1) Nizam Rahmat’s Infamous Smile (acrylic, digital print, classic wooden frame on canvas in plexi glass flight case, 2015). 2) Azizi Latif’s Never Sorry (acrylic and paper collage on board, 2015). 3) Azrin Mohd’s Change (acrylic, deer antlers, assemblage on jute, 2015). 4) Anisa Abdullah’s Yang Tak Pernah Padam (paper collage on canvas, two panels, 2015).
Galeri Chandan’s two-part group exhibition takes the lid off portraits on the edge.F
irst-time curator Nur Hasni Abdul Motthalib has attempted a portraiture collection with a difference. Boldy dubbed Extreme Potrait, it is currently on show at Galeri Chandan in Kuala Lumpur.
“I wanted an exhibition to challenge public perception of what portraits are supposed to be,” she says.
Nur Hasni believes that portraits do not need to depict a face or human, but are rather about the sitter (subject) and their character.
“A portrait could even be about an animal,” she adds.
The two-part Extreme Portrait exhibition at Galeri Chandan, begins with Part I: Renegotiating Ideas And Identities, which features more narrative driven pieces that lean towards political statements and meta-analysis of the genre. A total of 15 artists are involved in this show.
The more politically-charged pieces include Azrin Mohd’s Change, a portrait of President Barack Obama with actual deer antlers jutting out of his forehead into three-dimensional reality, and Hirzaq Harris’s Intruder, a triptych dominated by a mechanised pig in the middle of two flags, which comments on land grabs and the conflict in the Middle East.
Others refer to famous artists and works, like how Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj’s Damien Hirst (charcoal, arcrylic and cow skin) was inspired by the provocative British artist’s famed 1991 work Out of Sight. Out of Mind. Instead of a skinned cow’s head in an aquarium, Najib’s piece is less shocking. But he does stitch the fur from a cow’s head into this new charcoal portrait.
Azizi Latif’s whorl-like Never Sorry (acrylic and paper collage on board) works as a nod to Ai Weiwei, China’s best-known dissident artist. Or does it speak about Ai’s complicated relationship with the Chinese authorities?
Nur Hasni says the piece that surprised her most was Nizam Rahmat’s Infamous Smile, which confronts the assumption that portraits have simple stories by placing all the anecdotal facts from Mona Lisa’s troubled history around her. In short, Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci’s life also comes into view.
Nizam also went as far as to reprint and frame (or shield) the Mona Lisa in what looks like a bullet-proof glass case. He threw paint on it and tore it too ... perhaps to reflect how this masterpiece has survived acts of art vandalism throughout its history.
The 31-year-old Nur Hasni, who has been a gallery executive with Gallery Chandan since 2012, says that though this was the first exhibition she had organised from scratch, she still does not feel ready to take on the role of curator.
“Curator is a big word with a lot of responsibilities,” she says rather nervously.
An architecture graduate from Universiti Malaya, Nur Hasni says her training in critical analysis has found a different purpose now that she works in the art field.
“It’s still useful. I don’t like art that’s too literal. A piece needs to say something,” she says.
Nur Hasni had orginally approached some 30 artists for this show last November, specifically the ones not primarily known for figurative work.
In the end, Galeri Chandan commisioned 28 new pieces from 29 artists, with price tags ranging from RM2,000 to RM14,000. There is a collaborative work by Azzad Diah and Edroger Rosili in the show’s second part next month.
During the interview, Nur Hasni gingerly walks around workers still painting Galeri Chandan’s space for the exhibition, apologising for the messy state of the gallery. She reveals that due to space limitations, the exhibition had to be broken up into two parts.
Nur Hasni divided the artists based on their work, whether it sided more on narrative or technique, though she didn’t try to divide the artists by seniority.
“There’s a fine line between parts one and two, and it could even be placed in a single exhibition,” she says before adding that loading all the works in one small space wouldn’t be ideal for the audience’s appreciation.
“I didn’t ask the artists to limit the size of their pieces because I wanted them to have freedom to share their point of view of what an extreme portrait could be,” she says.
Asked how far one could stretch the genre until it wasn’t really a portrait, Nur Hasni mentions that Haslin Ismail’s Rayyan Farrel’s Wheezy Wonka Fatty Factory World is an ideal example.
“Haslin’s (work) may not have a direct subject, but it defines him as a family man, how he’s created a family portrait of sorts following the birth of his second child (Rayyan Farrel),” she elaborates.
“In a portrait, it can either be about the sitter or the artist. It’s not just self portraits that reveal a lot about an artist’s character.”
Nur Hasni admits that the experimental approach in Extreme Potrait would not be as popular with collectors, especially those buying for investment.
The exhibition might be less conventional but she is glad it has gone in such a direction. The ability to be unpredictable (through art) is enough reason for the discerning visitor to stay longer in a gallery.
> Extreme Portrait (Part I: Renegotiating Ideas And Identities) will run at Galeri Chandan in Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur until April 5. Tel: 03-6201 5360
Extreme Portrait (Part II: Beyond Face Value), featuring Gan Tee Sheng, Cheong Tuck Wai, Sabihis Md Pandi, Haafiz Shahimi, Louise Low and others, runs from April 10 to May 3 at the gallery.