Stones, Bones & Such Like By Sherman Ong
Suma Orientalis, Sherman Ong
My good friend, Sherman Ong, indefatigable as ever, is having his first solo exhibition in Malaysia after having made it all over the world for quite a bit of time, winning awards and accolades into the bargain. Titled COCK HEAD & OTHER STORIES, it is an exhibition of art installations, photographs, sound recordings and videos. Some of it uses found material like stones, bricks, sticks, branches, (murky) water, beads, chains, driftwood, and (arrggghh!) undergarments. Some poetry even comes into the picture, courtesy of his friends. All these may not break your bones but they will definitely scatter your brain cells in the right direction as you ponder, reflect & ruminate upon the what Sherman is trying to say about Malaysian society & its milieu – and especially, politics, which, for a decade, has become a favourite playground for expression by filmmakers, theatre people, cartoonists & artists.
Great art is always a comment and reflection of the times in which it is made. A Malacca-born Peranakan, Sherman, a shy, unassuming artist, photographer and filmmaker, displays ha humourous side in his works, taking a rib at politicians and the promises they have been making, especially when election time comes around. Sherman’s ‘scripted punchlines and casual metaphors’ are quite easily deciphered if we have been more than a little attentive to the goings-on in Malaysia. With tongue-in-cheek, Sherman has been having some fun in putting this exhibition together, now on display at Suma Orientalis, PJ (just a little ways from the University Hospital).
Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib
With gallery owner, Kris Lee, Sherman & my Bunian Headman friend. He’s quite a flamboyant and with-it guy for a Bunian! (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
I paid a visit to the exhibition with a friend, an invisible one at that – a Bunian – a headman and one of the characters in Malay cosmology that was recently put on the screen in Mamat Khalid’s HANTU KAK LIMAH. He asked me to call him Mat B which was his Facebook moniker. He had heard of the exhibition and was keen to see it. He decided to remain invisible as he didn’t want to scare the s**t out of the gallery owner, Kris Lee. Sherman was okay as he was also into all the extrasensory thingys.
The moment Mat B entered the gallery, he let out a shriek. He recognised many of the branches, tree trunk and beads. They went missing from his forest home a few months back. I whispered to him that we’ll talk about compensation later.
Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib
Not just a pod, part of a tree trunk & construction site bricks… (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT B: Huh, I don’t see any Hang Tuah. That’s my tree trunk! The missus isn’t going to be very happy about what they have done with it. It looks a little – er, uh…
ME: Shhhh, this is art-lah. Ahem, I don’t understand it either.
MAT B: Why the blue colour?
ME: The colours of a political party. You know-lah, every time they talk about dignity, they invoke Hang Tuah’s name. But now no more, ever since they found out that he was really a Chinese. I think Sherman is his descendant…degenerated into Hang Seni.
EXHIBIT 2: KENDAK (Malay: Intimate Relationships)
Suma Orientalis
 (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT B: Aiyoyo, dirty laundry show to people, ah?!
ME: These are very clean, washed at a laundromat. Malay films had romantic scenes then. But now, have progressed a lot. They make actual sex scenes, then viral it on social media. Very progressive. No wonder they are in politics! Hump same sex partner, then openly declare it in the media. Maybe they are psycho or just retarded-lah…

MAT B: Yakah? Let’s get out of here! This one not my scene.

EXHIBIT 3: BUKAK KE? (Is it Open? In Japanese: Bukkake. Er, uh, a satire with a strange activity performed on incompetent politicians).
Suma Orientalis
Beaded, coloured dried fruits converge to the box of glass shards. The inner part of the 5 fruits depict the colours of the different political parties. (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT BE: Oh, this one very patriotic! Fanis and Gobingh will love this. Got Rukun Negara also.
ME: Heh heh, not what it seems. It’s making fun of politicians. Viewers get to write any one of the tenets of the Rukun Negara & put them in the box.
MAT B: Why on shards of glass?
ME: The better to kill you, my dear! (Maniacal laughter).
MAT B: Okay, back to the jungle for me. I can’t understand you guys!
EXHIBIT 4: TAK TAU CHAI SI (Baba Malay: a reckless person/or advice to someone on the brink of danger)
Suma Orientalis
(Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT BI: This one I can understand. All these young farts who become politicians got no brains-lah. They create the Jawi issue but they have no clue on how to go about it. They think they are like the experts in the lion dance, can jump deftly on top of high poles without falling.
ME: Socrates said it long ago. The young go about as if they are intoxicated. See those 2 young farts in the films, ONE TWO JAGA and FLY BY NIGHT. They don’t listen to their older brother. Finally, everything is destroyed.
MAT B: Jungle where got cinema woi!
EXHIBIT 5: MALAYSIA DI HUJUNG TANDUK (Malaysia in a Dangerous Situation)
Suma Orientalis
Forest flotsam pointing to a long-simmering situation…… (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT B: Ah, this one is nice. Nice colourful beads. Reminds me of something-lah but what, ah?
ME: Okay, I show you something from Google on my phone. Familiar?
Suma Orientalis
  (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT B: Ayyo, no wonder! KL hijacked them for a long time. Better listen to the 2 countries-lah. They are not your vassals. But what’s that goat doing down there at the bottom? Aiyo, this Sherman! This piece also he hijack from my front porch, ah!
ME: That’s Temasek, the lion that sometimes acts like a goat. Very small but got power. Probably drinking Power Root a lot. Now jumping around all over the place. Happy because got out of Malaysia. Otherwise headed nowhere today and also with 1MDB headache…
EXHIBIT 6: ZAKAR NAIK (Rise of the Phallus)
Suma Orientalis
Phallic & other sexual symbols galore… (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
MAT B: This one very interesting. We also got the same problem. Using animals to get it across is very correct. Tigers, rooster, goats, cats, gorilla…hee hee.
ME: Tigers are very Chinese while roosters are very Malay. The gorilla thumping its chest in the picture on the wall is very Western. All pointing to the subject of – male virility. Sit down and watch the video. So many videos on YouTube showing how to enlarge the thingy, et cetera. Listen to the audio recording. A certain community is very much into this.
MAT B: Heh heh, I got 4 wives-lah. Don’t mock me, ah!
Suma Orientalis
Hints of inequality: Locals vs foreigners. (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
ME: Tun Dr Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma talks about genetics being the problem with a certain community. The foreigners work hard to build the nation while we are into other things, mostly for personal gratification. And the inscription by an Indonesian construction worker sums it all up. But we can’t seem to get the real picture.
Suma Orientalis
Human rat trap… (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
T B: Wah, big mouse trap! How come?
ME: For the rats wearing suits and ties. Just wave money in front of the politicians and you’ve got them hooked!
Suma Orientalis

(Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)

MAT B: Okay, now I go talk business with

MAT B: Okay, now I go talk business with Sherman. Pay up or I cast a spell on him for 7 generations!
ME: Aiyo, this guy is worse than the capitalists-lah!
Suma Orientalis
A poem. And notes from Sherman. (Photo courtesy of Hassan Abd Muthalib)
(The exhibition is on everyday from 11am to 7pm daily except Tuesdays & public holdiays).
This article was written by Hassan Abd Muthalib on 23 October 2019 and initially published on his Facebook’s notes. Click here to read more.

Hassan Abd Muthalib

Animator, Film Director and Critic, Writer