Haffendi Anuar’s first solo is drawn from his street level view of Kuala Lumpur.
For the flaneur, the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite”. So muses French poet Charles Baudelaire on the life and person of a flaneur, the urban connoisseur, who feeds on the sights and architecture of the city, his passion the gastronomy of the eye.
For Kuala Lumpur-based sculptor Haffendi Anuar, the flaneur is an idea he identifies with, though he admits “it’s a bit too romanticised”. Having moved back to Malaysia about a-year-and-a-half ago, Haffendi still has not obtained his driving license and finds himself walking everywhere the trains take him.
He spent half a decade studying art abroad – the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, the United States, then a stint in China, before ending up at Central Saint Martins college of art and design in London. Exploring cities on foot has become a habit Haffendi brought back with him.
“Walking the city feels more real,” says Haffendi at a recent interview, before quickly adding, “not that people in cars aren’t real!”
“When you drive, things aren’t as connected, you sort of teleport from one place to another. But in the gaps between landmarks, there are people living, surviving,” he explains.
“Plus, it makes your legs look great!” jokes the jovial 30-year-old.
This unique perspective forms the basis of Haffendi’s first solo exhibition, M13, which opens on Wednesday at the Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.
A stranger in a strange land, Haffendi admits that though he was born in Malaysia, he had found himself educated by foreigners most of his life, from international school to art school in the USA and Britain. He says working at the Richard Koh gallery helped him get into the South-East Asian art discourse, and “threw him to the battle front of it”.
Haffendi has taken part in many group exhibitions over the last few years – Young Malaysian Artists (2010) in Galeri Petronas, KL, Magic Assemblage (2012) in Petrie Museum, London, Korean International Art Fair (2014) in Seoul and Art Taipei (2014), Taiwan. But he says working at a gallery has finally given him the time and flexibility to do a solo show.
To say Haffendi’s art is pedestrian is merely a compliment to him. Drawn from his street level view of Kuala Lumpur, Haffendi sees the city in a manner lost to those shackled to their cars, running the urban-jam circuit, or typical worker drone rushing from one air-conditioned building to the other.
His epic M13 exhibition consists of 64 sculptures, broken into groups – Piloti (support pillars), Blocks, Grill Works, Windows – taken from the architectural elements of KL.
During this conversation, Haffendi reveals that the title M13, is inspired by his Ampang studio’s block number M13.
“Imagine, there are at least 12 other flats crowded in the same space ... I wonder if there are 12 other art studios, too,” quips Haffendi.
Asked if he finds the repetitive ticky tacky homes depressing, the personable artist simply says he doesn’t.
“I like the genericness of our reality,” admits Haffendi.
The collection owes heavily to the city he lives in, the Block series inspired by the blocky shape and colour schemes of low cost housing units, the Grill and Window series reflections of the prevalence of home security in the Klang Valley.
“I find the streets of KL kitschy, like these holographic 3D still-life posters in LRT toilets that were kept even as they curled from the moisture,” says Haffendi. Inspired by the hidden colours of the city, some of his works took on an uncommon colour palette.
The Piloti pieces are the forerunners of the series, which Haffendi started working on last year. Each pillar is made up of bowls, mugs and saucers connected by a rod and held together by puttyfilla and sand. Haffendi then diligently painted over them 50-100 times with enamel paint, sanded between layers to artificially age the piece and scrub out any trace of himself.
Haffendi applied the same sanding technique on the paintings to ensure no “signature brushstrokes” were left.
“I’m not a painter. Though I may be interested in the language, I am a sculptor first,” he reasons.
For added authencity, Haffendi has put equal care into the thickness of his canvas wooden frames and metal grills used to replicate real grills in his Grill Work series.
The usage of common materials bought from grocery stores, like melamine tableware, also serves to create a second layer to the pieces.
“The paint technique makes it look like a museum piece, deceptively valuable, when it’s just a common bowl,” he chuckles.
He elaborates that when audiences realise it is made up of just bowls and cups, things you’d have a simple meal with, it closes that perceived gap between art and the average viewer.
Haffendi reveals that the exhibition, a rare sculptural extravanganza at Richard Koh Fine Art, is meant to be seen as a singular installation, a miniature city where the Pillar series are high rise towers and the rest form the surrounding city.
“I invite others to see an exaggerated version of what I see, as selfish as it seems,” he says, with a tone of self deprecation, rather than grandeur.
M13 opens at Richard Koh Fine Art on April 15, from 10am to 10pm (daily). Exhibition ends April 30. Call: 03-2283 3677.