Shafiq Nordin has a lot to be thankful for.

This year, the 29-year-old artist has been working hard, participating in four group exhibitions and three art fairs.

His latest solo exhibition Aletheia, which showed at G13 Gallery in Petaling Jaya recently, has capped off a good year. It saw Shafiq selling out all 11 sizeable artworks within days of its opening last month.

It was an encouraging feat for a young artist, who started exhibiting works publicly in 2009.

For Shafiq, it all began with sketches and doodles at the back of school books.

He was just 10 when he started drawing comics and cartoon characters on pages ripped out from of his school exercise books.

With paper and pencil in hand, the young man from Tampin, Negri Sembilan, would sit in front of the TV and start drawing his favourite characters as the series played on.

His parents – in recognising his interest and to prevent him from tearing more school books – got him his very own art supplies. He even sold his drawings to his classmates for 30 sen a piece.

“I really got serious about art when my art teacher, who was also my dad’s close friend, spotted my talent and convinced my dad to allow me to take up art as a subject in secondary school,” recalls Shafiq, whose father is a landscape artist.

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Part of Shafiq’s Revolution (Based On A True Story), a diptych that talks about young artists coming together to defeat the creatively stifling art scene in Malaysia. Photo: G13

“He even convinced my family to allow me to further my education in fine art.”

In 2012, Shafiq got his degree in Fine Art, from UiTM Shah Alam. He majored in painting.

Shafiq, fuelled by passion, grew from strength to strength as he readily took on several group exhibitions at the start of his career. In 2014, he featured in 11 exhibitions, but these days, he has scaled back tremendously to pace himself when it comes to art.

Room to grow

Shafiq, the first of six siblings, still shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to improving his technique and craft.

He has an exciting 2019 ahead. He has already been picked up by the Philippines-based Block 17 Art Space in Bacolod City for a two-month residency next year, followed by an exhibition there. He mentions that another residency in Indonesia is on the cards.

“Residency programmes are very important for me – or any artist – to gain experience and new ideas to create fresh works,” says Shafiq.

The art scene in the Philippines, he mentions, is an exciting and edgy one in the South-East Asian region.

When he is abroad, especially at Art Basel Hong Kong or Artjog in Indonesia, he does make time to visit interesting galleries and art museums in those cities.

“As an artist, you must always be up to date on what’s happening in the art world.”

His Aletheia exhibition, his second solo, is a testament to his thirst and drive to keep pushing the envelope and evolving as an artist.

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Shafiq’s The Red Kaiju Roams The Art Circle (oil and acrylic on jute, 2018). Photo: G13

For 2018, Shafiq’s Aletheia show can join Hasanul Isyaf Idris’s exhibition Hol (Higher Order Love) Chapter 3, Scab: Lucky Draw as the year’s highlights when it comes to Malaysian artists using pop surrealism in their artworks.

The Petaling Jaya-based Shafiq did not play it coy with his stunningly psychedelic and impishly sarcastic paintings.

His 11 artworks, including a mini horse sculpture, stayed true to the title of the show Aletheia, an ancient Greek philosophical idea which means “truth or disclosure”.

Time to unite

His is a visual commentary on the state of the Malaysian art scene based on his own experiences. There is a certain playfulness, cheekiness and a childlike curiosity, albeit with a sardonic twist, in his works.

In The Beginner With 100 Years Of Experience painting, Shafiq depicts a horse-like creature with a humanoid body wearing a Trojan helmet. The purplish creature is wielding a shield and a sword, sitting atop a tank. A loudspeaker protrudes out of the creature’s ear.

“It is a sarcastic work. I mean, you’re a beginner artist, but you talk as if you have 100 years of experience. You advise people on what to do and not to do, when in fact, you’re just a beginner too. This supposed ‘experience’ is just from hearing what senior artists have said,” says Shafiq. “If you look closely at the painting, there is some moss on the creature which goes to say that sooner or later, you will die (of decay) if you remain like this,” he warns.

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The Tale Of Jaguh Kampung (oil and acrylic on jute, 2018). Photo: G13

Shafiq can also take it up a notch. He even took a dig at local galleries and collectors. “Personally, I believe the artist sits at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the gallery and lastly the collector. But in Malaysia, the order is reversed, with the artist being in the lowest rung,” he points out, rather bluntly.

“I believe that if artists unite to overturn the system, galleries will fulfill their obligations rightfully and artists won’t have to suffer.”

His massive Revolution (Based On A True Story) painting, which took up an entire wall, captures that exact sentiment. It is a diptych featuring four Roman warriors, who have defeated and killed a massive whale.

Shafiq says the warriors are the artists and the dead whale is a symbol of the oppressive system, which is reminiscent of Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan, which centres on moral and political philosophy. And separating the diptych is a cut-out painting installation of a heart with a keyhole in it. The key, he mentions, is what the artists need to lift up the art scene.

Picking pop surrealism

Shafiq’s first solo exhibition Imperium at Hom Art Trans gallery in 2016 now looks like a precursor to Aletheia. That show prominently featured fantastical beasts in odd landscapes, the surreal pop paintings also served as metaphors for his observations in the art scene’s politics.

He attributes his discovery of pop surrealism to the Malaysia Emerging Art (MEA) Awards in 2013/14, jointly organised by Hom Art Trans and Kuala Lumpur-based Galeri Chandan. He was one of the award winners. “Before the MEA, I was quite unsure about my path in the art scene because I kept changing my style as I pursued my identity as an artist.

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Shafiq with his Malaysian Emerging Artist Award 2013. Even back then he wasn’t short on colourful ambition and social comment in his art. Photo: Filepic

“Since the MEA award, pop surrealism has been my style,” says Shafiq.

The artist, who admits he binge watches movies (sci-fi to history) daily to find inspiration for his artworks, is as innovative and resourceful as he is creative.

Six years ago, he established the Ara Damansara Artists collective, comprising 12 studio artists. The community-based artist group regularly organises art programmes and workshops.

Shafiq also founded Studio Pisang at the same time with fellow artists Hisyamuddin Abdullah and Sabihis Pandi.

Through his year-old Studio Pisang Art Merchandise initiative, he even designed tote bags and T-shirts for the Aletheia exhibition.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Too Phat’s Malique some years ago in making artist merchandise. This spurred me on with artist merchandise. It is not something unique, but it is rather new in Malaysia.”

Shafiq admits that it takes a lot of work and self-discipline to stay focused in the art scene.

“Survival for an artist is not easy but the key is to create unique works and to always have your own identity.”

Next year, Shafiq marks 10 years in the art scene. If achievements, thus far, are anything to go by, only bigger things can be expected.