BEBAS is a solo exhibition by Malaysia’s well-known contemporary artist : Suhaimi Fadzir. The exhibition is open for public from 21st of March 2016 (Monday) whilst the launching night will be held on the 24th of March on Thursday, 8 PM at Artcube.

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(Written by Zena Khan)

Over the span of his career, Malaysian artist Suhaimi Fadzir has drawn from a variety of influences – including the deconstructivist philosophies of Jacques Derrida, conceptualist techniques of Marcel Duchamp, formal aspects of Western art history, the history and contemporary environment of Malaysia, and his training as an architect – to create a unique blend of mixed media art he terms Archipainting. Despite being best known for this expansive, sculptural genre, in recent years, Suhaimi has been returning to experimenting with two-dimensional mixed media and painting works. His current solo, Bebas, here at Artcube Gallery, demonstrates the ease with which Suhaimi, a truly inter-disciplinary artist, is able to move between two, and three dimensions in his creative practice. At the same time, his position as a key intellectual thinker in contemporary Malaysian society is solidified, through the depth of ideas – ranging from themes of politics to society to religion – in the works presented.

Born in 1963 in Perak, Malaysia, Suhaimi originally trained as an architect at the Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. During this time, deconstructivism, as exemplified by employing shapes to distort or dislocate fundamental structural elements, emerged as a form of postmodern architecture. This influence has been strongly evident throughout Suhaimi’s artistic career. Indeed, his development of Archipainting can be seen as a fulfillment of the deconstructivist’s aim to show the construction and mergence of ideas and structures. Till today, Suhaimi maintains two studios, one in Malaysia and one in America, moving between them as he does between two and three dimensions in his art practice. He affirms that physically shifting between spaces enables him to broaden his insights on local social themes, by constantly infusing them with the discourses raised through viewing the world through different lenses. Through this layered way of working, Suhaimi manages to embody a truly cosmopolitan artist, whose works draw upon several international references, yet are infused with a strongly specific Malaysian cultural resonance.

Audiences and critics have responded well to his endeavors. Suhaimi regularly exhibits at important solo and group exhibitions, both in Malaysia and internationally. In 2012, he was awarded the Dublin Biennial Award of Excellence. Other important exhibitions he has participated in include the 12th and 13th Venice Biennale (Architecture), alongside famed photographer Ansel Adams in America, at the Saatchi Gallery, and at the GMCA I and GMCA II exhibitions in Malaysia. Critically, he has further established his relevance through the receipt of the prestigious Smithsonian Fellowship, as well the Art St Louis Residency programme, both in America. Several key artworks by Suhaimi can now be found in public and private collections in Malaysia, Korea, Ireland, China, USA, Indonesia, Singapore, UK, Japan, Philippine, Spain, Uzbekistan, Germany and Mexico.

Bebas brings together a wide selection of artworks by Suhaimi, which have been produced over the span of the past eight years. As such, the exhibition functions as a mini retrospective, highlighting a specific period of the artist’s career and documenting his progressions, technical developments, and conceptual threads, during this time. His penchant for assemblage is strongly demonstrated, particularly through the display of “Ferguson (For The People)”, Ferguson (Hands Up, Don’t Shoot)”,Merdeka 1957” and “Kontrak Sosial”. These four mixed media wall assemblages are composed mainly from found objects, a key material Suhaimi has regularly revisited over the course of his career. Audiences will note that these works are increasingly refined from those produced during his early Archipainting experiments. The composition of each piece is more structured, drawing inspiration from classical Western paintings, as opposed to the freer, expressionist style that demarcates his earlier works. Additionally the works have a finer finish. “Ferguson (For The People)” and “Ferguson (Hands Up, Don’t Shoot)”, made up predominantly from found metal objects, are perhaps the most visually similar to Suhaimi’s earlier works. However, in being anchored by extra-large steel woks with lights below them, the works are endowed with a smoother, and more polished finish overall. Similarly, “Merdeka 1957” and “Kontrak Sosial”, which are finished in dominantly-white palettes, show Suhaimi’s progression of Archipainting into an increasingly sleek, contemporary direction, echoing the refinement of society at large.

“Ferguson (For The People)”, “Ferguson (Hands Up, Don’t Shoot)”, “Merdeka 1957” and “Kontrak Sosial” feel like natural starting points from which to begin intellectually navigating Bebas. Not only do they assert Suhaimi’s creativity in inventing a genre, Archipainting, but also the elements in their compositions have had a strong influence that can be tracked throughout the rest of this exhibition. The razor blades that fill the backgrounds of “Merdeka 1957” and “Kontrak Sosial”, are again visible in “Angin Senja”, “Hadirnya Dendam Bila Sabar Sudah Tiada Di Hati”, “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Orange)”, “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Green)” “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Purple)”, juxtaposed against mixed media backgrounds, overlaid with print and neon lights. In presenting these works within the same space, in a singular exhibition, the gallerists’ communicate not only the artist’s development over time, but also that of assemblage within contemporary Malaysian art.

It enabling audiences to follow the more critical developments of Suhaimi’s practice over time, a weight is lent to Bebas as being an intellectual space in which he can raise discourse on subjects close to him, while demonstrating his technical mastery. This is clearly exemplified in “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Orange)”, “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Green)” and “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Purple)”, from the Jawi/Neon series, where Suhaimi simultaneously expands on his experimentations with neon lights and calligraphy. Over printed backgrounds filled with razor blades, Suhaimi personally inscribes calligraphy of verses from Surah An-Nur. The verses hold personal significance for the artist, who was introduced to their magnitude through an alternative medicine man, with whom he spent time. The calligraphy is repeated in neon lights that mimic Suhaimi’s own Arabic writing, and are affixed to clear Perspex panels overlaying the pieces. Steel cookware, such as saucepans and pots, are arranged in a neat box across the bottom third of each piece, creating a visual link back to “Ferguson (Hands Up, Don’t Shoot)” and the artist’s penchant for metallic found objects. As a mixed media artist, Suhaimi demonstrates an innate understanding of the need to carefully structure his works through the use of several layers. The base of “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Orange)”, “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Green)” and “Allah Is The Light Of The Heavens And The Earth (Purple)”, are initially primed with black and white imprints of luxury brand logos, seemingly as a nod to the materialization of increasingly affluent societies, such as Malaysia. He links these works visually to “Hishammuddin Hussein Onn”, by repeating these prints as the initial layer on the artwork’s surface.

A large-scale triptych, “Hishammuddin Hussein Onn” is a nod to the three generations of the Onn family who have been pivotal to Malaysian politics since Independence. Each canvas features a large painted portrait – the first is of Onn Jaafar, founder of UMNO, the next is his son, Tun Hussein Onn, the third prime minister of Malaysia, and the last is of Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, the current Malaysian Minister of Defence. Over the printed logos, Suhaimi prints a scaled-down mix of the three portraits, before painting over them with expressive double layers of faces that give each canvas a sense of movement. In painting the portraits of these members of one of the country’s most prominent political dynasties, in an expressive, contemporary style, Suhaimi nods to historical traditions of depicting influential figures while expanding the canon of Malaysian contemporary painting.

Hishammuddin Hussein Onn” is from the Merdeka series, which explores personal observations of nationalism, the Malaysian constitution, and social contract, as well as political issues. ‘Merdeka’, the Malay term for ‘independence’, commonly denotes Malaysia’s independence from the powers of colonial Britain. As such, these works are meant to explore the Malaysian constitution in terms of the original structure; that is, what it was meant to convey and subsequent interpretations in modern times. The other work included in Bebas from this series, “Standing Tall (RAHMAN)”, clearly depicts this through detailed layering of images, portraits and text. At 42 feet long, this work weaves an intricate narrative on the “Rahman Myth” alongside a discussion on the successful policies by previous Malaysia leaders that have propelled Malaysia into prominent economic and political positions on the global stage. The “Rahman Myth” suggested that the initial letter of the first six Malaysian prime ministers would come together to spell RAHMAN. Suhaimi questions whether the foretelling of this anagram was a myth or coincidence, given the fact that it has actually come to pass. From this, he goes on to ruminate on the contributions of each of the six prime ministers to Malaysia, in particular Tun Abdul Razak, who is often referred to as “Bapa Pembangunan”. Several of Tun Razak’s policies, such as the New Economic Policy, which was focused on the eradication of poverty and social construction through rural development and education, have been major contributing factors to the increased urbanization, development and affluence witnessed by Malaysians today. With a complex layering of collages, acrylic, emulsion, and medium transfer, Suhaimi brings together key images, symbols, and points that speak to the impact of these six prime ministers, in an aesthetic that a contemporary audience can connect to with ease.

In presenting a cross-section of works by Suhaimi from the past eight years, Bebas enables viewers to understand the artist’s creative progressions – technical, creative, and conceptual. As such, this exhibition situates Suhaimi within the context of the Malaysian contemporary art movement, as a key innovative figure, who continues to make important contributions to the canons of Malaysian art history.