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The Drama Queen

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Miss Malaysia, Beauty Queen

Venue: Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

Costume worn by Miss Malaysia 2016, Kiran Jassal at the Miss Universe pageant that year

So what’s a nice costume like you doing in an art exhibition like this?

Well, I’m on display as part of the ILHAM Gallery’s newly-launched experimental pilot project, Ilham Contemporary Forum. It recently ended on 8 October 2017. ILHAM selected seven Project Curators, who in turn were asked to select Malaysian visual artworks or cultural projects created within the last 8 years (“cultural projects” being inclusive of film, fashion, performance, comics and design, amongst others).

The show was meant to be collaborative and to discuss and debate developments in the local arts and cultural scene, from a ground-up perspective.

Who designed you?

Rizman Ruzaini, a Malaysian design house.

And what is this outfit supposed to represent, exactly?

Clearly, this is a futuristic jumpsuit paired with knee-high boots inspired by Malaysia’s iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers. The “towers” are made of metal connected by a “bridge” that goes across the top of the outfit.

It weighs 6kg and has 100,000 Swarovski crystals hand-sewn into it. It took 15 people, two and a half whole months to complete.

Oh come on, is a Miss Universe costume really art?

Well, why wouldn’t it be? 100,000 hand-sewn crystals!

And if an art exhibition is about contemporary cultural trends, you can’t get more kitschy-fabulous than the national costumes which come trotting out yearly at the Miss Universe pageant. Whether they’re revered or reviled, everyone has an opinion on them.

Anyway, didn’t Kiran Jassal look amazing? (Or at the very least no worse than Miss Thailand in her tuk-tuk splendour, and Miss China, who evidently attended one year, as a porcelain vase).

Back to the point, I’m juxtaposed here for your viewing pleasure, against the work of such luminaries as Vincent Leong. Surely that makes me as much a piece of  “art” as Keeping up with the Abdullahs?

In any event, look at my neighbour here in ILHAM:

Chong Kim Chiew’s Banana Money (2012)

The work is supposed to refer to “banana money” which was a worthless hyper-inflated currency issued by the Japanese during their occupation of Malaya during World War II in 1942. The money carried a banana tree motif, hence the name. This work is made of bananas and tape, which are stuck to a wall.

Bananas. And. Tape.

As opposed to 100,000 HAND-SEWN CRYSTALS!

I rest my case.

(Although, while we’re on the subject of banana leaves….)

Miss Universe Malaysia 2017, Samantha Katie James wearing a Nasi Lemak-inspired dress to compete in this year’s pageant. (Image credit: Ms Universe Malaysia)

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What do you think?

Do Miss Universe costumes belong in an art gallery?

If it’s all too much to think about on a Saturday morning, then you might just want to have a giggle over this year’s national costumes. (Our vote goes to Miss Indonesia).

We are one of only a handful of independent art publications covering Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. If you like what we do, please support us on Patreon, or get in touch about other ways to contribute towards keeping us going.

Usha

Usha

U is for Usha. Usha spent 12 years at the coalface of tax law in Singapore, before she returned to her first love, the arts. These days, you're likely to find her at museums and art events, camera in one hand and (as far as possible), wine glass in the other. Outside of covering events for Plural, her favourite pastimes include harassing her two cats and husband, and lounging about with trashy novels and salty chips.

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