Dear 2020, where’s the flying car?
By Danial bin Fuad

Decades ago in school when we talked about Wawasan 2020, we would always mention flying cars, envisioning a futuristic utopia. Little did we know that, come 2020, even aeroplanes would not be able to fly! Wawasan 2020: Townhall, a collective exhibition by A+ Works of Art, is sort of like the exercise that all 90s kids went through at school, drawing our versions of 2020. 

In preparing viewers, Lim Sheu Yun separates the types of Vision 2020 artworks: the optimist, the pessimist and the disidentified. Walking through the exhibition, you eventually realise that there’s not one work representing the optimist side. Most people think Vision 2020 is a pipedream.

Seeing Liew Kung Yu’s depiction of Vision 2020 takes us back to our school days, drawing Vision 2020 with its towering buildings, astronauts and infamous flying cars (the innovation that people most wanted to see happen this year). What’s interesting in the work “Barisan Menuju Wawasan” is the queue of people in the Wawasan font leading to a pawn shop, perhaps suggesting that no matter how developed a country is, its people must not be forgotten, left behind by the rising cost of living.

Chan Fee Ming, an artist well-known for his depictions of his surroundings in Terengganu, also brings some food for thought in “Juadah Terkini”, where the Wawasan 2020 logos and Nasi 1Malaysia are juxtaposed with an old man who seems to be in deep thought. The title suggests what the old man may be thinking: how can he feed himself? No matter the policy, the rakyat always needs to be assured of their livelihood. According to Samatha Cheah in her essay on a previous exhibition, this work represents Chan’s frustrations surrounding the current situation.

As a very outspoken collective, Pangrok Sulap delivers another strong piece, “Siaran Ulangan”, where rows of television sets are assembled to look like the stripes of the Malaysian flag, with the crescent moon and star peeling off. Issues such as oil subsidies, freedom of the media, clean elections and the much-debated Pan Borneo highway can be spotted in the work. From this, it can be interpreted that no matter who is in charge of the country, the same old problems always resurface. Pangrok Sulap is known for its outspokenness, as one of its works was removed from 2017’s Escape from the SEA exhibition. This move caused a major uproar, as censorship is an issue plaguing the art scene.

Yee I-Lann’s vision of 2020, presented by her works from 2003’s “Horizon Series”, is equally bleak. That year was one of great political change, as Mahathir, initiator of Vision 2020, announced his resignation after two decades as Prime Minister. Yee presents four C-type prints: a portrait of who I assume is a plantation worker holding an ID card with rows of palm trees behind her, a mirrored image of a diverging road, a graffitied AWAS sign and rows of the Petronas Twin Towers copied over and over again to form a fence.

Azizan Paiman and Hamzah Yazid exhibit framed rows of toothbrushes arranged side by side, accompanied by text below each toothbrush. The toothbrushes and their accompanying text represent individuals and their hopes for 2020. With the pandemic and economic uncertainty, no one had really high hopes for 2020 at all - they just wanted to survive the year.
The final work - one that intrigued me the most - is by The Complete Futures of Malaysia entitled “Headlines, 1991 – 2020”. At just over 11 minutes, the video plays through all the major headlines from the start of Vision 2020 until the year 2020 itself. The closer the timeline gets to 2020, the more depressing and sad the headlines become. From the promises of becoming a high-income developed nation, the headlines spiral into mental health issues and an ever-changing line-up of economic policies and new promises to replace unfulfilled goals, such as Mission 2057.

Wawasan 2020: Townhall is an exhibition by A+ Works of Art in cooperation with Tun Perak Co-Op, a refurbished historical site smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. Its location is apt and even tongue-in-cheek. The exhibition ran from 31 December 2020 - 10 January 2021.

Danial Fuad is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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