2020 deserves to have its own section or at least a page in our history books whenever school reopens again. The year was filled with unprecedented events that have shaped the nation in a way that none of us had anticipated. Regardless of how you spent your 2020, Malaysians can unanimously agree that we now live in unique times, for better or for worse.
But have you ever wondered how the year was like through the eyes of children? Unlike the past, when they were allowed to play about freely in neighbourhood parks, children have spent almost a year of being at home with their parents and witnessing them overcome unexpected hurdles. While the adults found new ways to cope, younglings are only able to observe and absorb the unfamiliar developments happening around them.
Hence, in April 2020, ILHAM Gallery, a public art gallery in Kuala Lumpur committed to support the development, enjoyment, and understanding of Malaysian’s modern and contemporary arts, launched an art competition for children during the Movement Control Order (MCO). The competition encouraged kids aged 4 to 12 years old from all over Malaysia to submit artworks that illustrated the original theme, ‘Homebody’.
To help better understand the creative idea behind this competition, we spoke to Rahel Joseph, the Director of ILHAM Gallery, who has over 25 years’ worth of experience in the world of arts and culture. Currently working in a team of six other members, Rahel is responsible for managing the gallery’s exhibitions, public education programmes, publications, social media, promotions, and many more.
“During the MCO last year, we wanted to devise a programme which would target young children. We were aware that the lockdown was a particularly stressful time for families — both parents and children — and we wanted to offer the children a space to channel their creativity. We were also aware that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown could be an anxious time for children who were now stuck at home and unable to socialize with their friends at school,” said Rahel.
It is common knowledge that a global pandemic is usually followed by an economic recession that can impose enormous stress on the weary shoulders of any adult. While not many studies have been done yet on the side effects the pandemic might be having on children’s mental health, according to Rahel, research has shown that making art is a great way to help reduce anxiety and boredom under any circumstances.
Building on this insight, the team at ILHAM Gallery believed an art competition can be very much a healing process, providing kids with a much-needed creative outlet to express difficult feelings in a way that they might not be able to do verbally, or in a traditional manner.
Ezrina Nazri, the mother of Embun Jameela Mohd Ridzwan, one of the talented young finalists from the competition, said it provided an opportunity for her daughter to indulge in her creative side and express herself fully during these uncertain times.
“I think ‘Homebody’ is a great way for kids to get themselves to be creative and at the same time have some fun with their parents. It helps by pushing their imagination and creativity beyond the limited spaces and resources around them.”
The art competition received over 100 submissions, of which 34 artworks were selected by the ILHAM team to be hung at a child’s eye level at ILHAM Gallery. Browsing through the artwork, one will notice similarities and differences between each artist’s interpretation of the theme ‘Homebody’. Some took the literal route by representing a glimpse into their daily lives, while other artists chose to commemorate the frontliners.
As Malaysia enters almost a full year into the MCO due to COVID-19, these artworks have now turned into artefacts from an unprecedented time in our recent history. They provide a glimpse into how children are processing their current reality, one that is spent mostly at home, away from school and friends, against the backdrop of a global pandemic. But their artistic expressions serve as an inspiring reminder that we’re still a community, bound together by the shared challenges and unique experiences of our time.
Watch the video below to hear from one of the talented young finalists from the ILHAM Kids ‘MCO’ Art Competition:
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