Born 1970 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Jasmine Kok describes herself as someone who is very tactile, who loves making things with her hands. It therefore is no surprise that sculpture would become her chosen form of artistic expression.
A native of Kuala Lumpur, she had always been attracted to art from young, drawing and painting during her school years. Jasmine participated in the 2nd ASEAN Exhibition of Children’s Art in 1984, her first participation in a major art event, at the young age of 14. Jasmine enrolled in the now defunct KL College of Art, and in 1993 obtained her Diploma in Fine Art, majoring in Painting.
Her switch to sculpture didn’t happen until about two years later when she continued her art education in the UK. It was the mid-1990s, a time when visual art was in a state of flux, the early stages of conceptual art playing a more central role in art education.
She enrolled herself in the City & Guilds of London Art School in 1996, and sculpture presented itself as a way she could continue creating with her hands, rather than delve into the more conceptual side of visual art.
Jasmine obtained her Advanced Diploma in Sculpture from the institution, after which she attended a short course focusing on Stone Carving, completing in 1999. Soon after, during a visit back to Malaysia, Jasmine had a very serious fall at home, resulting in her spine being fractured. This accident would prove to be an important pivotal point in her creative direction as a visual artist.
As a result of this injury, Jasmine had to wear a medical corset for three and a half years. It was during this period that her series of works centering on the corset began to develop. Art remained very important to her throughout her convalescence, an activity Jasmine found therapeutic.
Jasmine’s experience has some parallels to that of Frida Kahlo, the iconic Mexican artist, whose horrific bus collision injury left her in pain for most of her adult life. But while Kahlo’s art remained focused on the symbolic expression of pain throughout her life, Jasmine channeled her pain to metamorphose into something different altogether.
How Jasmine felt about the corset she had to wear during her recovery started to change, through a realization that the device, essentially designed to keep her posture rigid, also had an element of ambiguous sensuality about it. This realization led her to carrying out extensive research on the various types of corsets in existence. The culmination of this process was the birth of “Sensuality”, the series of artworks centered on the multi-faceted character of the corset.
The sensuality Jasmine portrays through her corsets should not be confused with the often base, raw, and sometimes more vulgar sexual nature of the device. By her careful selection of materials and color, Jasmine projects the sensuality of these restraining devices, while “protecting” the viewer from broaching the boundaries of lewd imagery. The raw sexual nature, therefore, left as a possible subtext to what the eyes behold, a melding of materials into shapely beauty.
While many other sculptors often focus on a small set of materials to work with, Jasmine uses a variety of materials for her sculptures. For her, what is most important is how the intrinsic nature of the materials fit the specific narrative she attempts to convey. For Jasmine, materials are merely mediums through which aspects of a theme might be expressed. The smoothness of velvet is incorporated with the strength and rigidity of copper wire, for example, sensuality and strength combined to become the central characteristics of the artwork, as a result.
Since the birth of “Sensuality”, Jasmine has expanded the series from merely creating whole corsets, to include prints by various methods, and clay sculptures focusing on specific parts of the corset. Apart from focusing on “Sensuality”, Jasmine also actively explores and experiments with new materials to work with. Her year-long residency at Rimbun Dahan beginning 2003 is a key example, where immersed in the lushness of the residency’s compound, Jasmine allowed the intrinsic nature of the materials she worked with to transform themselves into narratives she wanted expressed. Currently, Jasmine is investigating the use of fused glass, adding to the already rich repertoire of materials she works with.
While continuing to create her own artwork, both for the workshops she conducts and for exhibitions she participates in, Jasmine is currently involved in several collaborative endeavors with other sculptors, from Malaysia and around the Asian region.
But above and beyond all this, Jasmine has a larger long-term mission, to realize a dream that she has had for the last several years. That dream is to set up a sculpture park, inspired by what she saw while studying in the UK, in particular, Henry Moore’s sculpture park in Perry Green, Herfordshire and the Grizedale Forest Art Park, located in England’s Lake District.
It will certainly be a first for Malaysia, where site-specific sculptural installations provide new visual dimensions to the already beautiful natural lushness of the forested area housing the sculptures.
The fruition of this dream will not merely mark a personal achievement for Jasmine – it will be this artist giving back to the nascent Malaysian visual art ecosystem she is a part of, allowing it to be more enriched and grow even further.