Malaysian artist transforms road signs into art packed with irony and humour


Izat Arif's 'If You Ever Feel Lonely' (2K automotive paint and lacquer on MDF board, 2020). Photo: RK Fine Art

In response to queries on a censored artwork a few years ago, Izat Arif made a speed limit sign, not unlike those you see on the back of a lorry. This was his first attempt at appropriating signs.

Gentle Reminders, his current solo exhibition with Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur, continues this exploration with a new body of work dedicated to signs.

Executed in a super flat finish using automotive paint techniques, the works are instantly recognisable as a replica of common signage. But it is the accompanying text, served with a heavy dose of irony, that offers a tweak on what looks, at first glance, like everyday.

“You should not burden yourself with the thought of making a masterpiece. Instead, draw a portrait of your collector for fun, ” reads one “sign”.

In another, “‘Oppressed’ artist takes opportunity to express their unfortunate circumstances safely in the gallery”.

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Izat Arif's 'Air Tenang Jangan Disangka Tiada Buaya (Don’t Assume There Are No Crocodiles In Still Waters)' (2K automotive paint and lacquer on MDF board, 2020). Photo: RK Fine ArtIzat Arif's 'Air Tenang Jangan Disangka Tiada Buaya (Don’t Assume There Are No Crocodiles In Still Waters)' (2K automotive paint and lacquer on MDF board, 2020). Photo: RK Fine Art

Izat, 34, says that his love for irony came from his grandmother, who often employed irony while imparting life lessons to the young ones.

“I am constantly finding alternative ways to address certain issues and I find irony and humour a very accessible method. The road sign is a visual I see every day, on my way to the studio or when I am running errands. These are temporary signs used to warn road users of obstructions due to the overwhelming amount of new and unnecessary development and construction," says Izat.

"I am quite serious in my practice but I am surrounded by humorous situations and interactions. For instance, a friend of mine, after telling a joke, follows by saying that he is funny. This entertains me, ” he adds.

Over the years, we have seen this multi-disciplinary artist dabble in a variety of media and techniques, from installations to drawings and videos.

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Izat Arif's 'Life Still Goes On For The Rest Of Us' (2K automotive paint and lacquer on MDF board, 2020). Photo: RK Fine ArtIzat Arif's 'Life Still Goes On For The Rest Of Us' (2K automotive paint and lacquer on MDF board, 2020). Photo: RK Fine Art

Izat’s first solo exhibition was held a decade ago, shortly after he completed a diploma in fine art at the Malaysian Institute of Art. Museum Piece 2, Irritability In Animals was held at 12 Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Gentle Reminders is his second solo show, and the first with Richard Koh Fine Art.

“I feel that this solo is an opportunity to showcase my ideas and my work without having to answer a particular dictated theme in a group show setting. It probably can serve as a step forward in my professional career as an artist, ” says Izat.

Putting together this body of work for Gentle Reminders has presented him with a method of working that he enjoys and intends to continue with.

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Izat's signs series is a humorous and ironic take on the world around him. Photo: Nor HarithIzat's signs series is a humorous and ironic take on the world around him. Photo: Nor Harith

“I am excited about the possibilities of this particular process of making super flat ‘paintings’. I am also excited to see what the art world has to offer if we can get past this pandemic. For the past year or so, I have been interested in the bastardisation of culture. I intend to explore more on this topic in upcoming works, ” he shares.

Izat has been in numerous group exhibitions, with recent ones including Genset at Gajah Gallery in Singapore, and Locating Malaysian Contemporary Art: The Echo Boomers at Richard Koh Fine Art.

In 2019, he was part of the Domestic Bliss show at Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

“I think the most interesting and rewarding aspect of my journey - even if I am not particularly fond of the word ‘journey’ as it is used too often to unnecessarily justify the artist’s practice - is encountering many different people and ideas as a result of my work. To be able to make art is a privilege and I am grateful to still be able to make art, ” he says.

Gentle Reminders is on at Richard Koh Fine Art, No.34-1, Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur until Nov 28. Opening hours: 10am-7pm (Tuesday-Saturday). More info here.

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