Micro-organisms form the building blocks of life, making up two-thirds of life on Earth. But due to their microscopic size, we’re unable to see and appreciate their beauty – until now.
In Life: Magnified, ceramic artist Adil Abdul Ghani aims to give visitors something different. He wants to bring out the otherworldly allure of microbes through earthenware sculptures, interpreting different facets of nature and humanity in shapes inspired by microlife, such as diatoms and microbial bacterium.
“I’ve always been fascinated by microlife and drawing attention to the beauty of things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. It’s been a dream of mine for some time to do a show that focuses on it, zooming in on elements of their natural formations ... with some embellishments from my imagination, of course,” says Adil, 46, in an interview at Zhan Art Space in Petaling Jaya, where Life: Magnified is currently being held.
The show focuses on works by RAAQUU, a local artisanal brand founded by Adil in 2020, based at his studio in Ara Damansara, Selangor. Through the brand, the Perak-born Adil sells contemporary and functional home decoration pieces, particularly vases, to customers around the world.
For his works, Adil uses glaze recipes and techniques that he adapted and experimented with, such as smoked raku, copper matte raku (also known as rainbow raku), obvara and carbon copper.
“This marks our first official sculptural exhibition at the gallery. We believe that Adil’s mastery of the raku firing technique for ceramic making is world-class, and should be brought to the forefront of the Malaysian art industry,” says Desmond Tong, founder and curator of Zhan Art Space.
Trial by fire
It may surprise you that even with over 20 years of experience in ceramic art and appearing in numerous group exhibitions over the years, this is the Japan-trained Adil’s first solo exhibition.
Comprising 14 standalone sculptures and one installation, many of the pieces in Life: Magnified are covered in a mesmerising patina that is reminiscent of an oil slick – this is Adil’s specialty: the rainbow raku technique.
Developed in the 1580s, raku is an ancient Japanese ceramic technique that is not for the faint-hearted, as it requires a clay object to be removed from the kiln at the height of the firing before being introduced to combustible material in the reduction process, which involves bursts of flames.
Adil was completely taken in by the technique when the Perak state government sent him to the Ceramic Research Centre in Saga Prefecture, Japan for a ceramics training programme in 2006.
After returning from the trip, he turned to online resources such as YouTube to learn more about the method. However, it took him nearly four years to truly master the raku technique at a level he was satisfied with.
“Raku ceramics are revered because of the unpredictability of the firing technique. When the combustible material – usually sawdust or paper – is ignited, it results in unique patterns and colours. The rainbow hue you see in my pieces come from the copper used in the glaze mixture, which is a more contemporary take,” explains Adil.
“The technique is not widely practised due to the required precision and spontaneity of the process. That moment of truth when you uncover the finished product is both the most nerve-racking and most exciting part, because you don’t know what to expect,” he adds.
For this exhibition, Adil said that the whole process of ideation, down to the actual fabrication, construction and production of these large-scale sculptures, took him and his team six months to meticulously complete.
Try something new
Looking back to when he first got into ceramic work, Adil says he would have never predicted he would end up where he is today. Though he holds a degree in art and design (from Universiti Teknologi Mara), majoring in ceramics, it wasn’t exactly what he planned to study.
“When I was applying for university, ceramics was actually the fifth pick on my list,” he admits with a laugh.
“I was more into drawing and illustration at the time. I really didn’t want to do it at first, but my father convinced me to give it a try. It was only in my third year that I really started to get into it. But once I did, I never looked back.”
Besides his dedication to the craft and putting in hours of hard work, Adil adds that his success today would not have been possible without the support of his family and the opportunities that came his way from government agencies.
“When it comes to promoting Malaysian crafts to the world, we tend to mostly focus on pewter and batik, but I think there’s a lot of potential in highlighting the works of artisans in pottery and ceramics on the international stage, which can hopefully encourage more people to practise the craft,” says Tong.
For aspiring artists and those thinking about a career in ceramics, Adil says be open-minded and patient.
“Speaking from my own experience, I would tell them to give different forms of art a try, even if you don’t think you’ll be any good at it,” says Adil.
“Don’t be afraid to try something new – take a look around Malaysia’s art scene and try to find something that isn’t being done yet. Then once you’ve found your niche, you should focus on honing your skills in it and making it your own.”
The Life: Magnified exhibition is at Zhan Art Space, Jaya One in Petaling Jaya until Feb 8. Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. More info here.