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Jul 23 2019

Obituary: Roslisham Ismail (1972–2019)

by HG Masters

ROSLISHAM ISMAIL passed away on July 23 in Kuala Lumpur. Image via Sharjah Art Foundation.

Malaysian artist Roslisham Ismail, better known as Ise, died in Kuala Lumpur on July 23, at the age of 46. He had suffered from kidney disease in recent years but had remained active through 2019 in spite of his illness. 

Ismail was the founder of Parking Project, an artist’s space based in his Kuala Lumpur apartment, and a co-founder of the Malaysian art publication sentAp!. His artworks addressed aspects of daily life in booming mega-cities, and often incorporated comics, food, and printed advertisements. He was known for presenting stocked refrigerators, placed on small pedestals and illuminated from below, as his sculptures. Each of the six fridges in a work called Secret Affair (2011), which debuted at the 2011 Singapore Biennale, was a portrait of the food a family would buy for SGD 200 (approximately USD 150). Small LED monitors on the back of the installations showed hands in a supermarket selecting the items in the fridge. “The fridge is a secret box of the family. You can read everything about the family via what is inside their fridge. It’s like modern anthropology,” he told an interviewer in 2014. 

A Kota Baru native, Ismail had studied fine art at the Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, graduating in 1997. Early on in his career, he admitted that he didn’t feel at home in Malaysia’s more traditionally inclined art community, and chose to do numerous residencies abroad, spending time in Jakarta, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok, as well as Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, and New York. Through his travels, he built an international network of friends and fellow artists. 

Though he had moved back to Kota Baru in recent years to take care of his family’s home, Ismail continued to present solo exhibitions abroad, including at The Laundromat Project, New York (2016) and Bangkok University Gallery (2014). Additionally, he participated in several high-profile, regional group exhibitions, such as Ilham Gallery’s “Era Mahathir”  in 2016, where he presented NEP (New Economic Policy) (2009), a collage of found postcards and stickers from the street advertising loan sharks. His work was also featured in “Sunshower: Contemporary Art From South-East Asia 1980s To Now” at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo in 2017; “Patani Semasa,” a touring group exhibition that made stops at Ilham Gallery and the private MAIIAM museum in Chiang Mai in 2018; and Sharjah Biennial 14 in 2019. His works are in the collection of the National Art Gallery, Malaysia; the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; and Kuala Lumpur’s Galeri Petronas.

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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