In the shadow of war, Malaysian artist's new show offers glowing embers of hope


Hamidi’s new exhibition marks an evolution in his visual language and use of materials, incorporating Middle Eastern-patterned tapestries in the artwork to signify ongoing global conflicts. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

Hamidi Hadi’s current series, Trembling In Silence (2024), now showing at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, portrays the relentless battle for existence amid global turmoil.

His artworks, which lend a solemn atmosphere to the gallery space, serve as poignant symbols of humanity, evoking intense emotions like anxiety and vulnerability.

Hamidi, a resident of Seri Iskandar, Perak, who also teaches art at UiTM there, was in the midst of creating a new series of artworks – his last exhibition was in 2021 – when the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted in Gaza last October.

“I halted my ongoing work and shifted my focus,” said Hamidi, 53, in a recent interview at Wei-Ling Gallery, where his latest exhibition runs until April 27.

Overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians, he found himself unable to continue with his previous projects.

Instead, the artist-lecturer, born in Selangor, started gathering materials for the Trembling In Silence series, a departure in mood and themes from his abandoned series.

“I have a deep connection with nature, to the extent that I purchased a piece of land in Padang Rengas, near Kuala Kangsar (in Perak). It’s nestled within a forest boasting a waterfall and a flowing stream. On this land, I’ve constructed a small studio for my artistic endeavours and cultivated an orchard with durian trees,” said Hamidi.

Hamidi's experimentation allowed him to incorporate melted bubble wrap in 'Rubble II' (2023), portraying a skin-like texture and highlighting the vulnerabilities of human beings. Photo: Wei-Ling GalleryHamidi's experimentation allowed him to incorporate melted bubble wrap in 'Rubble II' (2023), portraying a skin-like texture and highlighting the vulnerabilities of human beings. Photo: Wei-Ling Gallery

“The environment there is tranquil and serene, and being surrounded by lush greenery brings me immense joy. The paintings I was working on were inspired by this natural setting. However, amidst this serenity, the crisis in the Middle East unfolded, leaving me torn,” he added.

Art and emotions

The artist, who is known for his abstract paintings, sought to convey his thoughts on the Middle East conflict through his Trembling In Silence series. It consists of 10 artworks incorporating materials such as tapestries and wire mesh.

These works evoke emotional vulnerability yet convey underlying hopes for people in need.

“While I found solace in my peaceful surroundings, I couldn’t ignore the immense suffering, death, and destruction happening elsewhere. It deeply affected me, creating a conflict within,” said Hamidi.

“I just couldn’t continue with what I was doing artistically. I was in such an emotional state and I was overwhelmed by it that I had to do something else which resonated with what was going through inside of me.”

The initial artwork to emerge from this exploration is Heartbreak, created using oil paint on canvas but executed in a rather unconventional manner.

One of Hamidi’s artworks, 'Trampled Bodies' (2024), is an interactive installation inviting viewers to convey their messages on balloons, trapped underneath the wire mesh. Photo: The Star/Kamarul AriffinOne of Hamidi’s artworks, 'Trampled Bodies' (2024), is an interactive installation inviting viewers to convey their messages on balloons, trapped underneath the wire mesh. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

“My paintings are more towards abstract art and making an abstract painting is about how you deliver your emotions to the canvas, how you feel, how you think,” said Hamidi.

“For Heartbreak, I used the heart symbol as a base because I wanted something simple for people to understand. If you step back a bit, you can see the heart symbol which is a symbol of love.

“I laid the canvas on the ground and then added other colours and paints on one half of the canvas and I folded the other half over it to make an imprint.

“To make this imprint, I stood on the canvas and trampled over it with my feet. If you take a look at the back of the canvas you can see the footprints where I stepped all over it.”

Hamidi explained that this depiction of trampling conveyed the anguish he was experiencing while also laying the groundwork for the narrative of the painting.

Trial by fire

For raw material, Hamidi used carpets instead of canvas, inspired by his observations of Palestinians fleeing their homes and the belongings they carried with them.

He noticed people in Gaza were taking their carpets with them and sadly, the carpets were also used to wrap the dead.

'As fate would have it, I stumbled upon these round incense burners, a common sight in the Middle East. My curiosity led me to experiment with them on the carpets. To my surprise, the effect resembled bullet holes,' says Hamidi. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin'As fate would have it, I stumbled upon these round incense burners, a common sight in the Middle East. My curiosity led me to experiment with them on the carpets. To my surprise, the effect resembled bullet holes,' says Hamidi. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

“I was closely following the events unfolding in Gaza and searching for materials, techniques, and approaches as an artist. While art is inherently subjective and not bound by precision, I aimed to communicate something as authentic as possible,” explained Hamidi, a British-trained artist, who also has a PhD in art history from Universiti Malaya.

“I started with the element of fire and set fire to things. I used a flame torch as a sort of artistic technique and set fire to materials like paper, resin, bubble wrap and wood which I applied to the artworks I was creating like Suffocate.

“A carpet, however, is a significant home accessory; it adds a sense of completeness. Witnessing displaced Palestinians carrying their carpets while fleeing, I had the thought, ‘Why not use a carpet to symbolise the events unfolding in the Middle East?’.”

In his studio, the creative routines were definitely different for these new artworks in Trembling In Silence. He used carpets which had Middle Eastern motifs and deliberately torched them.

“Initially, I used the flame torch on the carpet, but I didn’t get the effect that I wanted. It would burn everything and I had no control over it. So I thought about how I could improve this technique, while still using fire,” he explained.

“As fate would have it, I stumbled upon these round incense burners, a common sight in the Middle East. My curiosity led me to experiment with them on the carpets. To my surprise, the effect resembled bullet holes."

A view of Hamidi’s 'Trembling In Silence' exhibition, which features 10 new works informed by the ongoing Middle East conflict. Photo: The Star/Kamarul AriffinA view of Hamidi’s 'Trembling In Silence' exhibition, which features 10 new works informed by the ongoing Middle East conflict. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

Initially uncertain of the outcome, Hamidi persisted with the torch and burn technique.

“Each deliberate mark on the wool yielded unexpected results. I had never burned carpets before, yet the outcome evoked notions of destruction, suffering, and agony,” he said.

Breathing life back

Although one might initially perceive Hamidi’s latest art exhibition as immersed in sadness and sorrow, one installation stands out: Trampled Bodies.

Despite its evocative name, the piece offers hope even in our darkest hours. Intriguingly, it marks Hamidi’s first public display of an installation, despite his previous experience creating them. This piece, suspended and crafted from wire mesh and cable ties, possesses an organic quality in its form, resembling an abstract representation of the human body.

However, it remains a work in progress, as visitors to the gallery are invited to engage with it by inscribing a message on a balloon and attaching it to the installation.

“I wanted to create something that people can be involved in. Where paintings are concerned, it’s something you see and observe and what your reaction is towards it but with this installation I wanted to get the audience involved as part of the creation of this work,” said Hamidi, who took six months to complete Trembling In Silence.

“After completing this installation and contemplating how to engage the audience, I recalled a previous piece I created, Suffocate. It features a balloon filled with my breath, symbolising my feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I realised that the audience could contribute in a similar manner to this installation,” he concluded.

Trembling In Silence is showing at Wei-Ling Gallery, 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur till April 27. Open: Tuesday to Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday, 10am–5pm. By appointment only. Call 03-2260 1106 or e-mail siewboon@weiling-gallery.com.

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