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Friday, July 25, 2008

Ahmad Zakii Anwar: A Malaysian artist shuns a taboo to 'distill the truth'

The Malaysian artist Ahmad Zakii Anwar in his studio. (Ahmad Zakii Anwar)

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Di petik dari
The International Herald Tribune New York

SINGAPORE: With arms stretched out, the head either raised to the sky or cowed toward the ground, and with detailed, sensual musculatures, Ahmad Zakii Anwar's Standing Figure series comprises beautiful illustrations of a man's body and an oblique reference to the Christian imagery of Jesus on the cross. But within the context of Muslim Malaysia, they're also highly unusual.

Islamic painters have traditionally avoided figurative styles, which have long been viewed as controversial, stemming from a belief that the creation of living forms is unique to Allah. The majority of Malaysian contemporary artists favor abstraction over figurative styles, often focusing on installation, performance or conceptual work over painting.

But Zakii prefers to tackle the issue head-on.

"The issue of figurative works has been addressed and debated for centuries by Islamic scholars with no clear consensus," the artist said recently at his home and studio in Johor Bahru at the southern end of peninsular Malaysia. "My take is very simple. Does painting a Christlike figure or a Buddha make me less of a Muslim? Is my faith in my religion so easily shaken? The answer is no. I go very deeply into my religion and I find Islam to be a beautifully tolerant religion."

As an artist deeply interested in theology and the divine, Zakii has over the years drawn inspiration from all sorts of iconic religious imagery, including Buddha's face, Hindu deities and a single rose flower, symbol of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. He said he attempts to "distill the truth" of human existence through his work.

"One of the most important things in my work is the sense of something absolute. I want to reflect the order of life, as well as internal beauty," he said. "I want to paint something more spiritual. I want people who look at the work to feel inner peace."

By and large, the artist's work has attracted little negative reaction in Malaysia, a testament to the country's more tolerant Muslim culture, the artist said, but there have been a couple of violent reactions, ironically from different religions. A painting after the style of Velásquez's "Christ on the Cross" was slashed by one of his fellow students when he was at a local art school, while his paintings "Man With Mask" and "Kris 1 & 2" were burned by their owners when the former collectors converted to Christianity.

Zakii is considered to be one of the hottest contemporary artists in Malaysia, with a long list of collectors lining up to buy his work. In May, at Christie's Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art sale in Hong Kong, "Mantra 2," depicting a serene Buddha's face, set a world record for the artist at 336,000 Hong Kong dollars, or about $43,000.

"Zakii is one out of three Malaysian artists who has enjoyed an avid following outside of his home base in Malaysia, the other being abstract painter and poet Latiff Mohidin and watercolorist Chang Fee Ming," said Valentine Willie of Valentine Willie Fine Art gallery. Willie used to represent Zakii and mounted the artist's first solo show in 1997.

"I think he is one of the most important contemporary artists in Malaysia," added Irene Lee, director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, which will show a mini-retrospective of Zakii's work, starting Aug. 25. "He never stops exploring new ground and his imageries are strong, arresting and unpretentious. They exude a quiet strength. His works can be understood on many levels, visually, but also intellectually."

Zakii, who was born in 1955, said that seeing a Renaissance nude painting in the American magazine Life when he was only 5 years old started his lifelong fascination with the human body. As a child he kept copying nude drawings again and again, but did so in secret, feeling extremely ashamed because he grew up in a conservative family. "Drawing those nudes aroused me and I was afraid my family would find out," he recalled. "I think even at that age I sensed that sex was something one should hide."

With his parents opposed to him becoming an artist, because they thought he "would starve," Zakii studied graphic art at a university in Selangor, western Malaysia, which led him to a successful career as a freelance designer and illustrator, producing advertising graphics campaigns for the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Airlines.

Because he was a graphic designer in his previous career, "his paintings are invariably meticulously composed and beautifully rendered," Willie said. "These works tend to overshadow his charcoal works on paper and portraits, which is perhaps truer to his calling as an artist."

In 1991, at the age of 36, Zakii took a leap of faith and turned to art full time. However, his success was not immediate. Not only did the artist find it hard to muster inspiration - "It was like I was waiting for someone to write me a job brief," he recalled, laughing - but Malaysian galleries were not really welcoming. "A lot of them did not accept the work. At the time I was doing still lifes and they thought the subject was too conventional. I still have demands for the still life paintings today," he said. "I guess it's because they are the most accessible of all my series. Someone enters a gallery filled with abstracts and conceptual pieces won't dare ask what they mean for fear of being branded ignorant or unsophisticated. But faced with a still life, they understand immediately."

Throughout the years, the artist has worked on several series, often concurrently. His first series, Still Life, started with influences from Orientalist techniques, but evolved toward a more somber style in the late '90s after his mother died and the artist started to paint objects he associated with her in the house and particularly in the kitchen. Later, Zakii returned to a more lighthearted depiction of still lifes with a series of erotic fruit and vegetables.

It was his Smokers Series, started in 1995 and inspired by the "oppression facing smokers today," that made his name. With the cigarette smoke often obstructing the face, a metaphor for some sort of psychological mask, the work raises issues of identity and alienation in modern society. In 1997, Zakii started to show more interest in portraying more Asian themes in his work. A trip to Bali in the late '90s deeply influence him and led to a series on traditional dancers and actors.

The artist is also known for his etchings of Malay Mak Yong actors, who perform a traditional dance-drama in secret, at night, because they have been banned by the government. "I'm just interested in recording an art form that is dying," he explained. Reflecting on his painting philosophy and his choice of realism as a mode of expression, Zakii said, "I don't find the need to distort when I'm drawing the human figure to find what I'm looking for. I'd like to find it within the principle of the human figure as it is."

Ahmad Zakii Anwar (b. 1955, Malaysia) - better known as Zakii - has emerged as one of the most exciting, engaging and
eloquent 'urban realist' artists in the region.

A graduate of the School of Art and Design, MARA Institute of Technology Malaysia, the artist began his career as a graphic artist, producing some of the leading advertising graphics of his time before turning to fine art practice.

Zakii came to attention for his virtuosity and command of a spectrum of media from charcoals to oils, building a reputation for stunning photo-realist still-life paintings and expressive portraits. Later, a more contemporary edge surfaced in his works as Zakii introduced urban subjects and settings into his canvases. He is lauded for capturing not just city motifs and urban features but also a distinctive psychological dimension and cinematic quality in these scenarios. Zakii's preoccupation with the spiritual or metaphysical aspects of urban life, as seen through his use of icons, symbols and allegories (including metaphors of theatre, performance and masks) have also marked his practice.

The artist's studio and viewing gallery is in Johor Bahru, Malaysia where he resides with his wife and children.


2008 DISCLOSURE, Survey Exhibition by Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Petronas Gallery, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia

2007 Ahmad Zakii Anwar : Paintings, Drawings & Prints,

1991-2007, Singapore Tyle Print Institute, Singapore
Kota Sunyi: Solo Exhibition by Ahmad Zakii Anwar | CP Foundation,
CP ArtSpace, Jakarta, Indonesia

2006 Subliminal, The Drawing Room, Manila, Philippines and Numthong Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand

2005 Ahmad Zakii Anwar: Primordial Dream, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore Icons, Richard Koh Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2004 Borobudor, Amanjiwo, Jogjakarta, Indonesia Arangbali, Taksu Jakarta, Indonesia

2003 Interpreter of Desires, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2001 Shadowland, Plum Blossoms, Hong Kong

2000 Stills, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1999 Presence, Barbara Greene Fine Art, New York, USA

1998 Distant Gamelan, Art Focus, Singapore

1997 One Man Show, Valentine Willie Fine Art Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


2007 50th International E.V B.K, Prum, Germany Force of Nature, Darling Muse, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2006 Feed Me, Rimbun Dahan, Selangor, Malaysia
Signed and Dated - Our 10th Anniversary, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
ArtSingapore, Suntec City, Singapore

2005 You Are Here, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
ArtSingapore, Suntec City, Singapore
Interface, Taksu Singapore
Spirit of Wood and other Treasures, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
New Works, Taksu Singapore

2004 Portraits, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2003 Games People Play, Rimbun Dahan, Selangor, Malaysia
Grand Opening, Taksu Jakarta, Indonesia
Exhibition 2003, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2002 Kembali ke Bali, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Bali, Indonesia
Contra / Indications, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Touch, Rimbun Dahan, Selangor, Malaysia

2001 Exhibit X, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Flashpoint, Rimbun Dahan, Selangor, Malaysia
Malaysia Still Lifes, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Bali, Indonesia
Exhibition 2001, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Singapore Art Fair, Suntec City, Singapore

2000 Headlights, Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Arang, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1999 Aku 99, Petronas Gallery, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
14th International Asian Art Exhibition, Museum of Asian Art, Fukuoka, Japan
Perception & Perspective: A Malaysian Eyeview, Hotbath Gallery, Bath & Pittville Gallery, Cheltenham, UK
Three Person Show, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1998 Malaysian Expressions, Panorama Gallery, Beijing, China
Culture Colour Connection, Fremantle Arts Center Perth, Australia
No Retreat, Oberoi Gallery, Bali, Indonesia
Just Drawings, Artcase Galleries, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Commonwealth Games Exhibition, Taksu Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Culture Colour Connection, Artcase Galleries, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Keeping Pace, Artcase Galleries, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Eights Artists, GalerCitra, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Menjelang Syawal, Maybank Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1997 Dance, Rhythm & Motion, Maybank Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Figuratif, Andi's Gallery, Jakarta, Indonesia
Malaysian Drawings, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Art for Nature, NN Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Movement, Artcase Galleries, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tresors, Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Singapore
Pekan Seni Ipoh, City Hall, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
12th International Asian Art Exhibition, Centro de Actividades Turisticas, Macau
Maya, City Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1996 Men on Women, MIM, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Karyawan Seni Johor, Hyatt Regency, Johor Bahru and Artfolio Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Open Show, Galeri Shah Alam, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia

1995 Culture Colour Connection, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore
Recent Works - A two person show with Oh Chai Hoo | The John Erdos Gallery, Singapore
Pursuing a Dream - The Collection of Rahime Harun, Petronas Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dimension 95, Petronas Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

1993 Titian 111, Hanoi School of Fine Art, Vietnam
The Vietnam Experience, Maybank Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Imbauan Ledang, Maybank Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Exposure, Quo Quo, Hong Kong
Dimension 93, Petronas Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1992 Islam Contemporary Works of Art, Holiday Inn, Singapore

1979 Salon Malaysia, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1976 National Drawing Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1975 Young Contemporaries, National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


saat omar said...

Kemas studio Ahmad Zaki work dia jugak

RI said...

siapa tau address gallery beliau di JB ni?


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