Great Malaysian Contemporary Art 2014
Artist: Masnoor Ramli Mahmud
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas.
Size: 172cm x 310cm
Written by Zena Khan
“The Eye That Blink Our Mind” is a 2014 acrylic on canvas by quietly contemplative contemporary painter Masnoor Ramli. Forming part of his new series “Moulding The History”, it is the first piece created after his 2014 solo exhibition “Aviation”, and fittingly combines the major themes of global politics and economic power, which the artist constantly ruminates on, with the minor theme of MH370, which has occupied Masnoor’s mind for most of 2014.
Most of the canvas in “The Eye That Blink Our Mind” is comprised of a seascape. Either side of the canvas is lined with a figure: to the left the artist has painted the current Chinese premier Xi Jinping, while to the right is the American president Barack Obama. As in the first work from “Moulding The History”, Obama is shown from the back. Masnoor relies on his subject’s popularity as a pop icon of the twenty-first century to render the American president as instantly recognizable. The ease with which viewers are able to identify a faceless Obama speaks to the dominance of American culture and media in today’s global societies, hinting at the control America exerts over most of the globe. As Obama stares out into the ocean, Xi Jinping turns to him as if in conversation. It is as if the artist does not state the conversation between the two politicians, but rather opens it up for his audience to interpret. In this way the artist asks the public to connect their understandings on current events to his work, and can be seen as encouraging discourse on socio-political affairs throughout society.
The layout and colour palette of “The Eye That Blink Our Mind” has purposefully been kept simple, so as not to detract from the complexity of the issues being discussed. Masnoor’s use of Obama and Xi Jinping stems from his thoughts on the struggle for economic and strategic controls by the world’s superpower nations. China is experiencing incredibly rapid growth as a global force, mostly due to the indisputable fact the country looks set to become the world’s largest economy. America, which has been the dominant world superpower since the end of World War II, is having a natural reaction to this, and is attempting to gain strongholds within the Asian region to temper China’s power. This has led to the strong interest in South East Asia from America, as evidenced by Obama’s 2014 state visit where he described Malaysia as a pivotal state for America’s efforts to solidify it’s position regionally. Despite painting international politicians, the effect their actions currently have on Malaysia roots the works as staunchly local in content. Through the ambiguity of the discussion hinted at between Obama and Xi Jinping, Masnoor further highlights the secrets within political discussions and agreements, not all of which are released to the public.
Linking theories of secrets of state to the theories behind the MH370 aviation tragedy, Masnoor emphasizes that these discussions have an impact on far more than just economic matters. The stormy, grey seascape stretching across the canvas, coupled with Obama’s stance as staring out at the expanse, underline the vastness of the search and rescue areas for MH370. Several theories have emerged in relation to the cause of the flight’s disappearance, and its eventual fate, yet there is still a lack of concrete evidence. Originally chronicling the speculation and conspiracy theories behind MH370 in the painting “Moulding The History: Grey Area in the Grey Sky”, Masnoor now questions if there is truth behind the thoughts of the conspiracies, especially as several seem to stem from information from military personal. Masnoor has an affinity for theories, which he sees as different from speculation, as they are based in fact and finds often they add to the information or ideas he has on a current event. Today, secrecy seems to shroud mainstream media; internationally this has led to the public placing increasing amounts of faith in theories. Accordingly the public has begun to rely heavily on alternative news sources for information in order to determine individual perceptions on events and their outcomes, in order to avoid the influence of a media whose bias increasingly seems influenced by those in positions of power.
An expected responsibility of contemporary visual art is to respond to international socio-political questions. Incorporating key symbols and compositions to chronicle the state of twenty-first century society, Masnoor revisits a favorite theme on the impact of a borderless world on local culture with the “The Eye That Blink Our Mind”. The first painting after his long awaited solo “Aviation”, “The Eye That Blink Our Mind” can be seen as a classic Masnoor Ramli work, bolstered by the beauty of its highly atmospheric, almost exclusively grey-toned aesthetic