Islamic calligraphy has a long-standing place in the art of Muslim societies, yet what is particularly exciting in Malaysian contemporary art is the representation of strong social and personal themes through the exploration of religious text. Well-poised to delve into this is the celebrated painter Hamir Soib, who has been developing a strong calligraphic portfolio over the past five years, culminating in his latest painting Wasiat (The Will) which strongly demonstrates Hamir’s particular ability to build on the lessons of past work so as to take huge strides forward artistically.
Wasiat (The Will) is an 8 feet by 8 feet acrylic and bitumen on canvas painting featuring the phrase, Fabi-ayyi ala-i rabbikuma tukaththibani (“Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny?”) from Surah Ar-Rahman in the Quran. Hamir is newly emerging from a five-year monochromatic period, which provides the bright turquoise background with a fresh and unexpected affection. Radiating in a spiral from the very centre of the painting is the Arabic calligraphy Fabi-ayyi ala-i rabbikuma tukaththibani. It is interesting to note that the script itself has been painted in bitumen, an unusual medium that is notoriously difficult to handle, yet which Hamir has mastered over the course of his career. The calligraphy appears as if floating in the centre of the canvas, emitting a glow from its heart. While appearing simple and clean, this effect is in fact testament to the masterful control Hamir has over his mediums of paint and acrylic as well as his incredible ability to paint with layers, and is achieved through repeated layering with a dry brush over the set bitumen.
The artist once gave his late father a blank canvas and charcoal with the instructions to write something, and his father, a highly religious man, inscribed the opening lines from the Surah Ar-Rahman, which led the artist to begin studying that particular verse in the Quran. He found the phrase Fabi-ayyi ala-i rabbikuma tukaththibani was repeated thirty times, and realized that the concept of gratitude is clearly key here. Hamir has since theorized that this is his father’s actual legacy to him, the fundamental values of bersyukur (gratitude) and holding true to his core values, which leads Surah Ar-Rahman to resonate deeply with him out of all the verses in the Quran. In a similar recollection the artist relates his father writing Bismillahirrahmanirrahim (In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful) on the arches of his house in the evenings, and now realizes that it was not to decorate the house but to protect it, leading him to hypothesis that these words are often imbibed with protection and enchantment as it were.
The calligraphy is painted free hand in a font that is developed by Hamir himself, from a linear form of the verse. Recognising a flow to the phrase, and the timeless quality it possesses, he began painting it cyclically to represent a sense of infinity. The letters themselves have sharp points, reflecting the sharp tone in which the verse itself is delivered. To the top right edge of the calligraphic circle viewers can notice a sundial, which provides a Momento Mori element to the work, keeping in line with the concepts of life and death and gratitude.
Traditionally artists produce tributes to their parents in the form of portraits, yet Hamir has prescribed a calligraphic work as his tribute to his late father, documenting what he describes as the will his father has left him with. Hamir typically produces socio-political works so the highly personal content of Wasiat (The Will) is exciting as a personal insight into the thought process of a highly conceptual artist, who is also one of the most illustrious painters in contemporary Malaysian art. Hamir’s ability to produce a calligraphy that combines several developments from his recent works, the perfect handling of bitumen, self-developed Arabic script and bright colour palette, with a decidedly private subject, marks Wasiat (The Will) as a thrilling new painting which sets the stage for his new series to be presented in 2014.
written by Zena Khan
artist : hamir soib
type : acrylic & bitumen on canvas
dimension : 245 x 245 cm
price : RM 80, 000.00