For the Imaginary Space: Selected Sculptures & Installations from the Pakhruddin & Fatimah Sulaiman Collection @ The Edge Galerie

As the story goes, sculpture in Malaysian art developed from a local crafting practice, and its modern form synthesises eastern and western traditions more effectively than painting ever did. Constantin Brâncuși springs to mind when one sees Tengku Sabri Ibrahim’s ‘The Warrior’, its elegantly elongated shape and shiny smooth surface, subscribing to features of the Romanian’s works. However, the abstracted figure takes after an enlarged keris hilt, with carved recesses that resemble fighting wounds. References to a traditional weapon, and the legends that come with it, transform this block of wood into Malaysian art. Also universally beautiful yet alluding to local culture is Mad Anuar Ismail’s ‘Telur Kencana 1’, which numinous qualities of khat (Arabic calligraphy) is presented in a wonderfully-balanced, inverted-point sculpture.

Tengku Sabri Ibrahim - The Warrior (1988)

Past and present mythologies anchor the best works, in this showcase of works from a prominent private art collection. Sharmiza Abu Hassan’s crookedly-hung ‘Alegori 1: Hati Nyamuk’ and Mad Anuar’s invigorating ‘Storm Riders 7’ are compelling interpretations of fables, although the exhibited studies fail to reveal additional insight. Multhalib Musa’s ‘By Default’ repeats a symbolic motif, both questioning and legitimising a constructed belief that consolidates power via racist proclamations. Fighting cockerels carved onto jambu laut woodblocks present a sublime amalgamation of printmaking and folklore, Juhari Said’s tall masterpieces once prompting Azman Ismail (whose twisted pole creation is featured here) to state, “…beliau (Juhari) mengeksploitasi makna dan falsafah ayam, sekali gus memperlihatkan nilai-nilai intelektual masyarakat Melayu tradisional.”

Juhari Said (2006) - [left] Laga; [right] Taji

An ethnic Malay background helps in appreciating Raja Shahriman, whose struggle with figurative representation and threatening gestures, manifest in three metal sculptures. Sinuous lines from the “Nafas” series, contrast with the direct statement-making of Zulkifli Yusoff, whose distorted subjects exhibited at the bottom of steps, negates any political intent that existed previously. Hung above the glossy floor, Paiman’s salvaged constructs suffer the same fate, although Sharon Chin’s cut-out “Monsters” allow for enlightenment upon torchlight inspection in a dark room. Contained within a Perspex box, Nur Hanim Khairuddin’s prize-winning spell book remains arcane and undiscovered. Compared to another collector-sculpture show held earlier this year, this exhibition suffers from a stuffy arrangement, the chosen display layout stifling the aura of the art object.

Multhalib Musa - By Default (2002)

Sculpture and/or installation-only art exhibitions are not common, and here the noble aim includes to “demonstrate the sheer range and diversity of the medium in this country”. This objective ultimately lets the show down, as personal taste is forgone in favour of “variety and breadth”, leading to an incoherent display of objects that promotes non-paintings as rare collectible. The catalogue foreword equates the couple’s collecting endeavours in the early 1990s to the Singapore Art Museum, unnecessarily blurring the lines between private collector and public institution. Curator Rachel Jenagaratnam even nullifies her influence, by beginning her essay with “(w)orking with art collectors is an interesting ball game…” and ending it with “…one would be hard-pressed to disagree that they are curators in their own right.”

[foreground] Bayu Utomo Radjikin - Growing, Edition 5/5 (2004); [background] Umibaizurah Mahir - Toys (Gerabak) (2006-2007)

In an interview, Pakha states the modest intention “…to elevate (appreciation of) sculptures to the level of at least painting or drawing…” Some exhibits are selected for its non-traditional media, which creates a spectacle when viewed out of context. Portraits on seashells, one lightbox, four glass jars, and a Sanyo rice cooker make the cut, to go along with more traditional bronze sculptures. Ahmad Shukri’s fibre glass eggs denote the compendious nature of the Sulaimans' collection; Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s stunning bust demands a walk around it to appreciate the sculpted details. ‘Jesus’ Tools’ by Anurendra Jegadeva proves why personal taste should be the only criteria when individuals collect art – the painted wooden plane simultaneously recalls a biblical account, a functional action, and an erosion of spiritual beliefs – such reflections are likely less salient to a non-Christian.

Anurendra Jegadeva - Jesus’ Tools (2005)

Myth-making aside, material is the other characteristic which demonstrates sculpture as a fully developed Malaysian art form. Azahar Manan’s tribal masks, Sharmiza’s narrow keyholes, and Faizal Ramli’s juxtaposed voids, carve culturally relevant forms that evoke introspection in a wooden diptych format. Tengku Sabri’s ‘Column XV (Seri Sarawak)’ emphasises the act of assembly rather than sculpting, marking the artistic evolution of one who has since moved on to found object constructs. Latex and its stretchy quality is utilised by Juhari to mock the inconsistent art critic, while Umibaizurah Mahir casts malleable clay into fragile toys and pretty figurines. Industrial materials reflect the increasingly urban aesthetic – Ramlan Abdullah exploits the tension of stacked glass; Multhalib realises his concept digitally before joining steel loops into a captivating hanging construct.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan - Nur Pintu Hati (Diptych) (1998)

Depicting the tools and gestures necessary to create art, Rosli Zakaria’s rectangular block mesmerises with its static set up and erring title, the intentional delay heightening the tension in making objects. Figurative representation is questioned in ‘Bagai Lembu Dicucuk Hidung…’, while ‘Belakang Parang Kalau Diasah’ projects a gestation period for ideas to take shape. The common assumption that painting is superior to sculpture should be challenged in Malaysia, where the interpretation of myths and use of local materials, signify a medium more effective in portraying the domestic landscape. Walking among outstanding artworks, one pictures this collection being owned and displayed in a public institution, and not in a gallery promoting private art museums. The private reluctant wall has to come down, so that the public can inhabit this imaginary space.

Rosli Zakaria - Gunting Dalam Lipatan... Bagai Pahat Dengan Pemukul…. Bagai Lembu Dicucuk Hidung…Belakang Parang Kalau Diasah (2008)