January 20, 2013
In search of the Sacrosanct
by Sarah NH Vogeler@www.nst.com.my
Taman Nurani — Islamic Impressions In Malaysian Contemporary Art at Galeri Petronas elucidates the artists’ ceaseless pursuit of the divine, writes Sarah NH Vogeler
IT is always a vivifying experience visiting Galeri Petronas, far from the madding crowd, in another universe with no sales personnel and pitches.Just art. Plenty of it. Bliss.
Its latest engagement: A voluminous 57 works, beginning from the 1970s, highlighting compelling pieces in the collections of Galeri Petronas, The National Visual Art Gallery and several private collectors.
These have been classed under four themes: Abstract Works: Manifestations Of Spirituality; Landscapes: Reflections Of God’s Greatness; Cultural And Traditional Motifs: The Continuation Of Tradition Into Contemporary Art; and, Calligraphy: Transformation In Contemporary Art.
Guest curator Professor Dr Muliyadi Mahamood explains: “Taman Nurani aspires to contemplate the development of form and content of works with an Islamic motif in Contemporary Malaysian Art; to put forward works pervaded with an Islamic inspiration as a reflection of the artists’ commitment in visualising the spiritual element of art, and to analyse the impact of related aspects on the development of contemporary Islamic art in Malaysia.”
Within the ambience of contemporary Malaysian art, Abstract Works: Manifestations Of Spirituality showcases restrained and methodical works with abstract ministrations based on geometrics, contours and motifs, and the more revealing and impulsive caresses of an organic persuasion; both styles equally cogent, as seen in Dr Sulaiman Esa’s Nurani (1983) and Ke Arah Tauhid (1983).
One of the most salient artists exploring Islamic issues in the context of contemporary art in Malaysia, Sulaiman’s investigations represent the acme of the Tawhid concept. He emphasises: “Through Islamic art, a Muslim artist strives to integrate his religious belief/life with his creative/artistic one.”
This complex approach is also evident in Langit Dan Bumi I and III (1998 and 2000 respectively) by Malaysia’s National Art Laureate, the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal (right), whose 1978 Rupa dan Jiwa exhibition held in Universiti Malaya became an impetus to re-examine the artistic characteristics of Malay art.
Following a seminar held in Institut Teknologi Mara’s School of Art and Design (now the Faculty of Art and Design, Universiti Teknologi Mara) in 1979, Muliyadi observed that a significant number of Malaysian artists attempted to constitute a kinship between traditional and contemporary forms of art, including through the visualisation of an Islamic inspiration, giving birth to exhibitions such as Malaysian Islamic Art: Traditional And Contemporary Art (Festival Istiqlal, Jakarta, 1991), Islamic Identity In Malaysian Art: Achievements and Challenges (National Art Gallery, 1992) and The Malay World Exhibition (National Art Gallery — Galeriwan, 1999).
The expression and revelation of spirituality immortalising the artists’ sentiment and insight is perceptible in Abdul Latiff Mohidin’s visually-arresting Gita Summer II (2005) and Voyage I & II (2005), Mohd Sanip Lasman’s The Grace (1990), Siti Zainon Ismail’s Kubah Hijau Jingga (1994), Khalil Ibrahim’s After Figure (1990), Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir’s Illusion (1983) and Two Figures (1988), and Roskang Jailani’s Nature XIV (2002).
And one’s tracks are halted by the sight of Ramlan Abdullah’s larger-than-life Unity In Diversity (2012), a steel construct which dismisses the conviction of an alpha and omega; there is no beginning or end, only the infinite.
In Landscapes: Reflections Of God’s Greatness, Abdul Latiff Mohidin’s Teluk Kumbar-I (2005), Yusof Ghani’s Rimba Terjun (2000), Pasir Mas (2000) and Batu Laut (2000), Ilse Noor’s Kebun Mimpi (1982) and Taman Impian (1989) all lean towards the four stages of the creative process of Islamic art as indicated by Professor Dr D’zul Haimi Md Zain in his book, Seni Islam (2007); imitation of nature, conception, stylisation and abstraction.
These artists’ portrayal of nature spurns naturalism, depicting its exquisite complexion in a more conformed manner. Raja Zahabuddin Raja Yaacob’s Keagungan Tuhan (1991), Haron Mokhtar’s Nostalgia Masjid Jamek, Kuala Lumpur (1989) and Mohd Azlan Mohd Amin’s Amalan Mulia II (1992) channels the intimation of Islam through Man’s profound reverence to God.
Professor Dr Zakaria Ali stated in Seni Dan Seniman (1989) that art must be refined, useful, cohesive, balanced and significant.In Taman Nurani, the cultural and traditional motifs utilised, although florid, are also powerful as attributes of the Malay culture which is rooted in Islam.
These artists are driven by their devotional and cultural environment, as well as the search for a national identity, as seen in Hashim Hassan’s Deir Yassin Dikenang (1987), Khatijah Sanusi’s Warisan II (1994), Mastura Abdul Rahman’s Interior No 29 (1987), Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir’s Garden of the Heart II (2004), Awang Damit Ahmad’s Essence of Culture III (1991), Ruzaika Omar Basaree’s Siri Dungun (1981), Fatimah Chik’s Unity In Harmony (1996) and Nizar Kamal Ariffin’s Pohon Beringin (2001).
Some of the more prominent Malaysian artists who use or are inspired by calligraphy in their art include Syed Ahmad Jamal, Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Omar Basaree and Omar Rahmad.
Taman Nurani beckons the world with Omar Basaree’s gold emblazoned Iqra (1969) alongside Ahmad Khalid Yusof’s Dimensi (1992), Nizar Kamal Ariffin’s Khat Muhammad (2006), Omar Rahmad’s Kalimah Syahadah (1984), Husin Hourmain’s Menanti Senja (2010), and Harun Abdullah Combees’ Allah Muhammad (1994). Calligraphy mirrors the artists’ reference to the Holy Quran, the decisive beacon for Muslims.
We have come a long way since Universiti Malaya’s 1975-endeavoured Pameran Seni Khat (initiated by Syed Ahmad Jamal). From then to Taman Nurani, we have witnessed a momentous and eloquent progression in Malaysian Islamic contemporary art, which Muliyadi hinted at the possibility of an extended world tour — London, Paris, New York perhaps?
As Professor Dr Zakaria Ali, the Harvard alumni-artist-scholar-extraordinaire succinctly summarises, a remounting of Taman Nurani is pivotal to gain international recognition, for fear of becoming insular otherwise. And as evidenced in the works, these Malaysian artists are of world calibre.
They bring to mind the lyrics of an M.Nasir song, of a soul which seeks:
Hanya kepadamu kekasih
Jawapan yang belum kutemukan
Yang bakal aku nantikan
Bila malam menjemputku lena beradu
It is the collective and lingering response from Taman Nurani; one of contemplation, of longing, in search of the sacrosanct.