunt's ShoutCryRoom which is currently on display in Kuala Lumpur

Oi Nuen Sprunt's ShoutCryRoom is currently being exhibited at the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur after first being shown at Asia House

Malaysia hosts artwork on anniversary of tsunami to reflect on contradictory power of water

31 December 2014

By Naomi Canton

An exhibition to reflect on the healing process of those whose loved ones died and those who survived the 2011 Japan and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunamis, which collectively killed about 250,000 people, has gone on show at the Central Bank of Malaysia – following its debut at Asia House.

London-based Malaysia-born British artist Oi Nuen Sprunt’s art installation ShoutCryRoom is being displayed at the Central Bank of Malaysia (Bank Negara Malaysia) Museum and Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur until 11 January 2015.

The very first time ShoutCryRoom was exhibited was  part of an exhibition called Damage and Healing in the Studio of Asia House in 2012 during a two-week event to commemorate a year on from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world.

The exhibition at Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery, Sasana Kijang, is part of a larger exhibition called Paint & Ink Just Add Water held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Indian Ocean Boxing Day Tsunami, the world’s most devastating tsunami.

That exhibition consists of two shows: Splashes, an international watercolour exhibition in collaboration with the Malaysian Watercolour Society and ShoutCryRoom an installation exhibition by sumi-e artist Sprunt.  The common theme is water as both media require water to bring them to life.

Sprunt’s ShoutCryRoom explores whether art can help the healing process for those who have lost loved ones, especially children, and create an environment for contemplation and healing. The idea is to create a space where others can share the same journey as those who are grieving trying to heal.

Among her work are eight paintings on display created from sumi-e (Japanese ink and brush painting) and just one subject, three roses.

Sprunt, who was born in Malaysia and moved to Britain to do her A-levels, lived in Japan for four stints between 1979 and 2011. It was there that she learnt sumi-e  from Kisa Matsushita who, in turn, had studied it under Ukai Uchiyama. She said she was immediately drawn to the 2,000 year-old art form of Japanese brush painting, which is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism.

“Sumi-e is very spontaneous. There is no sketching. You just paint what you see and it suits my nature. You don’t need to mix lots of things and working with paper is very healing. In Japan they think it’s healing to work with paper – it’s like sitting under a tree. I love Japanese aesthetics. It’s all about jimi (being subdued, non-showy). The Japanese are very jimi people and their aesthetics reflects ‘jimi-ness,’ she said.

Nuen had created the paintings that are on display from 2007 till 2011, and finished the last artwork a week before the tsunami occurred in Japan.

These paintings were a result of her reaction to UK TV media reports in 2007 showing the parents of missing or murdered children, with the case of Madeleine McCann who went missing from Portugal in 2007 striking a particular chord with Sprunt. She said she felt deeply affected by the grief parents went through – whether the child was killed or missing. “That is what started me thinking about damage, how people heal and whether art can help people get healed,” she explained in an interview in Mackwoods Tea Room at Asia House.

She wanted to share her emotions through art – using roses as a subject and sumi-e as the single technique.

“I don’t know why roses, I just love roses. I got the biggest fattest white roses I could find with green tinges and I started to paint what I felt. I guess I was sharing their grief and in the process I felt much better and I wondered whether I would be able to create a space where people connected and felt better,” she said.

“I had to express these emotions. Painting on one piece of paper did not give me the depth of emotion I was hoping for. I found my solution in the layering and the sculpting of two or three paintings together to make one single work,” she wrote in her artist’s statement.

“It’s because you never heal from a problem immediately – it takes time – there are layers. It’s like peeling off rose petals, peeling off layers,” she explained.


Some of Oi Nuen Sprunt’s damage and healing works

When asked whether her work achieved its goal of facilitating healing, she said: “That’s a question that needs to be asked every time someone sees my work.”

In 2012 Asia House had a two-week event commemorating the Japanese 2011 tsunami on its first anniversary, which included films and various exhibitions. “At the same time I was looking for a space to exhibit my art works exploring damage and healing, so I welcomed the opportunity to link my works to the commemorations at Asia House,” she said.

Some pieces are quick and are done a few minutes, she explains. It’s the grinding of the block of ink that takes time. That takes three to four hours, she said. “Waiting for it to dry and sculpting it takes time,” she added

After the roses eventually dried up, she did actually peel off  each petal. “I felt at peace and I think that’s what you have to do to heal – you have to really let go,” she added.

The Malaysian exhibition is a milestone for her as it is the first time her art work has been exhibited in her homeland and the first time her father has seen it. “It’s really humbling for me for my art to be shown in the connection of remembering the tsunami. I left Malaysia when I was a teenager so it’s really nice also to come back and engage with people as an adult,” she said.


The ‘Commemoration to Tsunami room’ which forms part of Oi Nuen Sprunt’s installation

At the opening night of the exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Malaysia (Bank Negara Malaysia) Puan Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus said: “The exhibition that we are launching today, Paint & Ink: Just Add Water, is a tribute to the creative and the destructive power of the element that covers 70 per cent of our planet. The ShoutCryRoom by Oi Nuen Sprunt might also push the public into developing an appreciation of installation art. It is not a field that has captured the nation’s imagination yet, but this artist’s work has such a positive message and such a calming effect, it should change perceptions.”

The paintings were priced at the Asia House show between £1,000 and £8,000.


Exhibition notes of ShoutCryRoom at Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur

Sprunt visited Tohoku, the area devastated by the Japaese tsunami, six months after it struck, and was deeply touched by a town named Minamisanriku which was completely obliterated, except for a sign saying ‘Never Give Apple’ meaning ‘Never Give Up’.

“Minamisanriku haunted me the most because there was nothing left.  Ninety-five per cent of buildings were gone in seven minutes. I have dedicated some of my works to that town. I hope each venue that ShoutCryRoom finds itself, it will take me closer to the people who have suffered damage. This is my hope, that it will travel from venue to venue, and the intention is to have hopefully, created a space for reflection and contemplation.  I would like the exhibition to travel to another venue in Asia. That would be amazing. The local press coverage has been great.  My greatest hope is to see it in Minamisanriku one day,” she added

Paint & Ink: Just Add Water continues until Jan 11, 2015, at Level 2 of the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery.

For more information about ShoutCryRoom click here.

To see a video of the exhibition in Malaysia click here.

Bada Song’s exhibition This Way & That has been extended at Asia House until Friday 9 January 2015. The London-based Korean artist Bada Song creates minimal works that subtly depict Korean traditions as they undergo rapid modernisation. Entry is free and it is open to the public. For more information click here.

To coincide with a large exhibition of the work of Japanese artist On Kawaraentitled Silence at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from 6 February – 3 May 2015, Asia House is pleased to present an audio presentation of the epic ‘One Million Years’. For more details click here.