Malaysian “brushless painter” sees a brighter future
KUALA LUMPUR – For Malaysian artist Hong Yi, better known as “Red”, seeing two weeks of painstaking work ignite in less than 2 minutes was not a bad thing. His latest work, created by setting fire to 50,000 green-tipped matches of trees inserted into a 3-meter-wide world map, has become a powerful cover for an issue of Time magazine devoted to the effects of climate change.
“Time [magazine] decided to revisit the concept of the play ‘Burn’ [which] I made with street artist Kenji Chai, ”says Red, who in 2019 used matches to create charred trees surrounding an image of a mother orangutan and her offspring. “Their vision was to express how the world should unite to tackle climate change with the same urgency we had when tackling climate change. [COVID-19] pandemic, ”she said.
Red, who was born in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia, was educated in Australia and trained as an architect in Shanghai. She had her great luck as an artist in 2012, when her portrayal of Chinese basketball player Yao Ming – drawn using a basketball dipped in red paint – went viral, showcasing her unique style to the world.
Since 2014, Red has traveled and worked as a full-time artist, mostly jumping between bases in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and creating unconventional works of art using everyday objects.
Among Red’s best-known pieces is a mural of the Merlion – the mythical creature with a lion’s head and fish body that represents Singapore – created by gluing, layering and charring 15,000 bamboo chopsticks with fire. . Red’s portrait of a man making the tarik (Malaysian milk tea) was made using 20,000 tinted tea bags hanging from a wooden frame with wire mesh cutouts.
Another stunning piece of art, “Kaleidoscope,” on display earlier this year at Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur, featured seven mirrored panels made from 24,000 pieces of used aluminum coffee capsules. “I’m now experimenting with mud and dirt; silhouettes and social issues,” Red says. “Specifically, I want to talk about issues of climate change, race, and also my heritage as a Malaysian Chinese.”
The artist says she learned an “invaluable lesson in her heritage” living and working in Shanghai, where she became fascinated by the items she could source and purchase at competitive prices. “I would go to the markets and I could buy huge volumes of sunflower seeds, socks, hairpins and paper cups for a fraction of the price I would pay in Australia or Malaysia,” he says. it.
This fascination prompted Red to visit Yiwu, China’s wholesale capital, where she observed how manufacturing and sourcing work. “I created works of art with objects in response to China’s manufacturing prowess. I could find things in abundance and I could afford them at that time, ”she says.
His next step was to use some of these cheap materials to create portraits of Chinese figures, “because I felt there were a lot of misconceptions about China, tainted by the Western media, and my perceptions about China. China and the Chinese people were called into question when I lived there, ”Red says.
Among other works, Red created a portrait of Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan using more than 60,000 disposable bamboo chopsticks to celebrate the actor’s 60th birthday. A tribute to Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei was made by placing 20,000 sunflower seeds on canvas.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on the lives of the jet set Red who, before COVID-19, mostly spent their time outside of their native Malaysia because their “customers came from all over the place, and if that piqued my interest, I ‘I fly over there. “
At first, COVID-19 lockdowns hampered Red’s creativity: She says she went through a period of depression and needed online therapy because she was so worried about the future . “I reminded myself that this was temporary and that as an artist it was important to express and record what was happening around me.”
That aspiration led to an Instagram series, “#iamnotavirus,” conceived as his response to anti-West Asian sentiment sparked by the pandemic, in which Red portrayed victims of assault and people who spoke out about the issue. Her next project, “#seedsofhope,” featured 10 portraits of people she admired, made with random seeds from her pantry while locked at home. Among them was Dr Helen Chu, a Seattle-based infectious disease expert who began testing the coronavirus community in the US state of Washington in January 2020 without government approval.
“Looking back, although it has been difficult, the pandemic has helped my growth as an artist because it has rooted me in one place,” says Red, who moved to Kuala Lumpur in July 2020 after moving to isolated with her family in Kota Kinabalu. Since then, she has been accepting orders and is building a team of nine members by July 2021.
However, working in Malaysia can prove increasingly difficult for Red due to the crackdown on free speech. In April, graphic designer and activist Fahmi Reza, who rose to prominence in 2015 with a clownish caricature of then-prime minister Najib Razak, was arrested by police over a music playlist that included songs such as “Jealousy” and “God Save the Queen,” by British bands Queen and the Sex Pistols, respectively, which he uploaded to the music streaming site Spotify.
The playlist was a tongue-in-cheek response to a response (“Are you jealous?”) From Malaysian Queen Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah to an Instagram user who asked about alleged royal privileged access to COVID-vaccines 19.
Fahmi was again questioned by police on May 6 about two cartoons, including that of the Malaysian Minister of Health depicted as a vampire. Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a political cartoonist known as Zunar, was also asked about a cartoon of a minister of state published in January.
“I respect Fahmi’s artistic career and think it’s important for the growth of the art scene here to be able to speak up freely about issues,” Red said, adding, “I want to create pieces that express what I want to do and what I mean as an artist – and that includes social and political issues. “
In the Malaysian parliamentary election in 2018, Red created a play called “Hope” featuring a silhouette of a person holding a flag with flower petals bursting around him. “I created the play so that the public can use it wherever they want, to express their hope for the country,” she says. Many Malaysians have used Red’s works as profile photographs on social media, and they have also appeared on electronic billboards.
“I want to create more works like this,” says Red. “They remind me of why I want to be an artist: to work on pieces that can influence and connect with people. “