Monday, May 9, 2011

The works of Ooi Cheng Ghee are truly a hidden gem for those who appreciate the value of history and culture of bygone Penang.

Entitled “Portraits of Penang: Little India”, this book is printed in a beautifully designed large format and comprises of 160 black and white images taken way back in 1979.

“During that time, Penang was facing an economic slump.

“The urban centre was facing a downward spiral, and that was why I took to walking the streets to see for myself the extend of the decline,” explained the doctor who admitted the experience as an eye-opener.

Ooi’s photos, accompanied by essays and commentaries by Gareth Richards and Himanshu Bhatt tells a soulful and heartfelt tale through the lenses of a dedicated and accomplished hobbyist who is also an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society in the UK.

The images reflect a particular historical moment when the Penang free-port status had just been revoked and the Indian enclave was undergoing a difficult transition.

Armed with a Leica camera, Ooi spent an entire year documenting Little India in a poetic and intimate manner.

“It took many visits before I started to be aware of the sparks of vitality and activity which I had initially missed,” he said.

Many of his pictures detailed the daily lives of the people and captures the essence of Little India like “a slice in time” .

“I feel like a custodian to a piece of history, and I want to give it back to the people,” he added.

Among the images that are selected from the 4,000 shots that were captured are images of the betel nut industry and buildings that have long been demolished.

The picture of a bespectacled Indian man holding a cup of teh tarik with a face-towel draped casually over his shoulder was chosen for the book sleeve design over others as the image represents everything that need to be conveyed – an Indian man for the Indian community; the teh tarik as the most common drink of every Malaysian; the towel as is commonly used during those times; and most importantly the reflection on the spectacles which portray the reflection, volume and depth of the story that the photographer wished to express.

This book project which took 5 years to complete has a foreword to the book written by Andrew Sheng who says that ‘this is not only a work of art; it is a personal statement by an observant and intuitive artist, perceptive of the moods and sensitivities of a culture that is living’.

The combined launch of the exhibition and book will take place on 12 May 2011. The first launch will be outside the offices of the Malaysian Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry at 5:00 p.m. followed by a procession through the streets of Little India. The second launch will be at Galeri Seni Mutiara in Whiteaways Arcade, Beach Street at 6:30 p.m. The exhibition will be declared open by HE Vijay K. Gokhale, High Commissioner of India to Malaysia, and will be on display until the end of the month.

This event is sponsored by Think City as part of its Penang Story project, Penang and the Indian Ocean, which also features a series of events associated with “Celebrating Tagore in Penang”.
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