13 May 2014

The Fine Art Of Fabrics @ Sasana Kijang (I)

Bank Negara's art gallery director Lucien De Guise observes, that "(i)n Malaysia, where textiles are the lifeblood of the nation’s creative heritage, textiles have an elevated position." This exhibition attempts to classify textiles as fine art, making reference to three established Malaysians whom also share mentor-student relationships. Exhibited at the entrance are formative examples of the represented artists - Syed Ahmad Jamal's geometrical forms, Sivam Selvaratnam's joyful designs, and Fatimah Chik's symmetrical batik chops. A major contributor to local art, Syed Ahmad successfully blurs the line between craftsman and artist, evident in the splendid vertical designs displayed. From University of Malaya's collection, the iconic 'Allah' utilises shimmering threads in its jawi calligraphy, set upon a harmonious stack of colour bands.

Syed Ahmad Jamal - Tumpal (1975)

In his efforts to craft a local identity which matured into the adage Rupa dan Jiwa, Syed Ahmad turned away from "curving brush strokes in the 60s to solid and tranquil pictorial structures in the late 70s, based on the design of pandan mats..." (Syed Ahmad Jamal, Seni Rupa Islam) This minimalist shift is manifest in tumpal, a triangle that represents the artist's spiritual beliefs, distilled through the relationship between three lines. In 'Tumpal' (acrylic painting), a golden pyramid floats in the middle of the canvas, its diagonal lines connecting heaven and earth. The songket work bearing the same title, however, features two triangular forms at top and bottom. The atmospheric background of blended paint is replaced by horizontal colour bars, but a strong sense of serenity remains because of its distinguished shapes.

Syed Ahmad Jamal - Adelaide (1985)

Translating a painted landscape onto cloth is the binding objective, wherein shades and tones project visual depth. In 'Adelaide', made ten years later, an impressionist vista with river and trees, emerge from a geometrical configuration. Gold and silver threads illuminate basic shapes, while the harmony of colours underlie an unbearably idyllic scene. Form and representation carry equal weight in the accomplished 'Hujan Pelangi', its shimmering bars spaced perfectly apart. Abstract first-person perspectives of nature is Syed Ahmad's interpretation of Islamic art, although the snapshot captures of an expansive landscape, do not fit into the byword no beginning and no end, used to describe Islamic art. The exhibition introduction refers to the "restrictive format of songket", yet hanging fabric imbues a dynamic quality to the artist's pictures, that is less apparent in his paintings.

Syed Ahmad Jamal - Hujan Pelangi (1988)

Around the corner are studies for songket murals on graph paper, which provide an insight into the artist's structured art making approach. Curved lines create visual interest within grid arrangements, a fundamental principle that is amplified in the broad golden diagonal seen in 'Tumpal' (songket). Completing the survey of Syed Ahmad's works within the curatorial theme, are photographs of tapestries hung at Istana Budaya. Designed by the artist and fabricated by Ahmad Badarudin Fadzil, stories from Malay folklore are rendered in his signature abstract style. Judging from the exhibits, songket is the medium better suited, to express Syed Ahmad Jamal's understanding of the formal and spiritual properties in line, colour, and space. His influence is apparent in the works of the other two exhibiting artists, spiritual beliefs notwithstanding. [Part II]

Syed Ahmad Jamal - Kajian untuk Mural Songket 14 (1980s)

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