Art Battle Malaysia: Getting to know Ruby Subramaniam and what happens when artists battle it out!
Art Battle is a live competitive painting event that’s been held in US, Canada, Brazil and is now taking root in Malaysia! On the 14th of October, they will be having their 3rd show after astounding reception from prior instalments. Be sure to check out the thrill of artistic creativity mixed with the adrenaline of competition at Publika Shopping Gallery, Kuala Lumpur!
We got to talk to the organizer, Ruby Subramaniam, about the origin story of Art Battle Malaysia and its inner workings!
Your journey started when you saw the event happen in São Paulo in 2015- what inspired you to join it?
I stumbled upon the finals for 2015 and it was hands down, the most exciting art event I had attended around the world. I was completely taken aback how the making of art outside of the comfort of an artists’ studio could create such a high adrenaline atmosphere.
Honestly, I joined in 2016 because I knew no one so I had nothing to lose. It ended up being the most amazing time of my life, when I decided this is exactly what I want to do in my life: Lose myself in the process of making of art.
Other than Art Battle, you’re also a part of Doodle Malaysia! Tell us what it’s like to be in an artistic community like Doodle Malaysia.
Being an admin for Doodle Malaysia – Do you doodle was my stepping stone into the art scene and organising art events. It’s a space that welcomes people who can “conteng” in all stages – stick-man to comic pages to mandalas, and everything in between. What’s nice is that the community can ask for feedback, meet new friends and grow their talent. It’s a beautiful virtual community that uplifts, shares and cares about all their members. It’s really family.
We’d like to know a bit about yourself first. It seems like you travel a lot! Do you like to express and share your artwork whether youre here in Malaysia and abroad?
I’m turning 28 soon and I was a digital strategist in my past life. I quit my career to be more involved in the arts. Having skillsets that allows me to work virtually gave me the confidence to pack my bags and I’ve travelled to more than 20 countries and 50 cities all over the world.
I spent time in some of the most amazing art museums in Europe, as part of my self-initiated “lawatan sambil belajar” and immersed in different cultures to find inspiration for my art. I’ve been lucky to stumble upon people who give me an avenue to show my work whenever I’m travelling, and since I share my journey on social media, that’s gotten me some exposure locally as well.
Your #ThisBodyIsMine garnered a lot of attention, when you bridged Hinduism into Women Empowerment- how was it received by the public?
So far, the collaborative project has received mixed reactions locally and it has convinced me even further for the need for a project like this. The negative criticism included cultural taboo, but more often it was about the women (myself included); comments on our body sizes or shapes, hair length, and the amount of skin shown.
Internationally though, people are still messaging me to say they can’t stop staring at the photos and found them powerful. It was recently shared in the World Humanities Conference by UNESCO as an example of how art can induce change in communities. This project on its own, is not able to capture all the challenges that women face and solve them. However, I humbly hope that it will trigger more public awareness, subsequently initiating more dialogues to attempt to reduce the gender gap and bring confidence to women.
When you first pitched the idea of Art Battle in Malaysia, what responses did you get from friends and fellow artists?
Initially many said it wouldn’t work in Malaysia, (1) because we don’t have enough talent, (2) because our crowd will be passive. I was adamant to pursue it anyways, thanks to the support of close friends and sponsors – I’m glad to have proved it otherwise after the first event was done.
Some people think that performance art has a very small audience. Do you think it is gaining traction in Malaysia?
Ten years ago, people said internet had the lowest reach amongst all the media channels. Today we’re reading reports how Facebook ads might have influenced the recent elections in the United States. Small doesn’t mean it can’t grow to be a powerful tool in future.
When people describe it as a “UFC battle between artists”, does that help to expand the creativity of the artist or limit their paintings to what they know?
I think it forces the artists to bring out the essense of who they are – what they stand for, their story as an artists, because 20 minutes is all they have got to show the audience what they are made off. They could paint what they know best and have really good technical skills, yet without soul, it might not connect to the audience.
Are artists encouraged to use any mediums when painting on the canvas given?
We’ve been encouraging artists to explore, but so far we’ve been safe with acrylics, spray paint and markers. In Brazil however, I watched an artist paint with mud. I’m happy to have artists get creative with their medium – perhaps coffee, turmeric or even, henna?
How does the selection process happen when electing the winning art piece? Skill or visual beauty? Memorable stories you would like to share from previous instalments of Art Battle?
Audience votes for the winning piece. And it’s an important process because they have to discuss it and decide for themselves why they like one artist over all the competing artists. So while hosting the show, I try injecting them with questions to think about when voting.
This discussion forces the audience to evaluate the painting based on their understanding and appreciation of art, and will eventually help grow the art scene as people learn to converse about art.
When I set out to run this event, I was merely trying to extend the experience I had in Brazil to the Malaysian market. Since then I’ve seen it evolve to an event that breaks the barrier of age, gender, race – children as young as five years old go back inspired from the event, and elder people stand amidst the crowd, unbothered by the loud hip-hop music and are curious about the event, and sometimes even go back with an art piece.
It’s nice to see how art can bring people together.
Is there anything you’d like to say to young artists out there who are struggling to express themselves?
*laughs* I like to consider myself as a young artists still so I don’t know about giving advices. But here’s what I’ve been telling myself:
- Don’t rush it. Don’t expect miracles too quickly. Just keep steadily doing it.
- Don’t force it. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Go do something else – read, write, play. It’ll come to you.
- Gather knowledge. Talk to other artists and spend time in art galleries and events. Ask plenty of stupid questions. Watch youtube tutorials, read, travel.
Featured image is by Stan Lee. To keep updated on future Art Battles in Malaysia, follow them on ! Art Battle is sponsored by Publika, Premier Art, Gerakbudaya, and Antabax