Exciting talents, Shin Pui San and Faiz Yunus.

“I tried and tried and finally, success! Giving up never crossed my mind,” begins Faiz Mohamad Yunus, the 2011 Grand Prize Winner of the Nando’s Art Initiative (NAI), a platform for the country’s young and upcoming artists to launch their art careers. His hitherto laidback demeanour turns animated as the 29-year-old production designer recalls his journey. “I had participated in every NAI competition since its inception in 2008. I didn’t know that it would be my art piece called The Dream that would bring me home the big prize!”

The NAI, opened to young Malaysians from colleges and universities to young adults, has showcased over 500 pieces of artwork from over 400 young local artists since its launch. This year, it celebrates its 11th year anniversary with the YOUthReka Art competition 2018, which invites young aspiring artists to take charge of their own creativity and express their thoughts and identity through art.

His long artistic fingers toying with a strip of paper on the table, Faiz, a former art student from UiTM (Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara) Shah Alam, Selangor, confides that prior to his big win, he had to contend himself with the consolation prize. But his chicken and chillies bagged him the goods at the fourth Nando’s Peri-fy Your Art Competition 2011.

Faiz’s sculpture is imbued with energy.

Chuckling, he recalls: “My forte is sculptures; it’s what I majored in when I was in UiTM. But somehow it was a piece of painting that I did which changed my luck. That year (2011), there was no category for sculptures. What did I paint? Err... I remember chicken and a lot of chillies on the canvas and I utilised acrylic techniques in mixed media.” Incidentally, it was also in 2011 that Faiz bagged the grand prize at the Starhill Art Award, KL.

The talented artist from Gemencheh, Negri Sembilan was the first of the NAI’s winners to have his own solo exhibition the following year, which was fully sponsored by NAI and NN Gallery. “The competition was a great stepping stone for me,” shares Faiz, before adding that his 2012 outing at NN Gallery in Ampang, Selangor, called KNOTS, was a success. “All my paintings and sculptures were sold out. I made lots of contacts from that event and ended up being commissioned to do some work for various individuals. I’d say it changed my life...”

Asked to describe his kind of art, Faiz, who believes that art is able to create change by relating how things interconnect with one another and affect a person’s emotions, confides that he has always been inclined towards the abstract form. He loves creating knots and circles and seeing what simple lines can be transformed into. “I guess you can say my ‘thing’ is abstract expressionist. When I do my knots, they’re not isolated from each other. Everything is related.” His favourite colour meanwhile, is black.

The talented Faiz Yunus.

As a sculptor, Faiz’s biggest challenge is finding space. “When I do my sculpting work, I definitely need to have my own workshop so I can have all my equipment and tools there such as the welding set and so on. At the moment, I do have my own studio but that’s only big enough for my painting work. Normally, when I want to build a sculpture, I have to go to the welding workshop and make it there.” His largest sculpture to date, shares the lively Pieces, measured 2.4m by 1.5m, “... a circular piece full of nuts!”

The youngest of seven siblings, Faiz, who cites celebrated abstract expressionist painter, Awang Damit Ahmad as the artist he most admires (and who happened to be his lecturer at UiTM), recalls that he had always loved art ever since he was young. But, he only took it seriously when he was doing his diploma. The self-confessed kampung boy believes that his leanings towards sculptures probably had something to do with his father, who did carpentry on the side.

“My early works were definitely influenced by my surroundings — what I saw around me in the kampung,” shares Faiz, before adding with a chuckle: “I used to draw those rumah kampung (kampung house) with the swaying palm trees and the sun rising at the back! It was from our teachers la! Everyone’s house would look the same — the windows would be higher than the door and then you’d have the pokok bunga (flower pots) in front! I remember I’d always draw my windows beside the door!”

Faiz Yunus’ winning piece, The Dream.

The miniatures maestro

As he pauses to take a sip of his now lukewarm coffee in this bustling Bangsar cafe, my attention is distracted by the opening of the cafe door. A petite young lady clad in a perky ensemble, her eyes anxiously scanning the interior, walks in hesitantly. “That’s Pui San!” exclaims Faiz, his eyes lighting up in welcome. He waves the girl over and she makes her way over to our table.

Her smile shy, the girl, a freelance artist/illustrator introduces herself softly, her English tentative. Shin Pui San is also an ‘alumni’ of the NAI. Known for her ingenious talent of combining paper art, miniatures, illustrations and installations that capture the innocence and simplicity of their subjects, Shin was the grand prize winner in 2012, a year after Faiz, with her winning piece entitled Where We Came From, Who We Really Are, Where We’re Truly Going.

The theme for the 2012 edition of the competition was ‘Connectivity’. Many of the artists submitted paintings while some sent in their sculptures and installations that also included some 3-dimensional subject matter. Whatever it was, they all encircled the theme of ‘Connectivity’.

“The theme was chosen to highlight the present day scenario where people are connected through their phones, social media and the Internet throughout the day,” recalls Shin, a graduate of LimKokWing University of Creative Technology. Although the topic might sound simple, the challenge was how each artist would interpret the brief.

Asked to recall her winning piece, Shin, who also exhibits under the name of Novia Shin, pauses before pulling out an oversized sketch book from her bag. The first thing I see is a large letter ‘S’. Smiling, the 29-year-old prompts me to take a closer look, “They’re houses!” I exclaim, finally noticing the fine details. A closer scrutiny reveals what appears to be a street scene, a bustling town even, with buses, bicycles, people, street signs — the lot.Whimsical and so detailed, it’s nothing short of impressive.

“I’m not from a Fine Art background. I studied Multimedia and Graphic Design,” begins the Ipoh-born Shin. After graduating, she worked as a designer and teacher for a local foundation for underprivileged children. Continuing, she adds: “This Nando’s Peri-fy Art competition was the first competition I entered. And what you’re seeing here is my hometown. My ‘take’ on the theme was basically the connectivity I have with my hometown as I’d been away from it for many years due to my work in KL.”

Shin‘s winning piece Where we came from, who we really are, where we’re truly going.

Just like Faiz, Shin too enjoyed her first solo exhibition in 2013 in KL after her success with the NAI. Fully sponsored by Nando’s, it was called ‘Not So Long Ago’. And the passionate activist hasn’t looked back since. Her fabulous works are currently on showcase at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in KL as part of the inaugural KL Biennale, in the Be Loved (Heritage) section. She was also a part of the trio show 3Belas, shown recently at NVAG’s experimental Creative Space.

One of the cofounders of Kaki Jelajah Warisan, a community organisation that organises historical tours to attract people to visit and discover the local culture and history of the older communities, Shin confides that much of the inspiration for her works is derived from people and heritage. “When I first started doing this, I tended to just draw inspiration from my memories but along the way, I realised that our country has such a rich history and we’re blessed with many interesting stories — of our people, our buildings, our nature and so on. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to learn. And in the end, I realised I found a lot of joy in sharing what I found.”

Her childhood upbringing, believes the bubbly Scorpio, plays a big part in her inclinations. Her eyes gleam as she recollects an idyllic childhood spent with her grandparents in Kampung Ampang Baru in Ipoh. “It was a small kampong and I grew up with my grandparents. They were always telling me stories, all nostalgic. I soaked it all up like a sponge. It wasn’t surprising then that from the beginning my artwork was heavily influenced by nostalgia.”

Meanwhile, as a family, Shin, whose mother worked as a restaurant supervisor in the UK, and her father, a factory supervisor back in Ipoh, shares that they’re quite artistic. Everyone could draw although they never received any formal training. “Growing up, we taught ourselves,” she recalls, before adding that her younger sister is currently studying children’s book illustrations in the UK.

As the two young artists begin trading childhood stories between themselves, I interrupt them by asking for any advice they might have for aspiring artists. His brows furrowing, Faiz is the first to respond. “Always be positive and believe in yourself. There’ll be detractors and people who might not like your work. Just keep going.”

Nodding, Shin concludes: “There will be someone who WILL like what you do also. Persist. To survive in this industry, you have to be resilient. Know what you want and just keep going.” intanm@nst.com.my

Go to www.nandos.com.my/artinitiative for details


1.To what extent have the early objectives of the Nando’s Art Initiative been achieved?

In South Africa, Nando’s has always been a supporter of the arts. In 2001, Nando’s embarked on a project to develop young talented South African artists and showcase South African creativity to the world. It’s still running today and makes a real contribution to the local community. I myself am an avid art lover and was excited to kick something similar off in Malaysia.

When we started, we never could have imagined it to have the longevity that it has and it truly fits in with one of Nando’s purposes — changing lives of the youth. We initially did look at it as just an art competition; a place where Malaysian artists would have an opportunity to showcase their talents. As the years went by, we believe that we were able to achieve so much more and we’re now looking to expand the platform further — not just to showcase but also nurture these young artists.

2.How had you envisioned this initiative to evolve?

We began with only Fine Art as a category for the competition. As the competition progressed, we started receiving entries from other artistic mediums namely Digital Art as well as Graffiti Art. The response to our competition was overwhelming. It evolved naturally to include these different forms of Art. One thing we noticed was that Malaysia is filled with young talent and these artists were looking for any chance that they can to showcase their talents.

As the years went by we found that monetary reward was definitely one thing but being able to provide mentorship and offer them further exposure through the solo exhibitions were something else altogether. The exhibitions seem to have an impact on their confidence and really gave them a window, or rather a foothold, to the local art scene.

3.The artists who won — to what extent have they remained connected to Nando’s and how have you/Nando’s continued to steer their growth and work?

We keep in touch with most of our past winners. One way we remain connected with them is by inviting them back to be judges and inadvertently mentors to the new batch of winners. Grand prize winners for Fine Art and Digital Art are given the opportunity to hold their own solo exhibition where they gain a feel for what goes into organising an exhibition — from designing their leaflets, to a theme for the exhibition, pricing considerations for their artworks and others.

Some of our past winners have gone on to become very successful in their own right. For instance, I came across Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj; 2008 Nando’s Art Initiative Winner’s artwork in the MAS Golden Lounge and can’t describe how happy I felt. I personally have commissioned some of them for their artwork. Also recently I noticed a few pieces from several past winners at the recent Art Expo and truly felt pride for them. Knowing that some of them had their start with Nando’s Art Initiative truly makes them feel like they’re a Nandocas. There’s an emotional tie with us and them because at the end of the day, Nando’s Art Initiative is about giving young artists the opportunity to step into the bigger, wider world.

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