Ajim Juxta’s art has always been abstract and intense. However, things are getting a few shades darker these days with this KL-based artist, who is also one of the founders of the Titikmerah art collective.
The main plotline for Ajim’s fourth solo show arkologi: gelap, which is currently showing at KL’s Artemis Art gallery, seems to suggest a grim yet fantastical past, present and future. It is filled with structures and creatures from a time that could be, in an effort to get us to reflect on our present time.
“The show arkologi has a side of irony, where you try to create a state of utopia, but end up creating a dystopia instead,” explains Ajim, 35, during a recent interview at Artemis Art.
Ajim, whose real name is Raja Azeem Idzham, has already made it his mission to create as much art as possible this year. His low-key Ragamasa, held at Titikmerah gallery, in February set the wheels in motion.
In arkologi gelap, the works are far bigger. The exhibition is a successor, of sorts, to arkologi: convergence, which earned Ajim a spot among the top three winners of the Young Art Awards at Young Art Taipei in 2016. The series, presented by Artemis Art, also bagged Ajim a three-month residency from the Taiwan-based Yeh Rong Jai Culture and Art Foundation. He was the first Malaysian to win this award.
Years later, the arkologi: gelap show is still tied to the theme “arcology”, a concept coined by the Italian architect Paolo Solieri. The term, combined from the words “architecture” and “ecology”, refers to architectural designs for very densely populated human habitats with low impact on the ecology. It is a common device in science fiction, where entire populations are contained in one building.
Ajim was introduced to the concept through, of all things, the computer game SimCity 2000. He later grew more familiar with it through his architectural studies.
“They’re kind of self-sustaining mixed developments. Residential, commercial and industrial developments all within one place. It’s a valid idea, but these can be wrongly used. You can use these to avoid real issues, like enviromental or land issues. We rely so much on technology, on development, that we affect nature and the things around us,” says Ajim.
Among Ajim’s fascinations are vernacular architecture (a style of architecture that is based on local needs and local traditions). These include traditional Malay houses. In a way, his arcologies are an extension of that.
“You have to think about what you need, and respond to the context. Not just the environment, but to the weather, the image of the culture, and so on. But there’s also another effect of architecture, where you make use of technology to the max. And you see all these megastructures being built, bigger and taller than the last,” he adds, leaving us with the suggestion of dystopia ahead.
In the arkologi: gelap show, there are 20 works to get the viewer thinking. Ajim’s tugu works are exactly that: ironic representations of monuments, seemingly paying tribute to mankind’s achievements. Tugu: gali and tugu: tarah bukit are influenced by oil and construction platforms, symbols of mankind’s efforts to control his surroundings. Tugu: himpit is a grim depiction of human skeletons trapped in congestion.
Among Ajim’s portrayals of twisted architecture, there is one painting that appears to be an all black canvas. This, the artist says, is arkologi: gelap, the title piece of the show. According to him, all the other pieces were an offshoot of this sombre work.
“When I came back from England, I had this idea of how people could treat paintings. Not just as a visual representation of things, but it can be an object of art itself. Conceptually, it’s an object, it’s self-contained, and not just about the technicalities of painting.”
“So inside, there are structures, there are environments, but it’s dark, you just can’t see them. It’s like the night has just absorbed you. So by doing this black painting, it liberated me from visuals,” says Ajim.
Last year, Ajim had a three-month stint in England, which ended in November. Together with fellow artist Azam Aris, he was awarded the Khazanah Nasional Associate Artist Residency at Acme Studios in London.