Sunday January 27, 2013
Fadli Yusoff pushes the boundaries
By ROUWEN LIN
An artist who has shunned painting human figures for over a decade returns to the subject with gusto.
THERE is a contemplative stillness in the painting depicting a man deep in prayer, even as ribbons of text dance around him and colours swirl. There Is No God But Allah, Prophet Muhammad The Messenger Of Allah is one of approximately 30 figurative artworks to emerge from artist Fadli Yusoff’s studio in time for his first solo exhibition, simply entitled Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2012.
The exhibition at Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur, is a collaboration with 12, an experimental and conceptual art group with gallery space in Setapak, KL, that is managed by Shooshie Sulaiman and Fatina Alfis.
The works in the exhibition were made over a five-year period, from the end of 2007 to 2012, and are the result of Fadli’s first real foray into the world of figures; prior to that, he had not touched figurative works since an art class in university taught by artist and part-time lecturer Amron Omar in 1995.
“I had even planned to draw my grandfather at work in the village for my final year project. But when a friend told me about a book by the United Ulama Council of South Africa stating that it is haram (prohibited) to do figurative art, I read it and decided that I couldn’t go on with it,” says Fadli, a Fine Arts graduate of Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara).
Determined to start afresh, the young Fadli took his thick sketchbook with his work thus far and tore the pages out.
“I burned them one at a time under a single lamp in the dark of the night. It was hard. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. But if figurative art is something I am not supposed to do, then how can I do it? At least, those were my thoughts at that time,” the 38-year-old Kelantanese relates during a chat at 12 in Setapak recently.
Fadli threw himself into landscapes and still life for the next 11 years in his career as an artist. And then it all came to a standstill.
“What happens when you do the same thing over and over again for a long time? You find that you reach a point where you are unable to progress any further,” he confides.
The artist felt there were no more avenues within the confines of this subject matter left to explore. “Landscape painting no longer posed any challenge to me and I wasn’t able to grow and develop as an artist,” he says, pointing out that there is a religious teaching that encourages the faithful to attain knowledge.
And therein lay the conflict.
“On the one hand, I had thought for such a long time that I wasn’t supposed to do figurative art. But on the other hand, I felt that figurative art was the direction I now had to move towards if I intended to expand my exploration as an artist and be the best I can be. It is an aspect of art that is important for my growth as an artist. These two things seemed to contradict each other,” he says.
He was directed to another book that touches upon matters concerning figurative art in more detail. After reading it, Fadli then realised that the issue revolving around the depiction of figures were not as set in stone as he had initially thought.
“Instead, there are guidelines to follow and there are different levels of things I can do, should not do, and what I am not allowed to do. And every action has its consequences. I felt that I had to truly understand this issue because I am an artist and this affects me and my job,” he says.
After a lot of soul searching, he proceeded with figurative works in 2007 and stuck with it.
The result is humanity captured on jute and canvas in a variety of poses and moods, all acrylic, with the exception of a batik on satin work of Myanmar’s Aung San Syu Kyi.
But don’t expect to see nudes or sculptures at this exhibition; Fadli draws the line at these in accordance with his beliefs. And despite making the decision five years ago to do figurative art, that’s not to say that he didn’t have any doubts while preparing for the exhibition.
“Many a day I would be troubled by thoughts of whether what I was doing was right. But I pushed for a deeper understanding of the issue and in doing so, in the last five years, I think I have grown as an artist as well as a person. At the end of the day, what matters to me is that I have a clear conscience,” he says.
As much as the works in this exhibition are intertwined with his religious convictions, he does not label his work as Islamic art.
“What makes something Islamic art? I don’t say that what I create is Islamic art, that’s up to the viewer to decide. I won’t judge either way. But I try to be a good Muslim and a good person, and my art is very much a part of me, so there are inevitably Islamic elements in them,” he says.
As to where he will go from here, Fadli is still uncertain.
Plans are underway to have an exhibition in Brussels this summer, co-organised by the Malaysian ambassador in Belgium and the 12 art group. In a type of artist-in-residence programme, Fadli will stay in Brussels for at least two months to produce his artworks.
After that, he might cast his net even further or perhaps head in another direction altogether. But whatever the next step is, it will always be something close to his heart.
“I simply express my reaction to things that happen around me and my works will always be something straight from my heart,” he concludes.
> Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2012 will run from Wednesday to Feb 8 at the White Box, MAP@Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur. Admission to the exhibition is free. There will be a conversation and workshop with the artist at 2pm on
Feb 5. Visit 12as12.com or call
03-4023 4128 for more information.