“When you're a little kid you're a bit of everything; Scientist, Philosopher, Artist. Sometimes it seems like growing up is giving these things up one at a time.” – Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years
Sometimes, circumstances hinder our aspirations. Sometimes, reality sets in and forces us to give up what we want to be in favour of what we need to do. And sometimes that means abandoning our talents.
One man isn’t having any of that.
Like a prospector looking for gold, he scours social media unearthing potential talent, and engages them to produce art. Not your standard, run-of-the-mill pop-art mind you, but pop-art that specifically integrates Malaysian culture and history. This is a story about a man on a mission – an utter refusal to let local artistic talent go to waste.
This is the story of Romaizie Mustapha (or “Rom”) and Dumpster, his pop-up store in the Art Row of Publika.
“I’ve got a lot of very talented friends… but they work as baristas or shopkeepers… it’s sad that [they] don’t use these skills… for me, it’s sayanglah.”
Formerly working in advertising, Rom set up vintage shop Outdated (he has since sold off the business) before embarking on Dumpster. Whereas Outdated’s business model was based on selling antiques, Dumpster focuses on selling local pop art prints done by people approached by Rom.
“I focus on undiscovered talent – they’re not artists yet. They don’t want to show their work – they’re shy-lah… I want them to be artists. It’s hard, because they’re in their comfort zone. I have to convince them.”
Producing art for Dumpster is no cakewalk, however – artists who work with Rom must be open to the man’s criticism. A willingness to improve and diligence are vital, and are (unfortunately) rare finds for Rom. He has spoken to almost twenty potential artists, but only a handful are willing to continue working with him.
“I approached twenty-plus people, but only less than ten got back to me. Out of those, only about six actually delivered.”
Rom’s pool of talent isn’t limited to the usual graphic designers and illustrators. In fact, some of his talents come from a rather unexpected profession.
“I see a lot of architects looking for this platform. I like their drive! I currently have two in the team, and another one who’s interested.”
Currently, Dumpster features works by Kide Baharuddin, Lina Tan, and Mohd Fairuz Hafiez, with more artists expected to join the fold. “Hipster Kuda Kepang” by Baharuddin is one of the most popular works in the store. For the patriotic, you can even get yourself a large print of the musical arrangement of the national anthem.
“We try to focus on Malaysian culture and history… It’s unique, and I want to set this trend… Nowadays, people don’t know what is kuda kepang, wayang kulit…”
Dumpster pieces are mostly prints, and are very affordable to the general Malaysian. For instance, “Hipster Kuda Kepang” can be bought as a printed sheet, a t-shirt, or even a tote bag. Aside from artwork, you can also find coffee table books as well as Makmal turntables, diversifying the in-store offerings.
“Some people said art prints wouldn’t sell in Malaysia. For them, they think that people are more into fine art and paintings. Problem is, these artworks are expensive!”
Rom comments that Dumpster’s pieces are very well-received by foreigners, whether they be tourists or expatriates. “For them, they want something from Malaysia, like a souvenir.”
Rom’s vision doesn’t end at just unearthing hidden talent. He hopes that Dumpster’s local pop-art can bring a message of unity, especially in lieu of recent events. Rom is also a Rakan Muda mentor, and brings his artists with him to meet figures like Lat and Khairy Jamaluddin.
Some might scoff at Rom’s vision of using art as a platform for unity, thinking it’s the imagination and folly of some idealist. That’s not the case: Rom knows it isn’t a quick fix, neither is it some magical cure-all solution, but he believes that everybody should do their part in shaping a better Malaysia, and Dumpster is his platform.
I know Malaysia has a lot of problems, but instead of complaining, do something about it – make it fun.
Speaking to Rom, it got me thinking on my own skills and talents, and how I’ve (perhaps) shelved them for something… safer. I’m admittedly one of the people who (as Rom describes) is in his comfort zone – and I’m not planning to venture out or go back into the arts anytime soon. Not sure if that’s a good or wise decision, but it is definitely a safe one. It’s working out so far.
For potential artists looking for an outlet, you are more than welcome to get in touch with Rom. Just be warned – he will stretch you beyond what you are comfortable with. And who knows? It could be a life-changing experience. ◆
Dumpster is located at Lot 53, Publika Shopping Gallery. For more information on Dumpster, you can reach them at https://www.facebook.com/dumpster.my/ or contact them via telephone (0123023170) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)