Sabahan artist Harold Egn Eswar maps out his life experiences with love

Kota Kinabalu-based contemporary artist Harold Egn Eswar’s latest work, which translates to ‘With Love’, is a treasure trove of personal history artfully assembled into AutoCAD drawings.


Loaded with stories, Dengan Chinta is Harold Egn Eswar’s third solo show. A combination of art and architecture, he uses his collection of personal histories taken via interviews to conjure up digital maps in the form of AutoCAD drawings.

The 43-year-old artist, who goes by Egn (pronounced as Ee-gun), is a Diploma holder in Architectural Design who cites street art and doodling as his early influences of the art world. His works mirror the faces and places he has seen since he first started. A keen observer of societal issues, his production of spatial biography documentations, or biodocs, shines light on unheard-of stories from the present; retelling narratives of the minorities, migrants, undocumented persons and more.

In his own words, Egn takes BASKL on a tour of collected treasures over time as well as a peek into what is going on at his exhibition set and curated by Kota-K Art Gallery in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

“Only after 2020 did I produce work in the digital form.”

Egn: I have drawn since I was a kid but only started showing my work to other people after a friend, Chris Pereira, came to my apartment one day and suggested I take up art seriously. So, in 2006, I decided to put my work out there, received invitations to exhibitions and even participated in competitions. I actually dabbled in various types of media and did a lot of graffiti work but when art shops were closed during the Movement Control Order (MCO), I had no medium to work on except my PC. Combining a passion for the arts and my technical plan drafting skills, I started to express myself through AutoCAD drawings.

“I create these mapping projects as a way for my daughters to learn more about me.”

During the MCO, I developed some kind of anxiety attack, maybe from being indoors for too long. I began thinking, how would I tell my kids stories once I’m no longer around? I’m not a reader nor a writer, so I thought, why not bring up diagrams rich with info instead? They also sound less boring to me.

I want to tell them how their father once lived in the 1980s and 90s but also, having Dengan Chinta open to the general public, I hope that students of all ages would find in it some historical input too. Maybe get some ideas about how the people of today view the present as they are influenced by their past.

It’s satisfying how these mapping artworks have the ability to transport me where I once was, across time and space.

Even more satisfying was that visitors who came from Keningau where I conducted the Sin Lian Huat documentation piece experienced similar sensations remembering the past.

“Since Day One, I have always incorporated some kind of architectural element in my artworks, be it paintings, graffiti, or my more abstract pieces.”

I love data harvesting and the use of interviews as a tool. Although my spatial biodocs were only developed in the beginning of the COVID lockdowns, my interest in interviewing people came way before that. I even have a YouTube show called Sip-Sip with Egn!

If I may say so, my artistic and architectural sides plus the “ability” to talk deeply with people whom I just met somehow leads me to drawing maps and gathering oral histories from my community to create a visual work that my audience can consume. I would always hint on the social loves of Sabahan migrant communities.

Dengan Chinta is opened by Reuben Keehan, the curator for Asian Contemporary Art from Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane!”

I was giving a talk to the students of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Limbanak in Penampang, Sabah one time when a few of them asked for my autograph. Since I had never been in that situation, it felt super awkward. I signed my name as Egn when a student requested an addition of “With Love”! I did, but only in Bahasa Malaysia. Realising how Dengan Chinta had a nice ring to it, I told the teachers that this was going to be the title for my next solo! And they thought I was kidding.

Dengan Chinta includes three works: Dari Kali Ke Durian Tunjung, The Sin Lian Huat Boys Documentation and Dari Pagalan Ke Motoyasu (all 2021).

I hope to make my work accessible for all – the average Joes, and not just art snobs! With simple, straightforward stories, I want to tell my audience that they too can create something like these to express themelves.

Some (visitors) are really attracted to the colours of my work – they would say there’s harmony in them. There have also been people who said that they’re clueless on how to “move about” in the diagrams, as well as people who stated that the artworks are flat and colourless but upon reading the accompanying text, the art spoke to them differently.

I am very happy to be the first artist to exhibit my work in Kota-K Art Gallery, which was founded by my friends, artists Yee I-Lann, Phyllis Chin and Filzah Jam Jam, a combination I foresee will go places. Kota-K is the perfect gallery for both local and foreign artists to showcase their artworks, it is a platform which will push artists like myself to be the best version of themselves. I have a share in curating some shows coming soon here in this gallery!

“What’s next? Collaborative works!”

…With urban dwellers – doing something with the urban poor and migrants would be interesting. I would like to work with people labeled as undocumented, to see the places I have seen only through my views and perspectives. To see what they see could create a mutual understanding. I would also like to approach this social mapping idea in a different way – discovering what methods I can use to bring out the voices of our people to those unfamiliar to them.

Egn is on Instagram @haroldegn – you can also listen to interesting conversations on his YouTube channel! For more Kota-K Art Gallery shows and events, follow its Instagram page.

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