Artists struggle for recognition

National 5 minutes, 47 seconds


YOUNG artists are struggling to develop their talents, not knowing where to go, and with no standards in place for artwork pricing.

Initiatives had been taken to promote the arts scene in Brunei, but many emerging artists said more support is needed for them to thrive.

Muhammad Sufi Hj Sabli does not consider himself an artist, but he has been selling his drawings and paintings for two years.

“The majority of people want portraits and realistic drawings, it is what people want to buy,” said the 20-year-old student who has just completed his A Level art examinations at Duli Pengiran Muda Al-Muhtadee Billah College.

His college is one of the selected sixth form colleges that offer art as a subject.

Muhammad Sufi said he charges around $30 for A4 or A3 drawings depending on the amount of work.

“If it is a simple drawing I will sell it for $15, but if there is more details in the eyes or hair it will take time. Around three days, so I will charge $35.”

He has sold over 10 pieces with no social media presence and communicates with his clients through phone messaging.

“Sometimes people pay me more, they give those prices themselves. I have to appreciate it.”

The student then gave an example where a person was willing to buy a painting from him for $2,000 but was told by his teacher the value was too high; he gave it away instead.

He shared that his work should be around $1,000 or $,2000 for a large painting.

Admitting he still needs to learn about pricing, he said if it takes him a week to complete an art piece but does not feel he is paid enough, “I don’t feel appreciated”.

The Brunei Times visited students preparing for the second Art and Design Graduation Show at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD). The exhibition was extended due to strong interest.

In 2012, the UBD Cluster held the Creative Industries Policy Forum, where recommendations to improve the creative industry were given.

Ijjojji Nordin, 24, took his UBD Discovery Year at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. His work was previously not sold in Brunei, but managed to sell his paintings for around $400 each in the UK.

“The problem with students is they don’t know how to value their work.” He came to that valuation of the work he sold in the UK after consultation with lecturers and fellow students.

In terms of organisations to help him exhibit his work, the final-year student said, “I haven’t been offered, I understand why I haven’t been offered since I haven’t put up my work out that much”.

Creating their own exhibitions would be ideal, he said, but it would be difficult due to budget constraints.

“What I experienced abroad was that if you want to express work you can easily do that. Make work and put it out the door. There, it is easier for people to have a look at it, while we are so far from that here.”

He said established artists are provided spaces to hang their work without the need for materials or framing, students struggle since they need to factor in set-up and rental costs.

“If only we are provided with support, but of course it is because the industry has not gone that far, people say they support art students, they support art, but they have yet to provide the simplest thing. But students are still eager since they have fresh minds and fresh ideas.”

Meanwhile, Afiqah Hanum Hj Murni, a 23-year-old co-director of the exhibition, shared that it is mostly people from embassies and outside the country who buy artworks.

“There are Malays (who purchase), but less often and mostly from high positions.”

She gave an example of her abstract painting being bought by Director of Museums Bantong Antaran for $200. She describes her work as personal, abstract and self-reflecting.

“If there are members of the public at The Mall willing to buy art, but for less than $100 maybe, that would be good. I can see that people who buy artworks are from banks but hold higher positions,” she said, noting that not everyone can afford to buy art.

Practising art since 2008, she has sold three to four artworks. This included an exhibition where her work was sold for $50 and around 10 per cent of the proceeds went to charity.

She was surprised when people buy her work, but was also reluctant to sell it at high price.

“It would be better for it to be cheaper so that someone would want to buy it and at least I have money.”

Speaking before the public at the opening of their travelling exhibition, the founder of Kaleidoscope Studio, Nur Khalisah Ahmad was optimistic but also realistic about the future of art in the country.

The 27-year-old graduate of Fine Art Painting at the Chelsea College of Art & Design said: “Before you create an art market you need art appreciation, you need to develop people’s visual language to understand more than realistic landscape painting, but also to appreciate abstract art.”

After she graduated, Nur Khalisa worked at various galleries in Malaysia for five years, and returned to Brunei last year.

She set up Kaleidoscope Studio with Sadiq Serbini to create opportunities for people to “do their own thing”.

However, she is realistic and believed that the artworks at her studio might not be able to sell at the moment.

“What our studio hopes to do is maybe get sponsors or contributions to pay artists or provide them materials, so maybe they can continue making art regardless of whether there is an art market or not.”

In terms of valuation, she said people priced their own work in Brunei. In other countries, there is more control since galleries set the price.

She noticed that some works in Brunei were being sold at “exorbitant” prices, which for her is around $5,000.

“I was really shocked when I came back here and saw some paintings. Is that what they charging?”

She said there are many factors which go into the valuation of artworks, adding that new artists should not price their work too high since prices of work should go up. Nur Khalisa added that the quality of work an artist produces fluctuates.

Another idea which has yet to be grasped is that art is an investment, she said.

”In Brunei art is something to look at, there is no value placed in it. That is what we need to do, place value in art so that people start buying.”

Reflecting on the current art market she felt that a lot of artists are constrained by doing portraits, landscapes or what sells.

Art for her was confronting people with what they are used to seeing, but showing a different side to it.

“I think that is really important for progress not just art, but all areas of life in Brunei.”

The Brunei Times