Stepping foot into PAM Centre’s lobby, one encounters broken bricks painted in black, where few pieces stand upon pedestals among its dense arrangement. The horizontal layout denotes a building plan (or an urban sprawl), while its vertical structures raise the visitor’s eyes to a background with two monochromatic paintings hanging on a concrete wall, where square apertures function as windows. For those unfamiliar with Ajim Juxta, the exhibition title states explicitly the artist’s concerns. “TUGU|UGUT” illustrates a disdain for built monuments and dominance hierarchies, yet its wordplay denotes too the conceptual limits of the artist’s expressions. Looking at charcoal-like objects clustered on the floor level, I imagined a thumping bassline to accompany these impressions of detritus, and wondered if moss would grow on these bricks as time passes. 

Installation snapshot on the ground floor: (2018) [foreground] Datar; [background, l-r] Tugu: Kubu; Tugu: Menara

It is a surprising coincidence to read in an interview then, that Ajim thought to explore the inclusion of audio elements in this exhibition, but ultimately did not do so due to resource constraints. With works hung across seven stories, this is already an ambitious show; Riskier still are the artistic collaborations Ajim undertakes with fellow artists, poets, and designers. Curator Sharmin Parameswaran describes this element of collaborations, as the artist “passing on his work for it to progress and change in the mind or hands of other artists and collaborators, which inevitably gives or feeds back to him (or not). An experience that also questions of how we relate to each other, the give and take of relationships.” This knowledge exchange results in writings and poems included in the exhibition publication, and formal manipulation of art mediums displayed at the show’s top floor. 

Snapshot of jotting with anagrams

The magnificent venue invites visitors to use the staircase, and the hanging of Ajim’s works follow this recommended walking path. Works from the “London Series” – done when he participated in the Khazanah Residency Programme late 2017 – are presented along the stairwell of the first two floors. Ajim’s ink drawings are particularly attractive, where built structures are fused with skulls and living postures. The imagined Babylonia of ‘Sometimes I Kneel’. The gleaming towers in ‘Tugu & Cerombong’. The resting forms of ‘Hunger Strike’. The posed mannequins in ‘Patung-Patung’. The grand curved roof of ‘Worship’. There appears to be a recognition that architecture can inspire awe, yet we need to equally acknowledge the human costs attached during its construction, and its inevitable decay… and fade to black (which visually transmutes to Ajim’s paintings).

Hunger Strike (2017)

While the idea of exhibiting art criticising monuments, in an architectural headquarters is a subversive one, the displays and building features complement each other aesthetically. When appreciating two “Raksasa” portraits, its reddish blood stains are accentuated via the ochre walls visible through windows. The same square openings let in sunlight, which gleaming brilliance is juxtaposed against Ajim’s white or black paintings, inducing visitors to step up to the hung works for a closer view. For the entire length of the fifth-floor corridor, small colourful paintings (‘Asas-Asas’) line its concrete walls, thereby infusing forms and colours into one robust but basic aesthetic. At this point, seeing a painting with red shades (‘Tugu: Tanah Merah’) displayed on a red brick wall, and above an ochre (modernist!) architectural model, feels like an inside joke. 

Installation snapshot on the second floor: (2018) [foreground, l-r] Harap; Kelam; Gelap

Jottings of anagrams are interspersed among exhibits; Notwithstanding philosophical inquiries into signs and language, anagrams offer a simple alternative lens both for the creative artist, and for the receptive audience. Several exhibits have titles that allow flexible interpretations, most notably the second-floor paintings – ‘Harap’ /parah, ‘Kelam’ /lemak, ‘Gelap’ /pegal, and ‘Rangka Pegal’ /karang gelap. Critically serious hope? Gloomy & fat? Stiffness in the dark? Such witty titles offer audiences entry points into Ajim’s abstract representations, where straight white lines cut through typically dark canvases, pointing to the presence and wilful annihilation of constructed structures. Collage is sometimes present, colours are overpainted in black, and painterly gestures & effects appear relatively muted. Some large paintings stand out for its visual power, among them ‘Penghuni Distopia: Anak’.

Monomania: Ugut (2018)

This spectral picture, with nearby exhibits consisting of the artist’s stuff in glass jars, result in a fifth-floor display that signposts the show’s walkthrough. Starting from the ground level, one follows an ascending path that builds upon the monumental theme – walking past sketches, drawings, abstract/wordplay, onto metaphorical demons and ruinous phantasms, then an introspective volte-face with “strong fundamentals” (small paintings titled ‘Asas’ /sasa), and the culminative undertaking of collaborations exhibited at the highest floor. The overall presentation resonates superbly with the artist’s intent of neutralizing dominance hierarchies, where the individual ego is intentionally let go at the figurative summit of art creation. That all collaborative pieces refer to the ground and its enduring quality – Syahbandi Samat’s “Tanah Pecah”, for example – contributes to the thematic coherence.

Installation snapshot on the fifth floor: (2018) [middle, foreground] Khazanah Siapa?; [middle, background] Penghuni Distopia: Anak

‘Penghuni Distopia: Rakus’ – one short, wide depiction of tangled bodies – hangs over “Batu Nisan” /ubat insan, the latter a series of works done collaboratively with Sliz. Sprayed graphics and stuck prisms adorn concrete slabs, the assemblages presenting a light-hearted jab at (digital) death, and the act of erecting a monument to memorialize death. “All bodies expire like cities. /Tombstones are the only way…”, begins Afi Noor in her poem After the Myth. Returning, and remembrance, are the concluding thoughts of a conceptual engagement that begins with monument, and threat. In one BFM interview, Ajim remarks, that “…whatever we do now, will end up in a museum…” Here, the monument is the creative act, and the threat, is the forgetting of the construction that makes up the monument. LUPA\PULA

Installation snapshot on the sixth floor: (2018) [top] Penghuni Distopia: Rakus; [bottom] Batu Nisan (x Sliz)


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