SINGAPORE.- NUS Museum
and Gajah Gallery present the latest series of charcoal drawings by Malaysian artist Ahmad Zakii Anwar. The exhibition Being: Ahmad Zakii Anwar opens at NUS Museum until 7 June 2009.
Ahmad Zakii Anwars most recent series, Being, presents a sustained encounter with the embattled history of the body as it is represented and perceived on multiple levels: from the realm of art discourse, to its place in Islam and Malaysian art. Zakiis lone male figures allude to the body as a site which brings together physicality, mentality and cosmology, constantly transacting with modern, rationalist positions on the dichotomy between the mind and the body. The figures can be read metaphorically as a reflection of the Self that is based on the Sufi premise of knowing oneself and then knowing God. As such, Being stands as an ambivalent response to the complexities of representing the human figure in Islam and in Malaysian art; and it contests narrow assertions that Islam is essentially a rigid and ascetically rigorous religion, uniquely disengaged from the flesh.
The male figure is a central motif in Zakiis art: it is essentially a visual and aesthetic response to theological issues, and can be read, in relation to Zakiis other figurative pieces, as a personal process of theological enquiry. The human figure is also inextricably bound to the artists keen interest in the metaphysical, the concepts of being and knowing, and in addressing, what for him, is the central issue in Islamic theology that of Man and his salvation. As he puts it, I am an artist with an interest in the metaphysical and I latched on to a stylistic mode that came closest to my ideals figuration.
Seemingly devoid of context, the lone figures in the ten charcoal drawings featured are depicted with anatomical precision, and convey a palpable sense of stillness and contemplation. The arresting effect is accentuated through the medium of charcoal, which, in allowing very little room for chance, highlights the artists brilliant technical virtuosity. Beyond that, the realism stems from Zakiis desire to draw the form exactly as it is and [refrain] from expressing myself. This can be contextualized against the Islamic tenet of total submission to form.
Being is, therefore, borne of a struggle to paint the bodily inside out, or as Zakii would have it a politics of the flesh. Elaborating further, Zakii says, The charcoals are the culmination of my previous series. The Smokers and Meditation were heavy with symbolism and metaphors. They represented a search. With the charcoals and specifically with Being, the objective was on some form of conclusion. I have focused solely on one human figure. The figure exists on a white background with no reference to place or circumstance. Everything unnecessary has been edited out. [...] He is neither happy nor angry but his stillness and pose may suggest a state of contemplation. Stripped of a specific identity, the figure becomes an icon, a universal being representing mankind, like a logo. The question then arises as to the nature of the logo and what it represents. But the works do not demand an answer from the audience. The philosophy behind them is hidden. But not entirely, as Zakii points out that the object of perception is the self. And the issue at stake here is, How perceptive are you?
Born in Johor Bahru, Malaysia in 1955, Ahmad Zakii Anwar graduated from the School of Art and Design, MARA Institute of Technology Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. He started his career as a graphic artist before eventually turning to fine art practice. His recent solo projects include Disclosure (2008, Galleri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur), Ahmad Zakii Anwar: Paintings, Drawings & Prints, 1991-2007 (2007, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore) and Kota Sunyi (2007, CP Foundation, Jakarta).