Bridge the gap: Ajim Juxta is rethinking the relationship between art and society

  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 06 Feb 2018

'The door is always open. Come and say hello to the artist. Look at some art. Ask some questions if you are curious,' says Ajim, who is more ready to meet the masses at the Titikmerah gallery in KL. Photo: The Star/Low Lay Phon

Ink sketches of crooked chimneys line an inside-facing wall of the gallery, and you won’t see it unless you step inside. But come on in, the water’s fine – and the artist behind it, the very affable Raja Azeem Idzham, better known as Ajim Juxta, will be there to make you feel at home.

You will leave the Titikmerah gallery better acquainted with his work, and with the man behind it, because Ajim is determined to be on site as often as he can throughout this show’s run to meet and talk to visitors.

“There is this division between art and society that should not be there, this is why art is often something appreciated only by a minority. I think it is important to bridge this gap. Public engagement is part of forging this connection,” says Ajim, 35, in a thoughtful manner.

Ajim holds firm to the belief that art is a requisite part of life and that art should be accessible to all.

When he set up Titikmerah in 2014 together with fellow visual artists Adeputra Mastri and Latif Maulan, it doubled as a working studio and a showroom for their art pieces, and the works of other artists they collaborate with. It was founded in the spirit of providing a space for artists to explore ideas and share their thoughts and work with the public, away from the obligatory parameters when working with commercial galleries.

Today, Titikmerah is a collective of 10 local and international artists.

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A work from Ajim's Tugu Study series (mixed media on canvas, 2017). Photo: Titikmerah

True to this spirit, Ragamasa, now showing at Titikmerah in Publika, KL, is not a flashy exhibition by any means.

Most of the works are small, though perfectly composed.

But these sketches, paintings and collage works are not the only things making up the whole; paint residue from palettes and brushes are as much a part of the big picture, as are scribbled notes, books, pamphlets and random objects bought from flea markets.

Notebooks filled with sketches and notes detailing ideas and concepts are piled on his desk.

This might not be a replica of the Kuala Lumpur-born Ajim’s studio during his residency in London last year, but it comes pretty close.

Ragamasa is his first show back home after his three-month stint in Britain, which ended in November. Together with fellow artist Azam Aris, he was awarded the Khazanah Nasional Associate Artist Residency at Acme Studios in London last year.

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Ajim's architectural background (he is an architecture graduate from UiTM) shines through in his works. Photo: The Star/Syazana Abd Shukur

It is the first of a series of exhibitions which will run throughout the year, mostly smaller shows, that will culminate in a grand finale.

The interesting thing about the concept of Ragamasa is how it offers people a glimpse into the artist’s mind.

“When Ajim returned from his residency abroad, where he was away from the familiar surroundings and contexts which to date had informed his artistic practice and ideas, he started processing what it means to be uncomfortable and to re-experience his art. It was a sort of distilling and self-questioning. When he found himself in the process of forming and formulating a new body of works, a process of which in itself is the art, we further discussed how we could possibly showcase or allow people access to this process of ‘creating’ – hence the series of shows."

"Art is not just an end product on the wall, in it would be the artist and his or her experience and process of creation,” says Sharmin Parameswaran, an independent curator and longtime gallerist friend.

Ajim is no stranger to art residencies. In 2016, his Arcology series, presented by KL’s Artemis Art, bagged the Young Art Award at the Young Art Taipei art fair in Taiwan, which came with a three-month residency from the Taiwan-based Yeh Rong Jai Culture and Art Foundation. He was the first Malaysian to win this award.

“Ajim continues to produce artworks based on his intuition, and he is, obviously, influenced by his architectural background. His years in architecture have not gone to waste. It is the anchor that charts his artistic career, and it is possibly one of the main factors that makes him different,” says UC Loh, director of Artemis Art, which will host Ajim’s next solo in April.

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Ajim's Alive, Even Flow, Garden (acrylic on canvas, triptych, 2016), featuring Pearl Jam song titles, gets the attention of Hom Art Trans gallery director Bayu Utomo Radjikin last year in KL. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

In 2015, he was part of the Sembilan Art Residency Programme in Seremban that was founded to support local emerging artists.

Ajim shares that each residency has resulted in an epiphany of sorts, or at the very least, inspiration. With this most one, it gave him the push to attempt to bridge the art-public divide with a year-long project in mind.

“The residency was a good opportunity as a starting point in addressing issues like how art here can often be so inaccessible to the public. An artist should go beyond producing works; we should talk about ideas and aspirations and connect more with society. It is during conversations with people that they will hopefully connect more with your work, and at the same time, perhaps it will help you understand yourself better too,” he says.

Ajim talks fondly about his time in London, recalling how different the big city vibe there was compared to KL. People walked faster, more purposefully, and the architecture was a point of interest too, particularly when he observed similarities between historical Malaysian towns like Taiping and Ipoh as they are very much influenced by colonial town planning and infrastructure.

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One of Ajim's Drawing Studies sketches (ink on watercolor paper, 2017). Photo: Titikmerah

“Visiting museums and art galleries there made me realise that there is still much to learn. You feel very small in this large world,” he reflects.

Each of the shows this year will have elements hinting at what is to come in the major exhibition at the end.

“They serve as a teaser, a sneak peak of sorts, into the final exhibition. There is a certain continuity in the series I am planning for, where bits and pieces of the final puzzle will be revealed in each show. The snippets provided throughout the year will all fall into place in this final show,” he says.

Ajim envisions that the major exhibition at year end will have bigger works, more developed paintings, and will showcase other forms of art, like conceptual projects, performances, and if possible, a publication. He is also keen on collaborations with people from outside the art circle. Ajim himself has an academic background in architecture, which shines through particularly in his sketches in Ragamasa, and is adamant that an artist needs to explore other channels to tap into his full potential.

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Ajim is pictured with his work at the Mampu Art Market at the Hin Bus Depot in Penang in 2016. Ajim and the Titikmerah collective have made it a point to take art outside KL. Photo: The Star/Lim Beng Tatt

“Learn and to be inspired from everything, be it poetry or photography or music. Explore, gain experiences and broaden your perspective. Art is never just about the final product, I believe that the process is just as important,” he adds.

One of the objectives of this year-long project is to provide the audience with a glimpse into what goes into artmaking.

“A painting is more than just aesthetics, it represents the effort, skill and conviction of the artist. It tells of experience and time, a reminder that we should remember the past, be aware of the present and look forward to the future,” he says.

Clearly, Ajim sets his gaze far and aims high, but it not like he has a choice.

“The residency in London has made this spark in me burn a little brighter. It made me realise that I cannot imagine ever not wanting to paint. I think I will never stop doing this,” he concludes.

Ragamasa is on at Titikmerah, Art Row, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur till Feb 10. Opening hours: 12pm to 8pm daily. Instagram: titikmerahgallery.

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