Memories have the power to weave a map so intricate and dense, feeding on past experiences and fuelling the formation of new ones. Hasanul Isyraf Idris’ latest body of work at Richard Koh Fine Art in Kuala Lumpur captures this sentiment in a series of works, many of which are rather bizarre-looking and delightfully quirky, and others so crammed with ideas and lines that there is hardly any room left to breathe.
The 38-year-old artist, who hails from Perak, likens memories and their inherent ability to morph and transform into a “cerebral wilderness similar to a permanent forest reserve”, with branches that intertwine and merge, forming a network mesh that extends into eternity.
“Memories are complex, they change with time even though these shifts might go unnoticed. The metaphor I chose of trees in a forest reflects their mysterious nature,” he explains.
HOL (Higher Order Love), Chapter 1: The Fall, comprising 21 new ink and mixed media works, is Hasanul’s third solo exhibition with Richard Koh Fine Art.
The HOL title is borrowed from an inscription the artist chanced upon in a Jewish burial site in Penang.
“I saw ‘HOL’ carved onto a cracked marble slab at the graveyard and was curious about what it could mean. After a brainstorming session with my wife over lunch, I decided that HOL as an acronym for Higher Order Love, in the sense of eternal or unconditional love, really resonated with me,” he relates.
The Fall is the beginning of what Hasanul hopes will be followed by Hurt and Heal in the future. But for now, it is an emblem of a new start of sorts, like falling in love, or falling off a bike as part of the learning process.
He adds that HOL can mean many different things, as a quick search online led him to something entirely different from his personal interpretation: Higher Order Logic from the world of mathematics.
His last exhibition with the gallery two years ago, with its works created during a particularly low point in his life during his struggle with depression, turned out to be the start of an intense exploration of memories and the mysteries of the mind.
“Memories are patterns, structures…they form the building blocks of your identity and makes you the person you are,” he says.
In looking forward, one might have to look backwards to figure out how one comes to be. But the only way forward is to keep moving. And with HOL, this artist is delving deep into his memories and forming a more profound understanding of himself.
Not unlike his earlier works, the world of HOL is informed by his personal experiences, life events and rites of passage. In these works, they manifest in images like waterfalls of tears, lakes of seeds, houses of worship, graveyards, a coliseum for wild beasts filled with rage and anger and a cave where we can seek refuge in. Hasanul has conjured up landscapes populated by strange creatures that look as though they were transported right out of a science fiction universe…at first glance, that is. He is quick to point out that they are not mere figments of his imagination, but are firmly rooted in reality and are the sights and sounds of everyday life (like the places of worship you drive past on your way home, or the stickers on a bread seller’s bicycle).
But the most personal memory he draws upon for this exhibition is of him and his late mother at the circus that came to town. It was Sitiawan, Perak, in the early 1980s, and the wonderment experienced by the wide-eyed boy then is perhaps still somewhere inside the man he has grown up to be.
In the elaborate Sorry Mak Tattoo And Spa, a hypothetical situation involving a fallen angel, sage and goddess all gathered in a quiet place, reveling in the silence of the moment and enjoying the serenity of just being.
“The viewer can associate this with whatever he or she wants to, whether it is politics, Facebook, or religious extremism,” Hasanul says, going on to say that its origins, however, can be traced back to the time he spent in a friend’s tattoo parlour in Sabah.
“I initially started going there simply because it was air-conditioned. But then I found myself dropping by almost every day, to watch how ideas become sketches and how the final form takes shape,” he relates.
It is the emotions and memories he associates with this time and place that he incorporated into Sorry Mak Tattoo And Spa.
“The title,” he says, in reference to the first two words, “harks back to the time when we were teenagers getting up to mischief, like when you get caught hiding a box of cigarettes in the drawer.”
On the surface, HOL looks like bits and pieces borrowed from numerous sources and stitched together, which is oddly fitting. It is not unlike a quilt filled with memory fragments that go back in time and space, with everything culminating in who – or what – you are today.
The exhibition is on until April 23. Opening hours: 11am to 8pm daily. Call 03-2283 3677 or visit rkfineart.com for more information.