National anthems are patriotic musical compositions, extoling the history, culture and efforts of a people, recognized either in an official capacity by the government or conventionally by the citizens. National anthems are closely tied to patriotic ideals, as commented on by Malaysian mixed media master Ahmad Shukri Mohamed in Papan Hitam: Hari Pertama Sekolah Negaraku.

 Often employed in formal or state occasions, many countries, including Malaysia teach students in state schools the national anthem, as an exercise in instilling a sense of patriotism and also as part of a larger effort to educate the students on national duties and philosophies. Titled “Negaraku”, the Malaysian national anthem has been in use since independence from the British in 1957. Shukri likens “Negaraku” to being the jantung (heart) of Malaysia, and asserts that to truly be Malaysian one must know and understand its lyrics. The artist contends that the verses have the unique ability to unite the various races and religions that exist in this multi-cultural society under a unified umbrella of patriotism, and as such declares it a defining symbol of the country, which he is attempting to inject into the forefront of civic consciousness via the platform his reputation affords him.

The multi layered cut canvas technique Shukri employs in Papan Hitam: Hari Pertama Sekolah Negaraku corresponds to that in his Allah Muhammad works. Restricting himself solely to the use of text, excluding the witty images and drawings he tends to favour, forces him to thoroughly understand the meaning of the words being incorporated, so that he can then transmit its significance to his audience. The surface of Papan Hitam: Hari Pertama Sekolah Negaraku is thick with nine layers of painted green canvas, treated to achieve a faded patina recalling institutional blackboards, paralleling Shukri’s memories of learning “Negaraku” as a child in school. The shuffled letters, which if laid out systematically would denote the lyrics of “Negaraku”, were laboriously cut out of palm sized rectangles, each comprised of three canvas sheets glued together to achieve a certain amount of stiffness, producing a positive and negative of each alphabet. Laying a layer thick foundation of the negatives, Shukri went on to carefully paste two additional coats made of the positives, all over the expansive 9 feet by 6 feet facade. The work is finished off with a salvaged wooden ledge at the base, which enhances the chalkboard appearance. The built up alphabets endow Papan Hitam: Hari Pertama Sekolah Negaraku with the look of a contemporary relief, casting shadow and tone with their simple graphic forms.

Typically Shukri’s popular mixed media works incorporate elements of Malaysian iconography presented in a universal tone. Papan Hitam: Hari Pertama Sekolah Negaraku, despite being void of images, clearly manifests this ability by presenting a staunchly Malaysian symbol, the Malay lyrics to the national anthem, in a global manner with the clean cut Romanized lettering, thus paralleling the evolving nature of an increasingly international Malaysia. This ability to deftly portray the elements of present-day society underlines Shukri’s highly deserved position in contemporary Malaysian art, and explains the strong draw both Malaysian and international audiences feel towards his striking works.

written by Zena Khan

artist              : Ahmad Shukri Mohamed

type                : mixed media

dimension    : 190 x 280 cm

price               : RM 85, 000. 00



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