Reimagining M. Nasir's musical legacy through art


A view of Syafiq Mohd Nor’s 'Lagak Si Buruh' (acrylic and colour pencil on canvas, 2024) at the 'Sesat Di Kuala Lumpur' exhibition at Galeri Puteh. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

In folk rock outfit Kembara’s tune Sesat Di Kuala Lumpur in 1986, M. Nasir captured the hopes and dreams of those who packed their bags and moved to big cities such as Kuala Lumpur for a better life.

The song – featured in Nasir Jani’s cult classic movie Kembara Seniman Jalanan that M. Nasir also starred in – is the inspiration behind Galeri Puteh’s latest exhibition, Sesat Di Kuala Lumpur: Lagunya Begini, Tampaknya Begitu ... M. Nasir.

The group show, which opened to a packed gallery last Sunday will run through June 30.

It showcases the works of nearly 60 artists inspired by M. Nasir’s body of work, which spans 45 years.

Ika stands beside her work 'Bonda', inspired by a classic song from M. Nasir's album 'Canggung Mendonan'. Her husband Kide, who has two paintings in the show, is seen on the left. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah Ika stands beside her work 'Bonda', inspired by a classic song from M. Nasir's album 'Canggung Mendonan'. Her husband Kide, who has two paintings in the show, is seen on the left. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

For the man himself, he came to KL from Singapore as a young man in his 20s, driven by a thirst for art and culture. His pursuit led him to Anak Alam, a legendary Malaysian arts collective – spanning art, theatre, music, poetry, and more – established in 1974.

“My main reason to come here was to go to Anak Alam. I was attracted to the lifestyle, the thinking, the philosophy,” says M. Nasir in a recent interview at Galeri Puteh.

The folk-driven Sesat Di Kuala Lumpur, a song that has resonated through generations, holds a special place in his career. He reflects on how the journey of being lost and finding oneself is a never-ending process.

“I’ve been searching for 45 years, and throughout this time, I’ve been lost, then found, then lost again. That’s the nature of being human,” he adds.

Visitors take a closer look at S. Amin Shahab’s 'Dedaun Masa' painting from 1982, which is an unused album cover artwork. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah Visitors take a closer look at S. Amin Shahab’s 'Dedaun Masa' painting from 1982, which is an unused album cover artwork. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

For Nizam Rahmat, Galeri Puteh’s co-founder, the exhibition fulfills a long-held desire to collaborate with M. Nasir.

“M. Nasir is a legendary figure in the Malaysian music scene, known for his distinctive voice, poetic lyrics and versatile music style. His solo albums, duets and work with the group Kembara have consistently resonated with music lovers, earning him a devoted following from the early 1980s to the present,” says Nizam.

“Many people are unaware that M. Nasir is an art school graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore,” he adds.

“For this exhibition, we selected a diverse range of artists – young and old – influenced by his music and lyrics. Additionally, we invited M. Nasir to contribute two works, as he still actively paints. We’re glad he agreed to participate.”

Tapa's street photography series was inspired by M. Nasir's folk rock lyrics, notably during his days with Kembara in the 1980s. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah Tapa's street photography series was inspired by M. Nasir's folk rock lyrics, notably during his days with Kembara in the 1980s. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

For the M. Nasir following, the exhibition’s main highlights would be the musician’s abstract painting Tanya Sama Itu Hud Hud and a self-portrait titled Sang Pencinta.

However, it’s the artists, photographers, mixed media artists and sculptors who truly shine in this tribute exhibition, demonstrating that M. Nasir’s influence transcends various artistic fields.

Stories, lyrics and art

During the exhibition’s recent launch, artist couple Kide Baharudin and Ika Sharom were in the spotlight.

Kide’s Bas No.13 (Sosek Baghek 1) and Bas No.13 (Sosek Baghek 2), along with Ika’s Bonda, sparked lively conversations.

“Sosek baghek is Negri Sembilan slang for ‘getting lost’,” explains Kide, who is based in Seremban.

Kide Baharudin's 'Bas No.13 (Sosek Baghek 1)'. Photo: Galeri PutehKide Baharudin's 'Bas No.13 (Sosek Baghek 1)'. Photo: Galeri Puteh

“I was inspired by Kembara’s song Bas No. 13, about a man returning to his hometown to find everything changed. Having had a similar experience, I wanted to capture that feeling from my perspective,” he adds.

One piece shows a bus navigating the chaotic streets of KL, while the other depicts it lost in a slow-paced village, highlighting the contrast between city life and bucolic kampung life.

Growing up with M. Nasir’s songs and movies, Kide also met him in person as a child.

“In 1996, M. Nasir and his family stayed at our family-run chalets in Setiu, Terengganu. My mum took a photo of us in a small hut, which I still keep. I was six then, so I don’t remember much, but now I get to do an art exhibition with him. Can you imagine?” says Kide with a laugh.

For M. Nasir fans, the exhibition’s main highlights include his abstract painting 'Tanya Sama Itu Hud Hud' (pictured) and a self-portrait titled 'Sang Pencinta'. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah For M. Nasir fans, the exhibition’s main highlights include his abstract painting 'Tanya Sama Itu Hud Hud' (pictured) and a self-portrait titled 'Sang Pencinta'. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

Ika’s Bonda gets its inspiration from M. Nasir’s 1994 song of the same name.

“It’s about a son leaving his mother in the village to pursue his dreams in the city, but still missing her love,” says Ika.

Her painting depicts a mother and child at home by a padi field, referencing her late grandmother’s home in Kampung Sarang Buaya, Muar, Johor.

“As a daughter – or son in M. Nasir’s song Bonda – I feel that no matter how old or independent you become, you will always be a child in your mother’s eyes. In this piece, I aimed to convey that a mother’s love is limitless, boundless, and unconditional – it remains forever deep in your heart,” she adds.

Ilham Fadli, also known as Kojek, drew inspiration from M. Nasir's 1992 song 'Apokalips' to create his new series of paintings. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah Ilham Fadli, also known as Kojek, drew inspiration from M. Nasir's 1992 song 'Apokalips' to create his new series of paintings. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

The exhibition’s average artist age of 30-plus contributes to the lively and energetic feel of the show.

Yet, it’s a somewhat understated oil-on-canvas piece by S. Amin Shahab, one of M. Nasir’s longtime friends and artistic collaborators, that has garnered attention. His 1982 work titled Dedaun Masa – an unused album cover painting – is likely to pique the interest of Malaysian music enthusiasts keen on rock history.

"It wasn't planned to be part of the show, but due to Amin Shahab's recent illness preventing him from contributing a new painting, his early 1980s work Dedaun Masa has made its way here. This piece, a forgotten gem of Malaysian art and music history, also serves as a lost album cover from over 40 years ago. From back then, you can see how M. Nasir's circle of friends came from the fields of music and art," says Nizam.

Veteran photographer Mustaffa Ahmad Hidzir, also known as Tapa, contributes a street-level perspective to the exhibition through his photography series Lagunya Begini, Tampaknya Begitu ..., predominantly captured in the bustling streets of KL.

Gallery visitors walk past Abdullah Jone's 'Requiem' (mixed media on canvas, diptych, 2024). Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah Gallery visitors walk past Abdullah Jone's 'Requiem' (mixed media on canvas, diptych, 2024). Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

At the gallery, Tapa reflects on M. Nasir’s lyrics, particularly from his Kembara era, noting their profound resonance when mirrored in real-life situations.

“They capture the raw authenticity and profound essence of the human experience. You can witness how his lyrics resonate with successive generations through music and art,” he says.

Tapa’s monochromatic photographs, titled after M. Nasir songs, are complemented by Fadzil Idris’ photo series Kuala Lumpur Tanpa Alcohol.

“Photography often gets overlooked in art exhibitions, so it’s refreshing that this show, sparked by music, is embracing a variety of artistic mediums,” says Tapa.

Arikwibowo Amril's 'Empunya Cermin Mimpi' (charcoal on paper, 2024). Photo: Galeri Puteh Arikwibowo Amril's 'Empunya Cermin Mimpi' (charcoal on paper, 2024). Photo: Galeri Puteh

"M. Nasir's career is rich with songs, and this art exhibition brings their diverse themes to life. The mood of his darker songs inspired my new series of paintings, perfectly capturing the essence of these difficult times,' says Ilham Fadli, also known as Kojek, who referenced M. Nasir's Apokalips, an early 1990s Nusantara-based song written by the late songwriter Loloq.

To create a well-balanced show, the exhibition features established artists like Rafie Ghani, Samsudin Wahab (aka Buden), Najib Bamadhaj, and Shafiq Nordin presenting their latest works. Meanwhile, emerging talents such as Yeng, Husin Othman, and Dayah Ali also received early attention at the weekend launch.

“Every artist, including the celebrated M. Nasir himself, has made their mark on the exhibition, making it a truly special tribute that underscores the powerful connection between music and art,” concludes Nizam.

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