There is nothing trivial or transient about Shika Corona’s confessional artworks in her show Buang Bayi at the newly launched independent arts space KerbauWorks in Kuala Lumpur.
The Malacca-born KL-based visual artist is no less playful and whimsical as she chronicles her daily experiences – as an artist and a woman – but her struggle seems deeply interminable.
That is the transgender experience in Malaysia, notes the freelance illustrator/graphic designer, part-time activist and fulltime daydreaming artist formerly known as Shieko Reto.
“Today the term ‘transgender’ is in the forefront of social consciousness and the word has become an umbrella word to accommodate others that don’t fit the male/female gender binary system, but in Malaysia, there is still a lot of confusion about it,” she says.
What more of the personal struggle transpersons go through, from the internal sufferings of gender dysphoria (the distress experienced when a person’s gender identity is contrary to her or his gender at birth) to the external daily strife as a minority trying to participate fully in society and simply live.
Inevitably, the “I” in Shika’s autobiographical show is very much also about the “us”, giving a new facet to the women’s movement maxim of “the personal is political”.
Shika’s mis.fit which is featured in her Buang Bayi show in KL. Photo: Shika
Shika, who first became involved in the art world as a street artist in 2003 and founded an urban art collective Sembur With Style (Spray with Style), became a fulltime artist after she quit her advertising job in 2005.
Her freelance work with local non-governmental organisations gave her the opportunity to find her personal voice and for her community. It also gave her a chance to hone her illustration and comic drawing skills.
Her work has been shown in exhibitions throughout Malaysia such the alternative art festival Not That Balai in 2005, the 49th Merdeka Mural at the National Visual Art Gallery in 2010 and Seksualiti Merdeka 2012 at the Annexe Gallery in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur. In 2013, Shika participated in the Singapore Biennale – If The World Changed with her work Waiting Room, a mixed media installation depicting the transgender persons’ experience of “waiting to be transformed and accepted by the community.”
Buang Bayi, which is curated by the artist herself, features a variety of works from 2014-2016.
Notes Shika, as in many cases, art is the safe space to explore and express the challenges and discrimination faced by the transgender community.
Shika’s graveyardshift (printed canvas).
“We are the minority in this country. My art, I guess, is my way of saying that a person like me exists, despite the daily pressure from society, media and now, the Internet, to ‘change’… because they think our existence and way of life is wrong.”
But why Buang Bayi (baby dumping)?
“It’s just an ironical way to describe how important my artwork is, they are like my babies,” she says with an awkward laugh.
Unspoken, however, is how important gender identity is to the transpersons, and how it cannot be easily changed or discarded as some factions in society believe or expect.
Yet, as testimony to her strength and spirit, the humour and joy of life in Shika’s works are as strong as the rage, fear and frustration of the transwoman experience.
Her love of science fiction and music is represented in her works as equally as her politics. Her infatuation with colours meanwhile comes through in her continuous experiments for her drawings and illustrations, especially in her primary colour acrylic print series.
One lasting influence, however, is Japanese manga and anime, and pop art, as evident in the exhibition.
“I grew up in the 1980s, so I have absorbed and am warped by most of the 80s cartoon and pop culture.”
A common theme in her work is “tebabo”, which she says is a play on the comic onomoetopia for explosion.
Tebabo is the Malay version of “kapow”, “zoom” and “zing”, explains Shika.
“There are thousands words to describe many things but in Malay, the only word I can remember from childhood to describe the sound of an explosion is tebabo.”
Her explorations of her Malaysian identity has led her to incorporate the word tebabo in her works in Tamil, Chinese and Arabic, “like our street signs that we still have in many places in Malaysia”, she says.
A common theme in Shika’s work is Tebabo which she says is a play on the comic onomoetopia for explosion.
Malaysiana as a reflection of a distant memory and nostalgia of her growing up years is also present in her art, “especially the junk food that I consumed and kedai runcit I went to a lot as a child,” she quips.
Her nostalgia for the 1980s was intensified with her travels in the last two years to Japan and Philippines, where she met and researched the transgender communities there.
“My travels reminded me even more strongly of my origins and roots, and their relation to my identity, which are coming out strongly in my works.”
The two countries also exposed her to different experiences of gender dysphoria, which is manifested in her work, namely Ms. Fit which calls for a new construct of the concept of womanhood.
“Some people are lucky enough to be born with synchronised gender and body but some people are born with their gender and body not aligned, like transwomen and transmen, so they live their whole lives trying to synchronise their outer self to the inner self and often have to go against the system in the world which is not balanced yet.
“In Ms.Fit, you can see how hard it is to fit in the society’s social construct of what a woman is supposed to be, so I say let’s destroy the old construct and build a new one,” says Shika.
Thus interwoven in the personal and the political of Buang Bayi is a sincere invitation for everyone to join her in the exploration of our gender identities.
Buang Bayi promises to be like a baby shower of sorts where visitors can also get their portrait drawn – in the opposite gender (or with no gender at all) – by the mother, Shika. There will also be zine-making and music composing workshops, as well as short film screenings.
Shika’s Buang Bayi is on at KerbauWorks, in Bangsar, KL till March 20. Facebook: KerbauWorks.