Getaran @ White Box

Stopping in front of the monumental ‘Perentas Ribut No. 18’ on my way to White Box, I grinned in anticipation at visiting Mad Anuar Ismail’s long-awaited solo exhibition. The last couple times Fergana Art brought in works by the artist were astonishing steel sculptures, or so I thought – ‘Belangkas #4’ is in fact made from painted canvas wrapped around a steel wire structure! Off pedestals, onto walls. Nevertheless, there are two steel creations from the “Pahlawan” series, among the wall-hung fixtures exhibited. With its sharp contours and headdress outlines, these striking sculptures showcase the artist’s masterful technique, where glittering welded joints and bronze fillings accentuate its presentation. As indicative in the series’ namesake, these are heroic and awesome sculptures. In contrast, the majority of exhibits utilize a new approach of painted canvas on steel structure.

Pahlawan #6 (2017)

Upon inspection, these recent works recall soft sculptures. Gestural figures become stately portraits, its static presentation concentrating the semangat/tenaga onto an emblematic icon instead of allegorical characters. “Yes, it’s a bust portrait”, Mad Anuar says, referring to the five works from the “Wayang” series. Like figureheads carved onto boat prows, these are not reverential figures on plinths, but a group of personalities with individual characteristics. Its cast of characters resonate little with me, although the applied forms fascinate. From triangular sunrays on ‘Rama’ and ‘Laksamana’, to ‘Sita’s and ‘Rawana’s wiry flourishes, the shapes are minimalist yet effective. Tudung saji-like weavings connect these portrayals to a cultural tradition; Strangely, its colours remind me of the five elements 五行 of Chinese cosmology…

Ibu dan Anak (2017)

The remaining wall pieces project more accomplished and less moralistic depictions, without the scale constraints of “bust portraits”. A captivating example is ‘Ibu dan Anak’, with its canopy-like crowns and stretched canvas (instead of woven strips). Sewn ridges recall the textured surfaces of Mad Anuar’s steel creations, where the sculpture is now dressed in painted clothes, thereby augmenting tenderness to a delicate portrait. ‘Penari’ displays joyful colours, the wavy trails describing a spiritual uplift, its shape recalling also a soaring eagle. Hung next to it is ‘Kelibat’ and its floaty impression of torn fabric, with sides bent outwards like burning paper. Metal rods join two sections at the middle to form a pattern, its filling left bare against the white wall, for viewers to complete the (hopefully) chromatic image. The centre seems to hold a sacred truth; Perhaps this space offers a glimpse of the ideal sublime form?

Kelibat (2017)

The exhibition, however, is overshadowed by the towering presence of ‘Meditasi #4: Penghormatan kepada Ibu’. Placed off-centre in the gallery, intertwining forms emerge from a single 7-feet tall block of raintree wood. Its mild steel base resembles a keris hilt, but looks more like a mismatched container that can barely hold the majestic carving. Yes, mother nature provides, but how empty is its core? Organizer Jaafar Ismail describes in his foreword, “(t)his is a work that forces itself into the show, offering its role as a cardinal centrepiece, from which the others radiate; The ‘Semangat’ of Meditasi must have emanated out of the ‘Primordial’ Mad Anuar. The raw power which reinforce the autonomy of the artist is much evident…” The exhibition catalogue also includes writings by artist and collector peers, providing insights to the artist’s philosophy of art, and formative snippets that led to the making of wall pieces.

Installation snapshot of Meditasi #4: Penghormatan kepada Ibu (2017), with “Wayang” series in the background

Interviewed by studio partner Mansoor Ibrahim, Mad Anuar gives a simple explanation behind these wall pieces. “Sekiranya saya buat pameran solo nanti… dinding saya sangat bogel! (…) Jadi why not saya buat “3D painting!” This recent approach successfully expands Mad Anuar’s repertoire, while preserving his artful concerns. The ductile and fully-formed wire shape denotes a literal framework for cultural motifs and personal observations. Canvas strips recall Zulkifli Yusoff and a uniform shredding of the painting tradition; Yet the colours of wall pieces have symbolic tones, and its banded swathes showcase the artist’s unwavering dedication to craftsmanship. Should Malay painting be hanging off Malay cultural forms? Are these creations depicting a personal belief, or a critique? The tremors I feel then, is the yawning gap that separates the consummate craftsman, with contemporary art.

Close-up snapshots of wall pieces

“Seniman membaca alam.  Di dunia yang terbentang.
Dengan cakerawala yang memayungi siang atau malam.
Pohon-pohon, logam, pasir dan batu batan bagai aksara
Kalimat-kalimat yang kemas, lurus, lengkung atau panjang.
Dia merumuskan cerita yang tidak nyata meskipun yang terang.

Bacalah! Dan renungilah wajah.  Arca-arca yang diam, tetapi diam-diam memadam.
Takrif seniman yang memaknakan persekitaran: Sejarah, tradisi, bakat dan warisan
Atau hanya pergelutan sia-sia tentang masa depan.”
- excerpt from Tentang Arca dan Persekitaran (Untuk Mad Anuar: Seniman dan Pembaca Alam), poem by Baha Zain, July 2017

Penari (2017)