Duration: 13 March – 5 April
Venue: Galeri Chandan, Publika, Kuala Lumpur
EXTREME PORTRAIT PART I: RENEGOTIATING IDEAS AND IDENTITIES
Portraits have been around since the beginning of time as a means to describe not only physical features but more importantly power, status and personality. Extreme Portrait is an exhibition that seeks to showcase the most creative 21st century portraiture. The task is for the artists to come up with their own definition of an extreme portrait, by betraying the stereotype of traditional portraiture.
A Brief History
Testaments of portraiture as a genre can be seen since the age of ancient civilization, through the wall paintings of gods and pharaohs, to portraying royals, nobles and religious figure amidst their object of characterization during the Renaissance.
The 19th and early 20th century portraiture is characterized by a multiplicity of art movements from the pre-realism, to impressionism, to cubism. Portraits during these times opened up to include the bourgeoisie and the immediate circle of the artists, as well as random models.
In the mid-20th century, pop art developed a fascination for celebrity portraits, with Andy Warhol as its master, which has continued to the present days. From the 60’s onwards, photography takes over portraiture by the storm developing many different trends.
The 21st century portraiture is yet to be defined by a single style but given the rise of illustration and graphic design in the advertising industry, modern portraiture no longer linger on the physical feature of the sitter nor solely on the artists’ technical skills. Portraiture, just like any other form of art, has now become a tool for making a statement, be it public or personal.
A Tool for Social and Political Change
Art in general has been used widely by many notable artists like Pablo Picasso, Kandinsky, Diego Rivera, and Ai WeiWei to express their disagreement towards the political and social injustice. Though it is a question whether art is really an effective tool for political change today as it once was in the old days, it never stopped artists to employ art in the hope of social and political change. Picasso himself once said that painting is not for decorating apartments; it has a much broader social importance.
The issue raised by Hirzaq Harris, Azrin Mohd and Syed Fakaruddin is a distant issue from the Malaysian political scene, but being born a Muslim in an Islamic country, all three artists refuse to turn a blind eye towards the Israeli extreme movement and brutality in their war against Islamic countries, producing conflicts that has grown deeper over time in Palestine, Iraq and Syria.
In “Intruder”, Hirzaq Harris uses the pig to directly symbolize the Israeli confiscation and illegal settlement on Palestinian land, referring to the popular dogma for most Muslim especially in Malaysia to associate illicitness and filth with “pig”. Still preserving his identity, Hirzaq’s intricate technical drawing filled in the main subject. To confirm the identity of whom this cynical portraiture is dedicated to, Hirzaq accompanied the subject with Israeli flags on both sides, a popular iconography to give the viewers a direct guess into the narrative.
“The best portraits are those in which there is a slight mixture of caricature.” – Thomas B. Macaulay
Like Hirzaq, Azrin Mohd also symbolizes Israel with a troop of flying pigs. Rather to convey his angst directly towards Israel, Azrin throws his fists on their biggest supporter instead. A portrait of Barrack Obama in caricature, added with the assemblage of an actual deer antler on his forehead is a mockery towards the US as the world’s most powerful nation where she stand powerless against the Israeli authority. It seemed to the artist that the US, governed by Obama is just a prized trophy, a proxy for Israel to be resilient and irreproachable.
Sharing the same thoughts, Syed Fakaruddin creates an imitation of Jasper John’s “Three Flags” as the background of his painting with a skull placed on a forefront table. Using a ‘still life’ approach, Syed foresees a future where humanity is dying, and there is no other to be blamed but the US for funding the Israeli dream in their quest to have a state of their own, objecting to any form of human rights that go against their will.
Along the line of war and conflict, Sukor Romat brings us closer to home as his artwork, a product of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA) 3D printing technique, depicts the major events that brought tears, trauma and drama to our beloved country; from the intrusion of Lahad Datu, the nuclear power plant conflict, the missing MH370, the shot down MH17, the worst flood in history, the global economic crisis and recurring political issues which inflicted our daily lives. “Warhead Chronicle” is a memorial, built to witness and record the aftermath of these incidents and our fragility to survive in a virtual war zone.
The Extreme Measures of Life, Death and Everything in Between
Alicecia Tan is the only artist in this exhibition who delved into photography. Addressing a social issue of nicotine addiction, Alice sees cigarettes as a weapon of mass destruction. An addiction, a dependency on a substance whether it is nicotine, alcohol or other chemical materials or bad habit is a sign of mental illness. It could be said that “Suffocation” is Alice’s social responsibility to remind the public of the fatal damage smoking could lead to. To strengthen the narrative, Alice actually burned the photo paper and left the burn marks visible on both sides, a gentle reminder of the side effects of smoking!
Heikal Taki expresses his thoughts on a generic idea of a portrait by exploring on three dimensional surfaces as opposed to two-dimension conventional portrait. Inspired by a death portraiture or better known as ‘post-mortem photography’ which was once a norm during the Victorian era, Heikal chooses an iconic virtual figure, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, as the subject to commemorate the life and death of the advanced technology of the 1930-50’s.
Claimed to be the most famous portrait of all times, “Mona Lisa” has faced many life-threatening adventures after the death of her maker, Leonardo Da Vinci in 1519. She was sold to the French royalty and passed down through generations that surpassed the revolution and war before making her way to the Louvre. After 400 years living in nobility, she was stolen and treated with disgrace which included being copied, mocked, and thrown with acid, rock, terra cotta mug and even sprayed with red paint. Due to these threats, she underwent a series of processed restoration and is now being placed in a climate-controlled condition inside a bulletproof case. Inspired by her extreme excursion, Nizam Rahmat replicates “Mona Lisa” and finely inscribed all these facts on Plexiglass that secures her from any mistreatment. Looking from another perspective, “Infamous Smile” might question the extreme measures a human could impose on a piece of painted paper.
Still on the prospect of arts, Azizi Latif and Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj share one thing in common in their works; both portray iconic contemporary artists who lead an extreme lifestyle. Through his new found paper collage technique, “Never Sorry” is Azizi’s tribute to Ai WeiWei who dare to critic the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights openly, despite the consequences he must face. Najib on the other hand, commemorated Damien Hirst’s heavily criticized series where he preserved dead animals (sometimes having been skinned or dissected) into formaldehyde which pushed Hirst into the limelight in the 90’s. Who knew that the cow’s skin Najib had sewn on Hirst’s face, might just be the skin from the cow’s head Hirst skinned for “Out of Sight. Out of Mind.” in 1991.
Oscar Wilde once wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter”. That would perhaps best describe the works by Anisa Abdullah and Haslin Ismail who dedicated their portraits to an important person that holds a special place in their lives.
Through her distinct technique using magazine paper collage, it is not an overstatement to say that “Yang Tak Pernah Padam” is Anisa’s private journal, documenting the journey of her love life with artist Khairul Izham whom she wedded in 2013. Each petal that blossoms represents the steps that the two have taken; from the seeds, slowly grown and transformed into a delicate beauty.
Growing up is a tough process, just as tough for a young parent bringing up their children. With the addition of his second child, Rayyan Farrel into the family, Haslin turns his challenging everyday life as a father of two into fictitious characters, creating an imaginary family portrait through his surreal painting; amalgamate the two most important things in his life; family and his fantasy realm.
Re-identify the Identity of the 21st Century Self-Portrait
Self-portrait is certainly the most disturbing genre in 21st century art. The modern idea of the artist representing him/herself as tormented and misunderstood is begging the viewers to give self-portraits more attention, to get to know the artist better, though at times they might represent themselves differently than we imagined.
Being spotted among a pool of young artists at an early stage was not an easy state for Arikwibowo Amril, Shafiq Nordin and Khairi Shamsudin. Each illustrates their struggle in upholding a firm footing in the art scene behind their happy countenance.
In “Tanpa Arah”, Arikwibowo Amril sees himself caught in a solitary space filled with obscurity and adversity in producing a new body of works. Through this artwork, Arikwibowo shares his courage and optimism one must have, in taking the risk to move on and leaving their comfort zone. The checkered pattern is symbolic to the game of life that makes up the space between the players.
Shafiq Nordin’s hand-sculpted ceramic in the form of a skull tells a story of an artist who is trapped behind another artist’s shadow; resulting in an identity crisis. General it may seem, but those who really know Shafiq would have guessed that “Crisis” is actually his own self-portrait, depicting his fight to overcome and surpass ‘one particular artist’ who has a great influence over his artistic pursuit.
On another note, Khairi Shamsudin found himself at times feeling guilty of his practice, merging ‘realism’ and ‘abstract’ in creating his own distinct style. That might be the reason why “In Between I” which was completed in 2012 was never exhibited. But abstraction indicates a departure from reality in depiction of a subject. This departure however does not have to be complete; it can be a slight or partial abstraction, just like his “In Between” series which resulted in a manner of being ambiguous but harmonious, and simultaneously devoid of uniformity.
To Hisyamuddin Abdullah, a portrait is a manifestation of the human emotion; like sadness, happiness, anger and guilt that are visible through facial expressions. Malay proverbs however often imply the word ‘muka’; a Malay word for ‘face’, that leads to a hidden meaning in characterizing someone’s personality, for example the use of the phrase ‘muka tembok’ to distinguish a shameless being and ‘talam dua muka’ which means a two-faced person. The distinction between being visible and hidden is the main idea for Hisyamuddin when he first drafted “Red Shadow”. Using clear acrylic sheets, Hisyamuddin carefully layered the essence that built a human face, skull on the first layer and opened eyes on the upmost, giving the viewers an opportunity to interpret his artwork from their own perspective and understanding.
Hisyamuddin’s experimentation with medium and a study of human character in general, is the foundation for the Extreme Portrait Part II: Beyond Face Value where we will unfold a myriad of techniques, approach and medium used by Al-Khuzairie Ali, Azzad Diah in collaboration with Edroger Rosili, Cheong Tuck Wai, Gan Tee Sheng, Haafiz Shahimi, Jamil Zakaria, Khairul Izham, Louise Low, Mohd Bakir Baharom, Sabihis Md Pandi, Sun Kang Jye, Syahbandi Samat and Yim Yen Sum in undertaking their challenges for Extreme Portrait.
List of artists: