S.C. Shekar, a renowned photojournalist, has his latest exhibition ‘Grit and Grace; The Grandeur of Monochrome Malaysia’ in the George Town Festival this year, and it is undoubtedly worth a visit. Over his 30 year career he has published 25 books, and has worked in many countries.The exhibition is designed to be a celebration of Malaysian culture through black and white imagery of her landscape and people. The title alone demonstrates his appreciation for the country he left for so long, with ‘Grit’ referring to strength and perseverance and ‘Grace’ signifying refinement and understanding. The two qualities together characterise the young nation, and are exemplified by the photographers choice of subjects.

The exhibition includes both landscapes and photographs, all rendered in black and white. The images line the walls of the gallery space, which is brightly lit and compliments the monochromatic photographs well. There is an obvious reverence in Shekar’s photographs, that is emphasised by his technical skills. In the landscapes contrast, particularly in relation to texture, is used very effectively to bring a life to the overall image. The smooth winding rivers juxtapose the dense forests while the most fleeting aspect, the weather, is used to add dynamism to what might otherwise just be a beautiful but flat image. The light seeping through the clouds, and the mists between the hills make it clear that while what we are looking it might be static the landscape itself is the opposite. What is particularly interesting is that amongst the images of incredible natural landscapes there is also one of a palm oil plantation, a nod to the current state of large parts of the country’s land.

The portraits are treated with the same desire to capture the essence of the subject. Here, although the light, focus and contrast are all still treated with expertise, there the added complexity of taking a photo in which the subject is unselfconscious – undeniably hard to achieve. Shekar is successful in doing so, whether it be two young girls laughing, or an elderly man furrowing his brow at the camera in the background as an elderly woman poses in the foreground. Both are completely different, but neither appear uneasy. Shekar also represents the diversity that has characterised Malaysia for so long. In viewing ‘Grit and Grace’, however, you are unlikely to consciously note the choice to incorporate portraits of third generation Indian farmers, for example, because it is such a natural inclusion. The subtlety is an encouraging message in itself; this is Malaysia and it is recognisably so.

This is an exhibition that is well worth a visit for a multitude of reasons but most importantly because Shekar’s technical skill is used to celebrate Malaysian culture and landscape in a subtle but, visually, incredibly powerful manner. There is a photo book that accompanies the exhibition that is well worth looking through if you get the chance.

‘Grit and Grace’ runs until the 2nd of September at the Bangunan UAB building on Gat Lebuh China. The exhibition is open from 11:00AM to 5:00PM every day, excluding Mondays and entry is completely free. More information can be found here https://georgetownfestival.com/programmes/grit-grace.

By Ella Benson Easton