Convergence of Souls @ Black Box

With ongoing shows of modern/ postmodern Malaysian art presented in other parts of town, Fergana Art’s annual showcase is an impressive collection of works from generations past, also serving as a private sales exhibition targeted at institutions. Syed Ahmad Jamal rightfully headlines this collection – Puncak Purnama controversy or not – with the magnificent painting ‘Sidang Roh’. A dark purple background swirls and envelops the artist’s characteristic twin peaks, where a stream of arching white light touches one green pyramid. Overlapping paint layers represent metaphysical planes, and evokes a spiritual realisation. Interpreted together with Kassim Ahmad’s stirring poem, the painting offers a contained reaction to the brash prose.

Syed Ahmad Jamal – Sidang Roh (1970)

“…kalau kau percaya kepada manusia sejahtera
jangan kau bergembira mengikut hidup/ (karena kemenangan)
kalau kau percaya kepada manusia bebas
jangan kau berkata mengikut hukum/ (kerena taatsetia)
karena tidak ada hukum yang akan berlaku/ (namun digubal dalam pi bi bi)
yang tidak berpelembagaan di hati.”
- verses from the first part of Sidang Ruh by Kassim Ahmad, Petaling Jaya, 1960 [poem in full at]

Joseph Tan – Graffiti Series (1969)

‘Sidang Roh’ presents a mature development in Syed Ahmad’s abstract style, which overshadows the earlier and more immediate ‘Chairil Anwar’, the latter work created a decade prior. An early painting and sketches done for his ‘Perhubungan’ sculpture are also on show, which allows visitors to appreciate the growth in one artist’s oeuvre. Such observations are the strength in this exhibition of many well-known artists. Looking at beautiful colour washes in an unfinished Tambun landscape by Joseph Tan, it is jarring to see the underlying angst in his “Graffiti series” hung nearby. ‘Dead’, a charcoal drawing covered with broken Perspex screen by Bayu Utomo Radjikin, presents a shocking portrait. Within a few years, however, the artist moved away from direct social commentary into abstract expressionism, which are frankly inferior when displayed beside old Yusof Ghani works.

Bayu Utomo Radjikin – Dead: Nik Nurul Suhada when she was fighting for her life at the Terengganu Hospital (1993)

Etchings dated between 1978 to 1980 by Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim are visually stunning, where works such as ‘3 Sequences’ and ‘Trace of Memories’, draw surreal pictures of an imaginary landscape (and would look great if converted into CGI). The “Serangga” series made three decades later retains his technical brilliance, but utilises a more recognizable subject matter. Other interesting prints include a clever layout of four Ismail Hashim photographs featuring chairs, each developed at a different time, yet clearly projecting his uncanny ability to highlight time passing. Two erotic silkscreens by Long Thien Shih (one so vulgar that viewing it requires a private appointment) are crowd pleasers, along with a number of works from Ismail Zain’s landmark “Digital Collage” series.

Abdul Mansoor Ibrahim – Trace of Memories (1979)

Unfortunately, small monochrome artworks fail to hold this visitor’s gaze in the presence of large colourful paintings. One example of the latter is Ismail Mustam’s ‘Three Horizons’, an astonishing triptych completed by the artist when he was 21 years old. Ismail’s smaller untitled figurative works are equally accomplished, where bodies in dramatic poses signify a youthful bravado. Done around the same time is the “Pago-Pago” series by Latiff Mohidin, which two landscape format paintings are displayed here. Reputedly gifts to artist peers, it is interesting to see the muted palette and close-up perspective utilised, as compared to the more popular Pago-Pago image of conflated tower(s) in primary colours.

Latiff Mohidin – Pago Pago (1967)

Walking past an oversized charcoal drawing of one migrant worker by Wong Hoy Cheong, and a delightful literal depiction of kepala batu by Fauzi Tahir, I stand before a stainless steel wall sculpture by Mad Anuar Ismail. Resembling a pendulum clock from a dystopic future, ‘Belangkas’ projects a powerful counterweight to the lofty ‘Sidang Roh’ hung across the gallery. Luminous painted stripes cover this representation of a living fossil, its metaphorical reference to a long-life deadweight perhaps describing the Malaysian Official 1… As a platform for encouraging institutions to collect, it is notable that the majority of exhibits are classified as modern Malaysian art, and all represented artists are male. A convergence of middle-aged men, biasalah.

Mad Anuar Ismail – Belangkas (2016)