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Sunday, 15 June 2014
by qishin tariq
Akhmal Asyraf rages against fixed ideas and images through his art.
SURFACE impressions don’t count for much.
In artist Akhmal Asyraf’s current exhibition Fractures, he explores the shallowness of these fronts and how culture and religion are being simplified into brands.
To make his point, Akhmal combines an unusual pair: brand logos like Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton with portraits of Arab men.
“The portraits are street photos of every day men, no celebrities here,” reveals Akhmal, adding: “Everyone can be an icon, as everyone has their own unique struggles in life.”
The images used in Oasis, Prestige, Zephyr and several other works were taken by local photographer Saiful Nang during his travels through the cities of Mecca and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.
Akhmal met Saiful while volunteering at the Warga Prihatin care home in Sungai Ramal, Kajang in Selangor. First knowing Saiful as the co-founder of the house, he later found out the charitable man was also a photographer by trade.
“When I had the idea to create a series based on portraits, I felt Saiful’s photos were just right. Luckily he liked my vision and let me use his images,” says Akhmal, 26, during an interview at RA Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur. To return the favour, a portion of the profits from the sale of Fractures will go to the care home.
Akhmal explains that he chose portraits of Arab men as they had become the “global” image of Muslims for most.
Akhmal, a graduate from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Shah Alam, Selangor, was enthusiastic about sharing the backstories to the 14 pieces in his Fractures exhibition.
“Some people have the perception that wearing a turban and robes identifies you as Muslim, but it should be about how you lead your life,” he adds while walking this writer around the gallery.
It is this oversimplification of the faith that drew Akhmal to juxtapose the Arab men against actual logos of luxury and soft drink brands.
The Seremban, Negri Sembilan-born artist notes that people are now trying to mask their true identity, and some were even willing to go into debt to do so.
Pointing towards his piece Sciomancy, in which an elderly bearded man wears a robe made up of “Ah Long” (illegal money lenders) loan stickers, Akhmal reveals it is a metaphor of how people were now “wearing debt” by buying branded clothes they cannot afford.
Akhmal revealed that he “harvested” all the stickers from around his neighbourhood, peeling them off signboards and traffic lights on hot days.
“When the sun is really hot, the stickers dry up and they are easy to pull off,” he reveals with a chuckle.
In Fractures, Akhmal also explored adding layers with stickers and industrial materials like Pye hi-build, a paste used in building walls. He has moved on to creating work on canvas after last year’s Chapter 1: Rebirth, which was his solo debut at the same gallery space.
“In Chapter 1: Rebirth, I decided to use found objects like windows and doors, creating form by carving away layers.”
His recent work Portrait Of Tun Daim Zainuddin, acrylic on wood, which was featured at the Art Trio exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in March this year, is possibly one of the last pieces closely associated to Chapter 1: Rebirth’s format and technique.
“To avoid being pigeonholed as a wood carver, I made a U-turn to canvas and decided to create the image by adding layers,” explains Akhmal.
To show art enthusiasts his progression, Akhmal has one piece The Distance Between Us (carving on wood door) from his previous exhibition feature in Fractures.
“The first show was about Malay life, so I chose to have doors and windows from kampung houses to represent that element. This time I’m using Arab images to reflect Muslim elements,” he says.
Like many artists before him, Akhmal has a habit of putting elements of himself into the paintings, but not for the usual vain reasons.
“I’m uncomfortable criticising others, so I criticise myself by inserting myself into my work,” reveals the modest young man.
“The Fractures exhibit reflects my situation, how I practise my faith after facing incidents that made me question it,” he says, summing up that despite the spiritual challenges, he remains proud of his faith and grateful for it.
The Fractures exhibition will be on till June 30 at the RA Fine Arts gallery in Solaris Dutamas, No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur. Viewing hours are 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday) and noon to 5pm (Sunday). Closed on Mondays. Call 03-6211 1061 for any enquiries.
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