Mihraj @ NVAG

Subtitled “Aku Hanya Seorang Tukang Cerita”, this collection exhibits the artworks from one adventitious prodigy, if we believe the story. The narrative hook begins with a Buddhist temple from Alor Setar, together with a tale about a missing bird, which welcome the visitor into Gallery 2B. Next to it is a small painting with sinuous lines, done in green because the artist had only that colour at that time. ‘Langsir Hijau’ won prizes when he was 16 years old, and affirmed Anuar’s outstanding technical skill for one so young. At 20, his seminal work ‘Kelahiran Inderaputera’ was disparaged for only focusing on the surface (by Sulaiman Esa), and described as mystical (by Choong Kam Kow). In the same year, Redza Piyadasa bought and painted his work black, then renamed it as an ‘Art Proposition’. Not everyone was dismissive, as Syed Ahmad Jamal did declare Anuar as “the new sensation of the Malaysian Art scene, perhaps its brightest star yet”.

Tanpa Tajuk (1985)

Following on his initial success, the artist utilised the Malay folktale to imbue mythical interpretations, seen in works such as ‘The Journey of Inderaputera’, ‘Sementa Pura’, and ‘Gegak Gempita Jin Dikar Agus, Jin Tamar Buga’. Its luminescence mesmerise, where colours and lines seem to be derived from prisms, and fantastical creatures manifest within cloud and ice. Influenced by the Devils Mountain scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his subjects are always portrayed in the act of emerging. Skyward projections visually uplift, as subsequent series “Wind, Water and Fire” and “Flight to Paradise” reinforce a distinguished style. Fortuitously for Anuar, brilliant paintings with little figuration was popular during this time after the implementation of the National Cultural Policy.

The Journey of Inderaputera (1979)

The Anak Alam member travelled around Europe after his early success, where some interesting watercolours from this period are displayed here. ‘Tanpa Tajuk’ shows a man torn apart by natural elements (ground, water, fire, wind, and light), pointing to the horrors of war that he may have come across during his travels. Exhibits in this gallery ends with a story of a friend who died after ingesting poison, one day after Anuar was chased out of his temporary residence by the National Art Gallery’s former director. The recalcitrant artist takes the opportunity to reproach Redza – “…aku tidak pasti dia dapat memahaminya.” – in a wall text for ‘Leaking In Cube’. Taking into account ‘Kelahiran Inderaputera’ produced a year earlier, this small work displays a keen sense for space and scale, and also a disposition for parallel dimensions seen in his more recent illustrations of wormholes and vortexes.

Leaking In Cube (1977)

The separation between the two exhibition spaces and its contents is unnecessarily vague – one is labelled “The End of a Beginning”, while the other “The Beginning of an End”. Representative works from his earlier series are shown in the former, yet ‘Leaking In Cube’ is placed in the latter space, which cavernous interior suits large format works better. Visitors are dwarfed by huge fantastical pictures that fill the hall, many which are inscribed with reflective Arabic verses. 'Assalamualaikum Ya Bani Adam' overwhelms anyone near the doorway, while the seven paintings that make up “Asma Al-Husna” is breathtaking to view at one go. Deference to the creator leads to compositions that distance the viewer far away from the canvas, like watching an apocalypse movie in a cinema. Flying steeds dominate as a subject matter – from the Malay Merak Emas to the Islamic Burāq, the Greek Pegasus to the contemporary jetliner.

Installation view of "Asma Al-Husna" series

The stunning visuals in these new works are repetitive and prosaic, signifying “The Beginning of an End”. It is obvious from the wall labels that Anuar’s re-emergence in the local art scene after 20 years, is financially rewarding. Abstract splendour is again in vogue, especially if Jawi writings are included, for those who prefer art that illustrate the Muslim component in Malaysian identity. Anuar’s transition from reliance on the Inderaputera myth, to depicting the transcendental journey of the Mihraj, indicates one soul-seeking individual who found peace with God, artistic development notwithstanding. Viewing paintings of a landing aeroplane, Stargate, and a Dassault Mirage fighter jet, one cannot help feel that in this unfortunate year of aviation incidents, magnificent pictures with imagined narratives can be a story worth looking out for.

Pangg! Sebelah Sayapnya Ditampar, Ia Tiada Lagi Disitu Israk Miraj - Jet Seq-11 (2013)