Malaysian contemporary artist Haffendi Anuar, based in Britain now, will be speaking about his research and recent work on the iconography and cultural significance of the kain pelikat in Sarong Mentality, a sharing session on Zoom at 12.01am (Malaysian time) this Monday (May 4).
Haffedi, currently pursuing an MFA at the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University in England, has been reflecting and exploring the humble tubular sarong since the start of his studies abroad last year.
“The research and work stem from the memory of playing around my dad's kain pelikat as a child - this was a story told to me by my mum before I left for Britain. I have used the garment as an anchor point to move and orientate myself through different subjects and contexts, post-coloniality, contemporary urban life and the relationship between the body and materials. It is also an exercise to understand my Malaysian culture in a more deeper and nuanced way especially through a humble everyday material that is so omnipresent back home, ” he says.
Haffendi’s interest in geometric abstractions can be seen in many of his works, including solo exhibitions Midday Stanza (2019) at Richard Koh Fine Art in Singapore and Migratory Objects (2017) at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur, as well as contemporary art fair Volta New York.
Not surprisingly, he notes that the checkered patterns on the kain pelikat resonates with his interest not just in geometric abstraction, but also an abstraction that is rooted in social and cultural contexts.
The sharing session will be on Conscious Isolation, a new platform started by artists Susie Olczak and Samuel Zealey in response to this ongoing crisis as a means to share ideas with a format of an online forum that hosts online talks by creative practitioners, he adds.
In this meet-up, Haffendi will introduce his body of work and the experimentation he has been working on for several months at the university. He describes his course as a pretty theoretical one, with weekly seminars discussing texts and artworks.
“It is really intense but good. The tutors are leading artists in the UK so being able to interact and have them look at my work and talk about it with them has been a productive experience. It has made me rethink my work in relation to the context or idea of home, persona, collective histories and identity and really cement the idea that I enjoy manipulating materials, ” he says.
His research methodology now includes reading colonial texts by the likes of John Turnbull Thomson describing the Malaysian landscape and people (in particular Thomson's Some Glimpses Into Life In The Far East), looking through archive images from books and the Pitt Rivers Museum and saving pictures #kainpelikat from Instagram.
“These materials are turned into sculptures and expanded collages, thinking about abstraction and figurations and using the kain pelikat almost like a canvas or support structure or material, ” he shares.
This is an ongoing series, with most pieces still in the works.
“It was never a planned talk but when Susie invited me to speak, I thought it would be a great chance to articulate the ideas and research into a presentation. Maybe I could treat it like a sort of performance and a way to organise my thoughts, ” he says.
During the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown in Britain, Haffendi has been making work in his dorm room and the communal dining space.
“We definitely need to reconsider the value and role of art in this current time, whether it is ‘essential’, though I do feel it is, as it nourishes the soul. This pandemic will definitely change the art world and artists need to do more than just adapt to this new situation. We can use it as a time to reflect, try a different working method or maybe working towards a more dematerialised, post-studio practice, ” he concludes.
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