Unearthing fresh talents and providing a platform for struggling artists to showcase their works; and get suitably rewarded in the process is all part of Suzy Sulaiman’s artistic credo.
Having established her own credibility as an accomplished digital artist in her own right, she is in a position now to curate and produce shows to her own specifications, where and when her fancy takes her.
Above all, she has it in her power to help her fellow artists just starting out to make themselves seen, and heard.
Her biggest lament is that many a time artists get hoodwinked into showcasing their works but paid poorly by those who curate art festivals and exhibitions. This is why she has stepped out from just being a curator into being a producer of an art festival.
"Well, I’m also actually a producer, I produce my own digital art festival and that for me is a very rewarding - even though I lose a lot of money, it’s very rewarding," says Suzy, throwing her hands up in the air as she speaks while she tries to keep her feet still under her chair.
Her main concern is, however, on those who are out to milk the artists who are desperate to showcase their works, but have no avenues to do so.
I want to test out this idea that you don’t really need to suffer as an artist, it’s just the way we take things for granted in our production in Malaysia
"I get to test out certain strategies because we’ve always heard that artists really get paid poorly and get treated pretty bad and ‘it’s okay because you’re an artist, we’ll make you famous after this, just give us your work, we won’t pay you anything but we’ll give you free promo’. I’ve heard that so many times and I think when having this art festival where I can also curate, I’m able to rectify these issues and say, ‘No I’m still going to use your work but I’m still going to make sure that you get this and this'."
"So, in a way we are also making sure that we take care of each other and also produce work. I want to test out this idea that you don’t really need to suffer as an artist, it’s just the way we take things for granted in our production in Malaysia - the art scene and how artists are treated."
"Taking the role of the producer and working with sponsors and grant and funding, I’m able to know, ‘Oh okay, somebody who wants to tell me that there’s not enough money - I know that’s not true, as I know there’s a way around this.'
The label "curator" presents the picture of a lone person hunched over dusty artefacts in the dark labyrinths of a museum.
This characterisation hardly applies to Suzy. With dangling triangle earrings, a stylish haircut and an infectious laughter, she is well known name in the art circles, for having curated scenes in successful art Festivals such as Georgetown Festival and DC + A.
The fact that her work is more alive rather than dead stills, put up on the walls of galleries, is testimony that she intends to make art communicate with those who view it.
"I’m totally not a ‘in the room’ kind of person. My training is actually architecture. So, for me, I am very interested in looking at human behavior and how people react to certain objects. I’m interested in human patterns - those are the languages that I’ve dealt with when I was in school. For myself, it’s very important for me to take control of the project. I really do need to know the heartbeat. I really need to go meet people and sometimes not even talk about the project. Just ask about their kids and how they’re doing, because for me I need to understand the mind. What goes into this work? What kind of person is this who created this stuff? So, there’s a lot of personal touches that I have to do with my work which takes up a lot of time. For me I think art is, you have to expose your vulnerability to do it," says Suzy.
Although curating, according to 40-year old Suzy, is monetarily satisfying, she opines that it is the challenge of working with people and places, which excites her most.
"One of the reason why I curate is to share the human aspects that we all have despite our differences. There are some things inherently human - like eating, and sharing stories. So I’m very interested to see how these mannerisms appear despite having very different socio political backgrounds. So for me, it’s very important for the exhibition is accessible not just physically, but the language that I use for the exhibition should be able to be understood by children, people with no art background. It should be that simple."
"When someone offers me to work on a project, firstly, I would have to like the person who is offering me the project. Secondly, there are values in the projects such as missions and objectives that parallel my own values. Lastly, there's a fair amount of monetary remuneration to factor in the time commitment that will be needed from me. Sometimes, it's just number one and two for me, and I love the project so much that I'm willing to overlook number three. But don't tell my husband that!"
Suzy has a studio in Seri Kembangan, but she is mostly on the ground doing research on the potential exhibits before she decides how she would curate an exhibition or festival.
"That is more of a storeroom to keep my stuff," laughs Suzy.
Suzy is currently working on 'Merata Suara'. She says that she took up the challenge of curating "the journey" that she has been told to put together in the office space of civil group Projek Dialog, rather than at an art gallery or exhibition space.
Instead of having a formal presentation, you use an artwork to explain things and the meanings of these little objects in it. That’s the beauty of art - you can come in at any level
"Merata Suara, which opens on the 10th February 2018 is more like a dialogue and it has more of a research process. I want the visitor to feel what we felt and 'see' the voices on the ground as we 'saw' it."
"The artwork will be mostly interpretations of conversations the artists had, to spark conversations rather than appreciating them purely aesthetically - some sort of a catalyst to start storytelling. So, instead of having a formal presentation, you use an artwork to explain things and the meanings of these little objects in it. That’s the beauty of art - you can come in at any level."
We have rap workshops, cooking workshops and makeup challenges to make it accessible. We want people who never confront art to come to this space because sometimes galleries can be a little bit intimidating. It’s to bring the first exposure to something that is considered art. I hope those who come would continue going to galleries after this," says Suzy.
An example which struck Suzy for this particular exhibition is of a female Malay silat guru who amazingly uses her long scarf as a weapon.
For Suzy, her gauge of success is on whether her intentions set at the start of an exhibition have been achieved.
"Just before the show, I ask the team to write down what they think an audience would say about the exhibition, fold those notes and put it in the box. At the end of the exhibition, we see whether any of those comments actually came up. And if it does, that’s my reward. In a way, what it does is it pushes your intention. You need to ‘pasang niat’ (set an intention). You have to put your ‘niat’ before because that ‘niat’ will resonate throughout your work. You’ll be surprised that there are times, the things that I wrote exactly came out in the words of the children who visited. And that for me is success," says Suzy.
Merata Suara will be open to the public for free from 10th February to 4th March 2018