TANAH TUMPAHNYA DARAH is the latex solo exhibition by Malaysian renowned figurative painter; Md. Fadli Yusoff. The exhibition is showcasing 15 artworks that will be on display from 20th October until 27th November 2016.
TANAH TUMPAHNYA DARAH
by Zena Khan
Born in Kelantan, Malaysia, where he continues to reside and work, artist Fadli Yusoff casts an analytical eye over his environment as a source of inspiration. His keen sense of observation acts as a technical, as well as conceptual entry point. This is evident both in his skill as one of the most talented Malaysian contemporary figurative artists, as well as in the complex subject matters addressed through his portfolio of large scale figurative paintings that have won a series of critical awards. These include the Juror’s Choice Award at the Philip Morris Art Awards (1999), 3rd place in the Formula Malaysia Art Award (2000) and Grand Prize, Kijang Award from Bank Negara Malaysia (2004). Indeed, the figure is a unifying theme that binds the works presented here at Tanah Tumpahnya Darah to address questions on a variety of issues running through Malaysian society today, from the political, to social, to religious. The subjects of his portraits are a mix of well-known icons and acquaintances, used as cultural references to establish the shifts and status of present day Malaysia. In the process, Fadli creates relatable imagery that open up lines of communication between artwork and audience, resulting in a conversational atmosphere between his thought process and his viewer.
Tanah Tumpahnya Darah has been two years in the making, a time frame that suits Fadli’s chosen genre of contemporary realism. This exhibition marks his fourth solo. In 2000 he had his first, Matafizik, at Pelita Hati Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, his second, Md Fadli Yusoff 2007- 2013, was in 2013 with Gallery 12, and in 2014 he showed a smaller solo A Day In Kota Lama at Whitebox, Publika. With Tanah Tumpahnya Darah, Fadli builds strongly on techniques and threads of thought he began exploring with Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2013, a body of seminal paintings created over the span of five years. In the catalogue accompanying Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2013, curator Shooshie Sulaiman touches on the importance of observation in visual art, an idea that holds particular resonance in contemporary realism. In working through the figure, Fadli uses traditional painterly techniques to accurately illustrate his subjects as close representations of his observations. This is indicative of a natural skill bolstered by rigorous training in classical painting skills, including anatomy, figure drawing, composition, and techniques in oil paint. Over the years he has honed these skills through a discipline of practice and experimentation within the genre, beginning from his time as a young fine art student at MARA University of Technology (UiTM), under Amron Omar. Amron is widely recognized as a master of figurative art in Malaysia, particularly with his widely acclaimed Silat series. At UiTM, Amron was notorious for running a figurative class marked by strict standards. In this space, Fadli blossomed, impressing his tutor greatly and attaining the highly coveted, almost mythical A Grade that Amron handed out sparingly. As he graduated with a BA in Fine Art, a bright future as a figurative painter beckoned, or so it seemed.
As Fadli began immersing himself deeper into his religion, a chasm began to appear between his artistic inclinations towards the figure, and the obligations he perceived for a devout Muslim. Questions arose in his mind over the acceptability of a figurative practice for a Muslim. This was compounded by a book he read from the United Ullama Council of South Africa, The Ruling on Photography based on Islamic Law according to Fatwa Issue, and for the next eleven years, he turned his attentions strictly towards experimentations in abstract work.
The mark of a great contemporary artist is their ability to communicate observations and analysis on events – be they social, cultural, political, or religious – which often stems from an inquisitive, experimental nature. Certainly this holds true for Fadli, who is known for a curious nature. Even after making the decision to set aside his figurative career out of religious obligation, he continued to research the subject, curious as to the rules and guidance for individuals such as himself. Eventually he concluded that his artistic practice was in fact a form of dakwah, a conversational process through which he could spread knowledge on Islam, but that he would be most successful engaging an audience if he worked with his strongest talent – realism. Thus in 2007, Fadli returned to figurative works. From 2007 to 2012 he worked on a series of paintings centered around the figure through which he established himself as a leading contemporary artist and critical thinker in Malaysia’s contemporary art scene, culminating in a solo exhibition, Md Fadli Yusoff 2007- 2013, with Gallery 12.
One of the most seminal works from Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2013, “Stand Here and Choose Yourself (Museum Piece)”, speaks to the ideals that formed the basis of this return to the figure. A piece that merges a large scale acrylic on canvas painting with an instructional performance, it demonstrates a keen desire to engage audiences in physical and conceptual interactions. The left of the canvas features a contemporary figure in suit and tie, while the right of the canvas is dominated by a man in a thobe (traditional Islamic tunic). In presenting the two ‘choices’, that is secular versus Islamic, Fadli invites his audience to choose the figure that best represents them, their belief systems, and way of life. For the artist, choices are made based on knowledge, a concept that has deep roots in Islam where believers are encouraged to read and seek knowledge at all times. In the instructional performance accompanying “Stand Here and Choose Yourself (Museum Piece)”, audiences are questioned on their choice of figure along with a justification for their choice, with their answers recorded on video. This produces a documentation on the knowledge and reasoning existing within society at large at that point. As a result “Stand Here and Choose Yourself (Museum Piece)” articulates contemporary thoughts on the parameters of knowledge through Islamic philosophy in contemporary art practice.
This interest in including Islamic philosophy in his artistic practice extended to contemporary calligraphy. Indeed, Fadli can be seen as a key contributor to the development of a contemporary calligraphy movement within Malaysia. What is particularly exciting about Malaysian contemporary calligraphy is the way local artists use Arabic or Jawi script as an icon through which they transmit broader conceptual, cultural, social, or political ideas and commentaries. Fadli is no exception, but pushes this boundary even further by merging calligraphy with realism. Earlier experimentations into communicating Islamic themes and discourse through a figurative practice featured neat lines of romanized writing woven through the Arabic script and deep dark backgrounds, with beautiful realistic images overlaid, resulting in arresting visual tensions.These are continued in the body of works brought together at Tanah Tumpahnya Darah, especially “Ampunkanlah Aku” and “Dua Muka”. “Ampunkanlah Aku” features a man on his prayer mat, presumably post- prayer, with his hands raised as he makes doa. Overlaid on the figure is a column of romanized text that reads “Ampunkanlah aku wahai Allah, Ampunkanlah aku wahai Allah yang Maha Agung” (“Forgive me O’Allah, Allah is Great”). The use of realism and romanized text lend a truly contemporary atmosphere to the painting as it deals with issues resonating
with tradition, culture, and religious practice. As such, Fadli makes these weighty issues relatable to a wider audience, both Muslim and secular, engaging a younger generation in his conceptual practice. The emergence of the figure and colored text from a deep, dark background are classic Fadli, and mark his formal interest in working with established painterly techniques, particularly chiaroscuro.
An Italian term meaning “light-dark” that originated during the Renaissance, chiaroscuro makes use of light and shade to create strong tonal contrasts to suggest three- dimensionality. Paintings seen here at Tanah Tumpahnya Darah such as “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!” or “Hope” feature figures set against deep, dark backgrounds, giving the illusion of a spotlight on the central image. Drawing viewers into a close visual relationship with his subject in this manner, Fadli subtly narrows their focus onto the concepts represented by each portrait. By including several other elements in his compositions, in the form of architectural drawings, pop culture references, and text, the paintings are grounded within the framework of specific contemporary conversations. At times these build on earlier dialogues – as can be seen in “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!”, which continues an examination first initiated in 2011’s “Stand Here And Choose Yourself II”, of state versus federal governance in his home state of Kelantan.
This idea of contrast between heritage and the now via two figures is one Fadli has reworked here in “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!”, but can be traced back to works such as ”Stand Here And Choose Yourself (Museum Piece)”. Compositional links can be made through the framing of each canvas by figures linked through a broad central element, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Perfect Man or the Malaysian flag. “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!” relies on a series of opposites – colour versus sepia, light versus dark, calligraphic fonts versus graffiti, and the past versus the present – to ruminate on ideas of duality, and the line between perception and reality. “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!” delves into this theme by raising the issue of separation between state and federal governance.
At an impressive 18 feet in length, “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!” is the largest work in this solo exhibition, and a confident assertion of Fadli’s skills and experimental desires within portraiture. An acrylic on jute piece, it draws inspiration from a billboard displayed in Kota Bharu in 2012, coinciding with Malaysia’s 55th Merdeka Day celebrations. On the right of the painting, Fadli replicates the famous image of Tunku Abdul Rahman raising his fist as he declares Independence. Painted in sepia tones, the work easily marks itself out as a historical reference, whilst bringing to mind the values on which the nation was founded. A large crowd is hinted at behind Tunku Abdul Rahman. Administered in a range of abstract brush strokes in sepia tones, they come together not only to build depth, but also the sense of a host of individual characters, gathered in unity; an idea reinforced through the 1Malaysia logo stenciled on this edge.
Directly opposite the reproduction of this archival image is a larger than life portrait of a young woman, whose Kelantanese identity appears confirmed by the batik scarf draped over her head. In contrast to the strong sepia figure of Tunku Abdul Rahman, this anonymous Kelantanese woman is painted in colour, cementing her as a contemporary figure. Her gaze on the historical leader appears fixed and softly questioning. A fluttering Malaysian flag is stretched out across the centre of the canvas, bridging not only the two
figures, but also creating a temporal link between past and present. He lays the text “Aku Anak Malaysia” over the flag, a direct nod to the original billboard that sparked this work. Punctuating this proud statement however are the words “Pung” and “Jugok”, Kelantanese terms for “as well”. Bright red with an exclamation mark, they are rendered in a graffiti style that sits in opposition to the carefully painted decorative words, emphasizing their role as a declaration of inclusion.
Through “Aku Pung Anak Malaysia Jugok!” Fadli raises awareness on the country’s history and inception, with a focus on values of identity and inclusiveness. Concurrently he opens up examination into the place Kelantan occupies within overall federal governmental policies. What is of note is that yet again Fadli does not offer a fixed position on the issue he is addressing. Rather, he draws attention to the contributions Kelantan makes as part of Malaysia, through the oil industry, or as the nation’s cradle of culture, which is strongly hinted at through the prominent pink batik in the work, and the complaints that some of the state’s residents have. In the process, he aims to create an intellectual space where audiences can be made aware of historical and current issues, but through self-reflection arrive at individual conclusions.
As mentioned earlier, the search for knowledge through self-reflection and research is a defining characteristic of Fadli, both personally and professionally. One of the threads running through Tanah Tumpahnya Darah is the idea that things may not always be as they appear, and that we live in a world of dualities. As in “Kambing Hitam”, he indicates a distaste for assumptions. Each canvas in the triptych features a statement over a figure; “kambing hitam“ (black sheep) over a black sheep, “kambing hitam bukan hitam” (black sheep that isn’t black) over a brown sheep, and finally “kambing hitam bukan kambing” (black sheep that isn’t a sheep) over a man dressed in a thobe. Taking the idea of the black sheep from the literal to the metaphorical, and including the social media concept of hashtagging, he points out the ease with which society accepts a truth. This has become particularly prevalent through the rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and is indicative of refusing to think and analyse to come to independent conclusions.
The need to form conclusions independent of existing or popular opinions in fact comes back to a critique of the local contemporary art industry. Despite the highly acclaimed standard of critical contemporary artists and artworks emerging from Malaysia, historically there has been a lack of support for the contemporary in terms of institutional collections, archives, and documentations. This writer in particular, has examined existing curatorial theses alongside evidence such as artworks, archival imagery, and artist interviews, in an attempt to circumvent this issue of discursive exclusions, such as questioning the established narrative on figurative art in Malaysia. This act of setting aside ‘received knowledge’ to allow for the birth of ‘actual knowledge’ parallels Fadli’s perspective of refusing to blindly accept information, and continuously reading, researching and analyzing. “Hope”, a larger than life portrait of this writer with a line drawing of the Royal College of Art (RCA) overlaid, addresses the value of research, documentation, and curating as a necessary support for contemporary artists, that has been absent to a large degree locally. At the time of working alongside Fadli to produce documentation on Tanah Tumpahnya Darah, this writer was pursuing a Masters at the RCA, which as an institution is known to
prize the production of new knowledge and theses. It is interesting to note that Fadli often tackles stronger statements through the use of an identifiable female icon, for example Aung San Suu Kyi in “We Who Are Left Behind I” and “We Who Are Left Behind II”, or Malala Yousafzai in “Malang Malala”.
In his quest to produce faithful depictions of his observations, Fadli engaged in a thorough pre-production process. Beginning with clear concepts in mind, he approached several acquaintances to act as sitters for him, styling and posing each in a series of specific ways, and having them photographed professionally. The most extreme of these was for “Tanah Tumpahnya Darah”, where the sitter agreed to be tied up, and hung upside down from his feet, as the myth relays was Tok Janggut’s fate. Working from these posed photographs adds a layer of depth to Fadli’s pre-production process, allowing him greater creative autonomy and reproductive ability, while cementing the value of observation for him as an artist. Indeed, it is this skill to observe the world around him, and transmit his observations through a mix of technical skill and critical commentary, that has always set Fadli apart. As he continues to grow, spiritually and intellectually, audiences are able to see these growths mirrored through an increasingly complex, and layered portfolio of paintings which cement Fadli’s reputation as one of Malaysia’s most talented contemporary figurative artists.
You are cordially invited to the opening reception of
A Solo Exhibition by
To be officiated by
3-10 & 3-13, Level 3, Intermark Mall
The Intermark, 348 Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
SPACE INVADER(S) is Azad Daniel Haris inaugural solo exhibition which showcasing 19 artworks that will be on display from 15th July – 31st August 2016.
(visit our facebook page to view the artworks)
by Zena Khan
From the mid-twentieth century, globalization has been on the rise. Demarcated by several factors, amongst them, an increase in free trade, economies of scale, as well as international media and multinationals. Along with rapid technological advancements, globalization shrinks the spaces between countries and cultures. While the term itself seems to imply cross-pollination, questions arise if it is actually a new route through which Western civilizations are able to assert dominance in the post-World War II landscape. Indeed, in his essay “Globalization and Political Strategy”, celebrated American literary critic Fredric Jameson asks, if what is really meant by ‘globalization’ is a spreading of American military and economic power, representing new forms of imperialism? At the heart of globalization lies the increasing standardization of world cultures, along a Western (usually American) trajectory, as local cultures and traditions are replaced by American food, TVs, clothes and films. These questions, along with those of consumerism and identity, often inform the practice of Azad Daniel, who continues these explorations in his inaugural solo exhibition, Space Invader(s).
A young Malaysian contemporary artist, Azad has been garnering notice for his portfolio of distinctive super-glossy artworks that extend the precincts of painting as a genre. Influenced by popular culture, and ideas of appropriation, he translates everyday objects such as iPhones and doughnuts into witty, thought-provoking artworks. Over the past few years he has worked to refine an experimental style of painting, where he primes MDF boards or cast fiberglass and Perspex surfaces with cement, before painting on them with auto paint, in a process usually reserved for the automotive industry. While auto paint might not instinctively lend itself to detailing, Azad circumvents this by illustrating his images on a computer, and then prints these images out as a series of super-sized sticker stencils. Layering them onto his surfaces one at a time, he builds up his painted surfaces to achieve sharp, detailed and glossy images that have captured the attentions of critics and audiences alike. This acclaim has manifest in several ways, such as his participation in several key exhibitions, including Iskandar Malaysia Contemporary Art Show (IMCAS) in 2009, the National Portrait Exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur (2013), Young Malaysian Artist – New Objection at Galeri Petronas (2013) and World Art Festival in Seoul, Korea (2008). Space Invader(s) excitingly provides audiences with the first opportunity to view an entire body of Azad’s works at once, which conceptually and technically build on his earlier efforts.
Space Invader(s) can be separated into two sets of works: one series of super-flat works and another of three-dimensional cups set against MDF boards. Visually, the series is reinforced as a single thread of thought, via a series of black lines painted on the gallery walls, connecting the pieces, and providing a linear map to guide viewers through the space. Anchoring this exhibition is Azad’s first major installation, titled “Space Invader(s): I”. Standing at 17 feet in length, it is primarily made up of around 800 cups with cast fiberglass lids that replicate Starbucks’ takeaway coffee cups. Azad began working with this fiberglass technique in 2013 with “Private Funk”, a flat fiberglass work finished in auto paint. He went on to experiment with this technique by casting 6 feet high iPhone covers in his popular iPhone series, indicating a desire to push his practice into three dimensional shapes. With “Space Invader(s): I”, he successfully achieves this through the production of these complex-shaped coffee cups and lids; indicating advancements in his mastery and control of this medium. Their cylindrical shapes proved to be technically-challenging, and had to be worked on a 360-degree plan, versus the artist’s typically flat stencils. In order to seamlessly connect the two different materials, Azad glued the lids to the bases before meticulously sanding them down, and applying a second undercoat over the first plastic glue primer. The cast cups are stylized; the distinctive Starbucks logo has been removed, and they are painted in a variety of auto paint colors, overlaid with a high gloss lacquer sealant. The cups were finally arranged in a meticulously pre-planned composition, building up images of Space Invader icons across the length of the installation. Thus, the original connotation of the logo-stamped coffee cups has been recast, and conversations on globalization and youth culture are initiated within a local context.
As Malaysia becomes increasingly educated, urbanized, and affluent, so too has there been a rise in consumer culture, a subject that holds known fascinations for Azad. These changes are occurring against the backdrop of twenty first century globalization, and the rise of social media. As such, individuals now have unprecedented access to products and lifestyle options. Consequently, larger global realities are integrated into smaller local ones, changing the landscape of how consumers think, act, and perhaps most importantly, spend. Social and cultural systems are now overlapping with each other’s values, morals, skills and tastes. Azad, in pointing to himself as a representative for the Gen Y demographic, dissects this phenomenon within a local context, utilizing the cups as metaphors for the shifting social landscape he observes. Where previous generations might have gathered at a mamak stall or kopitiam, Azad sees his generation drawn to the rising ‘café culture’. Throughout the city, international coffee chains such as Starbucks are springing up, pointing to a growing Western influence and homogenization of culture. While on one hand this can be viewed positively as a sign of society’s growing affluence, there is a flip side to the preference of a uniform global identity, particularly for a post-colonial nation. Recalling colonial ideas of Western moral and cultural superiority over the local, the artist questions if this homogenization is instead the surreptitious form of neo-imperialism suggested by Fredric Jameson? In trying to reconcile the multiple facets that construct his identity – from being a Muslim, to a Malaysian, to a member of Gen Y – Azad analyses the possibility that such a homogenization is in fact, an incomplete set of values that gloss over the complexities involved in carving out a contemporary cultural heritage? Or, he asks, is he being paranoid; and is a cup of coffee simply that: a cup of coffee?
Azad’s dialogue with Gen Y is made clear in these works, especially through the use of Space
Invader icons running across the exhibition. Indeed his ability to engage audiences in complex, critical discussions through highly relatable aesthetics is well documented, demonstrating an innate understanding of society’s functioning. The Space Invader icon here is directly appropriated from the popular video game that was created in the 1970’s, and has been a popular cultural icon for Gen Y. As Space Invader itself was a hallmark game that broke the barrier from novelty activity to global industry, it can be seen as a general nod to the gaming industry, as an example of how technology rapidly seeped into the everyday lives of today’s generations. Much like the rise of ‘café culture’, video games have transformed the social landscape, with regards to social and interpersonal interactions. Azad comments on his choice of this motif as an investigation into contemporary forms of ‘invasion’. He deconstructs the word ‘space’ into having a duality of meaning. On one level it could be referring to the galaxy itself, as a literal comment on the video game that aesthetically inspired him. This introduces an element of ‘lightness’ into what is essentially a serious discourse on globalization and neo-imperialism. On the other hand Azad speaks about the creation of a ‘space’ for dialogue, offering the staging of his solo exhibition as an area where audiences are able to reflect on a series of questions and thoughts, in an effort to consolidate their own critical viewpoint. As such, he indicates a desire for Space Invader(s) to act not only as a conceptual and technical progression for him creatively, but also as a ‘space’ in which critical thoughts and debates can be sparked.
What can be inferred from Space Invader(s) is perhaps the fact that a growing world economy and free trade cannot inaugurate a universal culture. With this body of works, Azad comments on the need to strike a balance between achieving modernization with a renewing of individual cultural traditions, as opposed to mimicking the ideas of an overarching Western identity. These ideas connect to his previous inquiries into consumer and popular culture, and subtly propose increased investigations into the rituals of daily life in twenty-first century Malaysia, in the search for a contemporary identity that can successfully invoke the complexities of mixing heritage and development.
BENCHMARK is a group exhibition comprises the works of five Malaysian contemporary artists; Hamir Soib, Masnoor Ramli Mahmud, Zulkifli Yusoff, Abdullah Jones and Abdullah Hamdan. The exhibition is open for public from 5th of February 2016 until 5th of March 2016 whilst the launching night will be held on the 18th of February on Thursday, 8 PM at Artcube. The Opening of the show will be officiated by our guest of honour, Puan Nori Abdullah.
(visit our facebook page to see the Artworks)
In contemporary societies, the role of the artist is considered crucial for cultural, political and social discourse. Understanding critical contemporary art to act as a mirror of contemporary culture, it offers a rich resource for society to reflect upon, as it considers ideas and rethinks the familiar. Socio-political art in particular has been an important part of the visual landscape for centuries, a way to challenge authority, and rethink social conventions, as has historically been seen in the works of luminaries such as Francisco Goya. Developing this thread of thought with updated and experimental mediums, contemporary artists encourage reflection and analysis, thus promoting intellectualism within society. Indeed, this trait is clearly apparent in the paintings of Hamir Soib. A titan of contemporary Malaysian art, Hamir has witnessed, and encouraged sweeping change in thought and behavior within the contemporary art world, with his large-scale witty observations of events within the rapidly evolving social landscapes of our time.
As a result of the scale and detail of his paintings, Hamir’s works are relatively singular. Accordingly, the opportunity to view a compilation of his paintings within a single exhibition is a rare treat. On the rare occasion he has had a solo exhibition, for example 2005’s Pameran Tunggal, they have gone on to be recognized as key markers within the timeline of Malaysian art history. Not only have Hamir’s solos marked new developments within his portfolio, but also they have acted as an indication of neoteric movements within the contemporary Malaysian art market. This can be attributed to a combination of his astute analytical and innovative abilities, as well as his far-reaching influence over the next generation of artists. These threads are again apparent here in Benchmark, where Hamir presents a selection of five important pieces. Created over the past year and a half, “Al-Fatihah”, “The Gatekeeper”, “Beban”, “Wasted Energy I” and “Wasted Energy II”, span a wide variety of established and inventive techniques, thoughts on culture and politics. As such, viewers are provided with a much-anticipated insight into the creative growth of arguably Malaysia’s favourite contemporary painter.
Centering this compilation are national, economic and political seam lines. Despite being painted within a singular timeframe, this collection appears split between two distinct styles. While four of the paintings are filled with perfectly detailed surreal imagery, “Al-Fatihah” is a monolithic example of the contemporary calligraphy style Hamir has been instrumental in popularizing. These two opposing visuals are bound together however, by the artist’s trademark responses to the socio-political landscape of current times. Consequently, these five paintings come together as a dynamic response to the changes in Malaysian society, raising critical discussions and promoting debate on subjects and histories in real time.
Hamir’s 2014 canvas “The Hot Seat” can be studied as a precursor to these new paintings. Despite the dreamy imagery of a riderless golden horse set against a starry night sky, “The Hot Seat” was a searing insight into Malaysian politics. Linking international events such as America’s pivot to Asia, the war in Gaza and the Russian and Ukrainian crisis with the unprecedented aviation disasters of MH 370 and MH 17, Hamir outlined 2014 as a year that saw Malaysia in a precarious political position. Often, these kinds of local struggles and superpower manoeuvres can lead to external and internal forces inciting unrest, resulting in colour-coded revolutions, as Thailand and Ukraine can testify to. The key to surmounting such issues, and making the choices that will lead the country to greatness lies with the leader, commented Hamir, as he has the final say on governance, diplomatic and economic policies. A cherry-red saddle seat acts as a metaphor for the desirable position of Prime Minister of a country that is literally made of gold, due to its abundant natural resources and a strategic geographical position. In a humorous play on the title and local political stratagems the ‘hot’ seat is twisted and warped from the heat it emanates, acting as a caution to approach the seat of power with care and respect.
Over the last year, Hamir has expanded on the ideas founded in “The Hot Seat”. He observes the split factions within society – political, social, racial and economic – attempting to articulate the cause of their emergence. “Beban”, “Wasted Energy I” and “Wasted Energy II”, are a direct visual response to ongoing socio-political issues the artist observes. Painted in a flawless realist style, these three works feature protective symbolisms, in the form of a metal diving suit, life raft and life vest respectively. However there is a twist in each visual, gently unsettling the canvases and sparking off points of discourse.
In “Beban”, the deep-sea diver is on land, with flames licking the edges of his metallic suit. A freshwater fish is detailed swimming in the diver’s helmet, which jars against the saltwater ocean depths where divers require such suits. There is a sense that the diver is in the wrong place, an idea carried over in “Wasted Energy II”. The perfectly detailed life vest, with long straps and a whistle, looks functioning. However, it is shown submerged underwater, where it is rendered useless, much like the raft in “Wasted Energy I”. At first glance, it appears to be an attractive, realist depiction of an object. Closer inspection reveals the raft has been nailed down at the top. The inclusion of the tiny nail completely transforms the boat’s functionality, explaining the slight sense of unease viewers feel despite the piece’s perfect finish. By achieving his aim to unsettle his audience, Hamir raises the issue of angst swirling around Malaysian society today, gently prompting viewers to reassess preconceived notions of the relationships between the individual, society and government. He questions, if society wants to continue on the paternalistic political path they are used to, where they place heavy expectations on the government, or if citizens are instead ready to begin accepting increased responsibility for themselves and contributing back to society at large for the greater good of all?
The works presented here are reflective of the skills Hamir has been developing over the last five years. “Beban” is a continued experimentation of his metallurgy paintings, as has been most recently seen in “The Hot Seat”, while “Wasted Energy I” and “Wasted Energy II” are a follow on of the perfect detailing from the Polo series. It is in “The Gatekeeper” however that viewers are shown several of Hamir’s signature styles in a single canvas. A large-scale work, it incorporates several of his most well known elements. Painted in bitumen, a notoriously difficult medium of which Hamir is considered the undisputed master, it involves intensive layering, resulting in the hidden images that emerge throughout, leading to a dreamy, gothic narrative on ideas of cultural gatekeeping.
Conceptually, “The Gatekeeper” mixes personal and wider social undertones. Hamir points out that as one aims for success on any front, there are members of the old guard jealously guarding the established status quo that need to be bypassed. By passing the gatekeeper is next to impossible, and often times they try to press others down in order to retain a dominant position. This can be linked back to the Malaysian art industry and the early years of Hamir’s career. In the 1990’s there was a strong focus on modernist artworks, with a general penchant for abstract pieces in four foot squared dimensions. Hamir broke out of this mould with his monolithic canvases filled with figurative visuals, often underscored by darkly humorous connotations. Despite his unquestionable talent, he struggled for several years within the conventional confines of the art world, which was reluctant to allow for such a dynamic, and drastic new movement. The gatekeeper is not pictured as triumphant however; here he is shown crouched on all fours, clutching a large sack as he slinks along with termites crawling around him. Audiences are left with the impression that no matter how hard he tries, he is unable to stem the march of progress, and is thus left behind in a bitter, twisted position. This parallels the local art industry, which through the emergence of private galleries and collectors, has embraced both Hamir and the critical contemporary movement, leaving archaic institutions far behind.
Rounding off this new collective of works is “Al-Fatihah”, Hamir’s largest in-depth calligraphy painting to date. Spanning an impressive sixteen feet in length, “Al-Fatihah” again deals with dual issues, personal and social. Hamir has spent a large portion of the last few years developing a strong contemporary calligraphy portfolio, commenting that his calligraphic works mark a personal journey into understanding the tenants of his religion and spirituality. At the same time, “Al-Fatihah” continues his commentary on the socio-political landscape of Malaysia today. As the country progresses and becomes richer, so has religion emerged as an increasingly potent force. Due to the advent of social media platforms, the masses are able to witness firsthand the opulent life lived by those who benefitted economically from Malaysia’s rapid development. Naturally this leads into questions of materialism versus spirituality, leading to an increased prominence of the role of religion in society. “Al-Fatihah” is imbibed with a talismanic quality, which neatly ties it in with the iconography present in “Beban”, “Wasted Energy I” and “Wasted Energy II”. The appearance of the phrase “Ihdina’s-sirata’l-mustaqim” (Guide us on the straight path) bisecting the expansive emerald green canvas clearly identifies the prayer. The remaining six lines from the prayer have been painted in layers over the canvas, one at a time, in an amazing display of technical prowess.
It is interesting to note that in an art industry largely dominated by talented and successful multi-disciplinary artists, Hamir has emerged as the favourite talent of a generation, with a portfolio devoted exclusively to painting. This speaks volumes to his mastery over his medium, as well as the experimentations and new developments within painting in Malaysia he has been crucial in developing. Through his immeasurable depth of concept and imagination, coupled with this bold, innovative handling of paint, audiences are able to understand how Hamir single-handedly captures the attention of the entire art industry, while providing a model for artists of later generations. As such, this rare collective of works are certain to go down in the canons of Malaysian art history as an exciting moment in the progression of the local art industry.
Masnoor Ramli Mahmud
Masnoor Ramli’s series Moulding The History is probably best described as a continuous examination on notions of politics, myths and events that personally fascinate the artist himself. By examining such ideas and framing them within a distinctly Malaysian context, Masnoor has demonstrated time and again his position as a key intellectual of our contemporary times. He reinforces this position with his latest piece from this important series, “Moulding The History – Mother Earth Mother Love”.
A long work measuring approximately eight feet by two feet “Moulding The History – Mother Earth Mother Love” is produced in Masnoor’s inventive photo print on aluminium style. The artist first unveiled this new medium in his celebrated 2014 solo Aviation, and has since gone on to rework and refine what is becoming a signature style in his multi-disciplinary practice. Printing images and photographs on a matte finished aluminium, he achieves an almost mythical quality through an experimental process. Usually the printing of images requires four base colours, but Masnoor cuts this down to three. By using the natural grey of the aluminium as a substitute for white, he lessens the intensity of his palette, while retaining the aluminium’s textural quality. As such, “Moulding The History – Mother Earth Mother Love” is imbibed with a dream-like quality that perfectly communicates Masnoor’s melodic, philosophical character.
Masnoor communicates a fascination between Heaven and Earth, or the tangible and intangible, using a NASA photoprint of the landscape on Mars as a starting point. Born in the 1960’s, Masnoor grew up in a generation where space exploration was a new and exciting phenomenon. The galaxy and other planets held an inexplicable, mysterious quality that has not lessened for the artist through scientific discoveries and new developments. Rather, he feels confronted by ever increasing questions, theories and possibilities. Recognising the photoprint sent by Viking 1, when it first landed on Mars as a milestone in scientific advancement, he investigates the reasons behind mankind’s unending desire to conquer new spaces, linking it to historic discoveries of New Lands by explorers such as Christopher Columbus. In doing so, he uncovers an inherent colonial tendency within mankind, situated alongside a desire for possibility and hope. As such, he blurs the dualities present within humans, much as the dualities between Heaven and Earth are increasingly blurred, in a commentary on the often-oppositional elements within a single existence.
In his essay Fascination From The Beginning Of Mankind, Alexander Soucek theories that astronomy and space travel are crucial cultural achievements, due to its demonstration of technological advancements and ability to feed intangible fascinations inherent in mankind. Certainly, the unknown realms of the universe hold an allure that navigates all cultures and generations. As such, “Moulding The History – Mother Earth Mother Love” can be seen as marrying together, highly current content with a technical finesse to reaffirm Masnoor’s position as a favourite within the Malaysian contemporary art world today.
In art, symbols are incorporated as solid visual representations of ideas or concepts that would otherwise be tricky to characterize. In contemporary art, symbols included from both popular culture as well as traditional icons easily categorize an artist’s heritage, his views and attitude and immediately open up forums for debate on their hypothesis of contemporary society. Noted international artists with this ability include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring, while in Malaysia, one of the most popular contemporary artists who incorporate vivid cultural iconography and symbolism, is the celebrated Zulkifli Yusoff.
An eminent artist who successfully works across the mediums of painting, sculpture and installation, Zulkifli has won many major awards. In both 1988 and 1989, he was presented with the Major Award for Young Contemporaries at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, and in 1992 he gathered three prizes at the third Salon, the Grand Minister’s Prize, Major Award and Consolation Prize for sculpture, and also won an Honourable Mention in Painting in 1995 at the Philip Morris Awards. Zulkifli has been invited to participate in several important international exhibitions, most notably at the Venice Biennale in 1997. He has also shown at the Biennale of Visual Arts in Seychelles, the Fukuoka Asian Art Exhibition in Japan, Immunity 11 show at Art Space, Sydney and the First Asia-Pacific Triennale in Brisbane, Australia. Major international institutions, including the Fukuoka Museum of Art, and Hiroshima Art Museum in Japan and the Singapore Museum and Gallery, as well as local institutions such as Bank Negara Malaysia and the Kedah State Gallery, collect his work.
Referencing his ever-changing environment and issues, through an intense research-based practice, is the cornerstone of Zulkifli’s practice, as is evident in his Green Book series. This series is a continued exploration on the rhetoric and policies of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, Tun Razak, which began with the series Tun Razak Speeches. His new works “Mari Kita Ke Ladang (Buku Hijau Series)” and “Berbakti Kepada Bumi (Buku Hijau Series)” follow on from 2014’s installation “Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book” in producing a contemporary narrative on the Green Book policies implemented by Tun Razak in the 1970’s. At the time, Malaysia’s economy was heavily dependent on the rubber industry, which was faced with an international price depression. Tun Razak recognized the need to create new economic avenues, and the agricultural initiative of The Green Book was launched. Zulkifli speaks to this historic precedent of economic diversification, which is a highly relevant conversation today. Under the stewardship of prime minister Najib Razak, Malaysia has again been seeing the implementation of several policies to ensure a sustainable and inclusive growth. As such, these works act as prime example of Zulkifli’s penchant for reinterpreting historical texts and events within a contemporary framework, so as to encourage intellectual discourse within society.
Technically, “Mari Kita Ke Ladang (Buku Hijau Series)” and “Berbakti Kepada Bumi (Buku Hijau Series)” are a refinement of the strip collage technique Zulkifli began developing with his seminal installation “Pendita”. This pair of mixed media triptychs is made up of fiberglass and epoxy resin, laid over fabric and canvas. While monochromatic palettes and neat linear compositions demarcate Zulkifli’s early strip canvas works, “Mari Kita Ke Ladang (Buku Hijau Series)” and “Berbakti Kepada Bumi (Buku Hijau Series)” feature intricate grid-based compositions and increasingly vibrant colours. The central panel of each work features a sculpted resin dome, inset with images of livestock and agriculture, while the borders on each panel, feature further such collaged images and texts such as jagung and ikan. This stark symbolism directly ties the two works in to the policies, texts and visions of The Green Book, seamlessly merging Zulkifli’s concepts and aesthetics.
Zulkifli strives to use his position as an acclaimed artist to propagate the values he holds in high regard such as patriotism and social awareness, as well as awareness on current and historical issues. His practice has evolved over the last two decades from a raw, slightly loose application, to a super-refined and intricately-detailed practice, mirroring his growing confidence and recognition both internationally and locally, as a vital component in Malaysia for the resonance of his creative practice within society, as is demonstrated here in “Mari Kita Ke Ladang (Buku Hijau Series)” and “Berbakti Kepada Bumi (Buku Hijau Series)”.
“Cakap Pasal Outside” and “Patriot Tak Reti Bahasa” are two new paintings by the Malaysian contemporary painter Abdullah Jones. Measuring five feet by six and a half feet each, these brightly coloured acrylic on canvas pieces are a wonderful mix of solemnity and humor. Worked in the artist’s signature expressive style, they form the basis of a new series for the artist, with sock puppets as a central icon.
Born in April 1964, Abdullah lives and works in Kuantan, Pahang. His place in the critical sphere of Malaysian contemporary is evident through his key involvement in the artist-run space Rajawali Art Studio, as well as his participation in several exhibitions. Abdullah has presented work not only locally, at exhibitions such as Gabung at Pahang State Art Gallery and Saudagar Cinta at Pahang State Art Museum, but also internationally in shows such as Un-Cut at Gallery Shambala in Copenhagen, and The Outsider Art at Octane Photographic Studio/Gallery in Ferndale, Minnesota. The attention Abdullah receives is in large part due to the critically questioning nature behind his paintings, presented in highly attractive, expressive aesthetics, as seen here in “Cakap Pasal Outside” and “Patriot Tak Reti Bahasa”.
With these new works, Abdullah aims to examine a series of current issues he observes affecting contemporary society. It is interesting to note that by living and working in the East Coast, he chooses to base himself in the heartland of Malay culture. In a post-colonialist environment such as Malaysia, he thus demonstrates an awareness of valuing one’s own culture as society re-establishes identity in the post-colonial era. This subject is strongly hinted at in “Patriot Tak Reti Bahasa”, whose title translates into “A patriot not understanding Bahasa (Malay)”. Language is central in uniting a nation and providing national identity, particularly in a multi-ethnic environment. Additionally, establishing Malay as the national language restores a sense of dignity to Malaysian citizens after a long period of being ruled by the British, who used English as a tool in suppressing the indigenous during colonization. In comprehending the role of language to patriotism, Abdullah thus questions the validity of identifying as a Malaysian, should one be unable to communicate in Malaysia’s national language.
Part of Abdullah’s success in establishing a strong rapport with his audience lays in the humorous tone his aesthetic offers. He softens the potentially sharp, stinging message of his paintings by incorporating a playful icon, that of the sock puppet. The inclusion of a childlike element is reminiscent of the works of pioneering Malaysian artist Zulkifli Dahlan. A strong influence on Abdullah, Zulkifli was fond of exploring social issues through cartoons and caricatures in works such as “Kedai-Kedai” (1973). Abdullah recognized the tension that results from merging contrasting whimsical and somber elements as being highly reflective of the issues swirling throughout contemporary society, resulting in these satirical, self-deprecating paintings.
“Cakap Pasal Outside” and “Patriot Tak Reti Bahasa” form the basis of a new series for Abdullah, as the artist continues to explore the state of contemporary society through a highly critical lens. Brightly coloured, thought provoking, expressive and filled with humor, they are an accurate reflection both of Abdullah himself, as well as his inspired artistic practice.
One of the assets of mixed media art is the versatility and beauty that can be achieved through the intense layering necessary in its production. In bringing together several mediums, textures and layers, this genre is a favourite for contemporary artists to visually communicate complex conceptual thoughts, particularly those of a socio-political nature. Pahang-based artist Abdullah Hamdan, who is part of the Rajawali artist collective, beautifully exemplifies this with his latest piece, “Golden Hearts”.A long work that measures three feet by twelve feet, “Golden Hearts” represents a new and experimental technical direction for Abdullah. While the artist is known for his carefully composed realist paintings, this triptych branches out into new territories, with the use of plastic toys, collage, acrylic and aerosol spray on canvas. While there is still a prominent painted element, in the form of the Malaysian flag that covers the centre panel, it differs from his usual practice of painting figures. The flag is flanked on either side by homochromatic white canvases swarming with tiny toy soldiers. Despite the vastly different aesthetic of this new piece, audiences familiar with Abdullah’s work can draw parallels between the artist’s previous painting-based practice and “Golden Hearts”, through his skilled compositional skills. The careful consideration with which Abdullah places the figure in his paintings has resulted in a training of composition, that is vital in mixed media art. As mixed media works are the result of a careful buildup of layers, the decision of each structural element’ placement is key in achieving a successful work. By branching out into this new genre, Abdullah builds on his existing skills to challenge his own creativity, while expanding his repertoire.
Abdullah’s progression into a new medium stems from his observations of the relationship between medium and message in contemporary art. Placing value on both aesthetic as well as content, he has investigated new ways of communicating visually with his audience. As is suggested by the prominence of the Malaysian flag, “Golden Hearts” explores themes of nationalism and patriotism. By placing the flag between swarms of white soldiers, Abdullah speaks about the two key elements he feels are central to the existence of patriotism. The first is the subject that generates such emotion, such as the national flag, and the second is the individuals who respond to the rallying symbol. The staff numbers of Malaysian policemen killed during the Bukit Kepong Incident stamped horizontally across the flag, further represents these patriotic ideals. A confrontation with the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency in 1950, the Bukit Kepong Incident was seen as a rallying point that strengthened the resolve of the Malayan government and people in the fight against communist insurgency. It is interesting to note that much as in the style of “Flag” by Jasper Johns, Abdullah seemingly wraps the center canvas in the image of his flag, presenting his audience with the choice to view it as either a flag or a painting. By changing the presentation of such a familiar symbol central to Malaysian identity, Abdullah gently raises the question of patriotism and nationalism within society at large today.
It is interesting to note that the two Rajawali artists presented h
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