CULTURE & HERITAGE
PENANG STORIES
A Tribute to the late Ismail Hashim

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When the late Ismail Hashim passed away following an untimely motorcycle accident last year, he left behind a series of photographs that was left unseen and unknown to many. Today, Malaysia's prominent artist and curator Wong Hoy Cheong soldiered on with his memory by curating a tribute titled 'Unpack - Repack: A Tribute to the late Ismail Hashim' that is taking place at The Whiteaways Arcade from 23 June - 31 August 2014.

The exhibition was designed in such a manner where audience will be led through five rooms, beginning from 'Tributes', featuring a small assembly of photographs selected by Ismail Hashim's family and friends, colleagues and students, to 'Passing of Time' revolving around time-lapsed photographs and his fascination with time and mortality.  

What was your relationship with the late Ismail Hashim?

Wong Hoy Cheong: Ismail was a friend and I have known him for many years. In fact, I met him in 1992 or 1993 when I was working as a columnist for The Star. I'm an artist as well. I wrote a review of his work that was previously shown in Kuala Lumpur. He liked what I wrote and we became friends. We didn't keep in touch that much but every time when we saw each other, we had a mutual understanding of the arts.

Did Ismail's family personally reached out to you for an exhibition tribute?
Actually, the family reached out to one of his friends and collectors, Fergana Art's Jaafar Ismail, which was also the company who sponsored the production of this exhibition. Jaafar contacted me and I agreed. After having gone through his work, we slowly developed the theme of the exhibition.

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It wasn't so much of the difficulty in unpacking his ideas but the difficulty of understanding just how immense his past was. In terms of the digital images of the photographs, we digitised over 2,000 - 3,000 photographs and on top of that, we also found 2,500 digital photographs. I had gone through these materials no less than 30 times. The main difficulty was to understand the breadth of his work and to narrow it down into themes. We had to understand him the way it would do him justice.

Of all the photographs you have unpacked, which is your personal favourite?
There was a particular photograph that I liked a lot. It didn't even look like a photograph but more of a charcoal drawing. Other than that, there were the test prints that represented his various interests and among them were images from 'Journey'. There was a photograph of a guy cleaning his bike and how he used rain water or flood water to clean it.

How do you decide between which photograph remain private or public?
I tended to keep family-oriented photographs more private. Generally, the family gave us full access to his estate and in terms of photographic work, there was nothing to keep private.

How did you manage to bring Ismail Hashim's dark room within the exhibition?
It was a very small studio and he built it attached to the house. We included the actual furniture, wires and everything. We photographed the original space before we moved everything and reassembled them as close as possible to his original station.

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In what way do you want the public to relate to his photographs?
Simply, to enjoy the breadth of his work. He was an amazing photographer and there was something that everybody can identify with. Whether it was beautiful landscapes, pretty pictures of people working, pictures of environment or even a path that people no longer saw.

How do you want Ismail Hashim to be remembered?
I think people will remember him from the first room ('Tributes'), about a guy who (they thought) took pictures of a disappearing past but he didn't take pictures of a disappearing past. In fact, the past itself disappeared. He took it because he saw it and he liked them.

I want people to understand that Ismail was not just a romanticist. He didn't capture mundane things or a sentimental past. There was more to him and the exhibition showed that Ismail was quite thoughtful and tackled different issues such as the idea of time.

Unpack - Repack: A Tribute to Ismail Hashim (1940 - 2013) that features the works of the late Ismail Hashim takes place at The Whiteaways Arcade, George Town from 23 June - 31 August 2014. The exhibition will then travel to the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in February 2015. For more details, check out event listing