Artist draws inspiration from damaged old photographs and oral histories

  • Arts
  • Monday, 09 Sep 2019

Solo exhibition, ‘FAITH & FICTION’, by Amar Shahid. AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Back in the late 1960s and 1970s, the late Salehudin Mansor, a photographer for a magazine, would go around, taking snapshots of ordinary people and daily life in Kuala Lumpur. He amassed quite a portfolio of these works, which have not gone to waste.

Today, his son, the artist Amar Shahid has decided to pay tribute to his father's photographs by reproducing them in an art exhibition.

When Amar says "reproducing them", he means reframing these photos as paintings ... with the old photographs' imperfections and all.

“I tried to copy these photos, in their entirety, their materiality. Instead of just copying the images, I wanted to copy the damge, the characteristics of photo prints themselves, with their curved corners and all. I tried to emulate them in my work,” says Amar, 33.

“For 'photographic' damages, there were two ways of going about it. Either I painted them (on canvas), or I used chemical means. The goal was to approach the photos from a 'linguistic' angle. I wanted to explore: what is painting?” he adds.

These works are part of Amar's pop-up exhibit Faith And Fiction, currently showing at Zoo, Atria Gallery in Petaling Jaya. This is the first solo exhibition to be held under Zoo's The Incubator programme, which aims to showcase new artists.

It presents a series of conceptually contemporary oil paintings that re-evaluate the devices of realism, while also being informed by oral histories.

The Zoo
Amar's Birthday Backs 1981 (oil on canvas, 2015).

The Kuala Terengganu-born artist, an art graduate from UiTM, has been featured in an array group local exhibitions, most recently this year's Bakat Muda Sezaman (Young Contemporaries) 2019 exhibition at the National Art Gallery.

Faith And Fiction, which took him five years to complete, features five of his major works, complete with various sketches and studies. A few of these works were previously shown at the View From The Six group show at G13 Gallery in 2016.

“Paintings and photoprints, for me, share the same technical explanation: a collection of pigments suspended chemically on a rigid or stable surface. If the postmodernist context is taken into play, both paintings and photoprints are done mechanically, so an artist's hands could be considered a very slow camera,” says Amar.

Hantu Bungkus: This Is Not A Painting, for example, comes from a photo of one of the artist's late siblings when he was younger. The Hantu Bungkus refers to a teasing caption in the album: the original photo also had lines around the subject's outline, which were meant to be cut out but never did.

These lines are faithfully copied in Amar's work.

Amar's Hantu Bungkus: This Is Not A Painting is one of the highlights of his Faith And Fiction show. Photo: The Star/Azhar Mahfof

Part of this work's title is a reference to Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte's famous 1929 painting The Treachery Of Images, which showed an illustration of a pipe with the words 'This Is Not A Pipe' underneath. Magritte was saying that his work was not a pipe but a representation of one.

In the same way, Amar states his work is not a painting, but in his view, more of a sculpture.

“This same approach is also what led me to treat a painting as a sculpture on its own, instead of a two-dimensional object. The consumption of these works is to be done in a 3D context, as one would do for a precious piece of photographic print,” says Amar.

Amar reveals that this pop-up exhibit is a precursor to a bigger solo showcase he is planning next year.

Faith And Fiction is on Zoo, Atria Shopping Gallery, Jalan SS22/23, Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till Sept 14. Open daily: 10am-10pm. Call 03-7732 2715 or email

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