Horses are beasts of majesty and power. Even during times of war and strife, these animals represent stability and sure-footedness.

Perhaps, that’s the reason the term kuda-kuda is used in the ancient martial art form of silat. It is a posture of a warrior in perfect balance. To obtain victory, a warrior has to remain standing in battle.

For sculptor and artist Mat Ali Mat Som, 43, this is what he chooses to explore in his Kuda-Kuda Merdeka exhibition, now on Artoutlet, Publika in KL till May 22.

After years of sculpture-making and finally going full-time as an artist, Mat Ali is trying something new with Kuda-Kuda Merdeka, his first solo painting exhibit.

He was a designer at Royal Selangor for 19 years before quitting in 2016.

“In silat there are many movements. But before one could make any moves, one needs a solid foundation. Even in life, we need a strong foundation before we can get anything done,” says the bespectacled Mat Ali at the gallery space.

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Kuda-Kuda Juang (acrylic on canvas, 2018). Photo: Junyu Teoh

Mat Ali, galvanised by the current social and political climate in the country, deems it timely and perhaps, necessary, for him to create a series that reflects the mood of the nation, told through the analogy of silat.

Indeed, the KL-born artist is no stranger to silat. It is, for want of a better term, a family affair, a passion Mat Ali shares with his wife and three children. Now based in Tanjung Malim, Perak, Mat Ali reveals he takes his silat gayung training seriously.

In fact, the UiTM fine art graduate’s previous exhibitions (Dendam Tak Sudah in 2009 and Unsung Heroes in 2013), made with metal and natural stone sculptures, were also mostly silat-inspired.

Mat Ali isn’t losing much sleep in explaining the differences between sculpture and painting. He enjoys both mediums tremendously.

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Kunci Menang (acrylic on canvas, 2018). Photo: Junyu Teoh

“You can’t say much about (metal) sculptures because there are no colours. But the moment you bring colours in, the possibilities are endless.”

Kuda-Kuda Merdeka, which literally means Horses Of Independence, sees Mat Ali meeting such possibilities as he presents 12 paintings and one wooden horse sculpture. These works have a sense of presence at the Artoutlet gallery space.

To achieve the stunning, semi-abstract paintings in the collection, Mat Ali’s canvases went through many layers of textured coatings. Each layer was completed, dried and painted on again to achieve the effect Mat Ali wanted.

One such painting, called Pacu Merdeka, is a marvel to look at. At first glance, one can only see chaos in the artwork. There is an explosion of red, blue, white, gold, black and yellow. Everything seems to be in disarray.

However, if you look at it closely, the image of a horse begins to emerge to the foreground. And once that focal point has been established, the curvatures dominate the painting. Viewers can clearly see what they really are – silat stances.

Bangkit Si Raja Gunung (acrylic on canvas, 2018). Photo: Junyu Teoh

“I had a certain energy for this series, a more bolder look at how I can achieve a sense of joyful optimism on canvas,” says Mat Ali.

The blue, red, white and yellow splashes in the background are not actually a mess but the proud Jalur Gemilang itself.

The stunning painting, which Mat Ali worked on after the country welcomed a new Prime Minister and government, speaks of a need to get back on track.

“I got the inspiration for this painting – which was the last to be completed – after Tun M was sworn in (on May 10). The plans for the first 100 days of the new government captured my imagination,” he reveals.

“Right now, we need a solid foundation. If the foundation is not strong, there is no use because we won’t be able to stand and move forward.”


Mat Ali Mat Som’s Kuda-Kuda Merdeka is on at Artoutlet, G2-52 Art Row, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur. The exhibition is on till May 31. The gallery is open daily: 11.30am-8.30pm. 016-932 2877. FB: Art Outlet.