Kota Baru stirs gently in Kelantan-based artist Md Fadli Yusoff’s second solo exhibition.

The mystery woman is altogether alluring. Like a siren, she beckons and once she has you, your sight will be locked on her.

Innocently, she sits by the edge of the bed, her legs crossed. It is as if she has been waiting for you all this while. Her red batik sarung almost serves as bait, evoking something sensual. The seduction continues. Ever so slightly, she reveals her legs. And what makes this so irresistible is that it’s an act of defiance.

She couldn’t care less. Or that’s what you may conclude. For you see, as enigmatic and mysterious as this lady is, her head is never seen, she is not your typical Delilah. Truth be told, she has no intention in seducing you.

She’s just a simple kampung girl in a rustic part of Malaysia and she also happens to be a friend of artist Md Fadli Yusoff (or Padelli, as he is fondly known). She, together with various strangers and nostalgic places, are the unassuming subjects of the artist’s latest exhibition called A Day In Kota Lama.

Artist Md Fadli Yusoff

Md Fadli Yusoff’s Padang Layang.

“There’s nothing special about that lady. Actually, she’s one of my friends, and on that day, she came to my studio in Kg Padang Layang (in Kota Baru). So I just asked her permission to take few of her photos and then transferred it into paintings. That’s all,” says Fadli, 40, in a recent interview.

A Day In Kota Lama, which features 24 works is Fadli’s second solo exhibition. It is currently on at the White Box, Publika, Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur.

As the title suggests, the theme of the exhibition is a chronological travelogue of sorts, of a day spent in Kota Baru, Fadli’s hometown.

Interestingly, Fadli’s photographer friend Fadzir Abdullah photographed all the subjects even before the artist went to the drawing board.

“After a discussion with my friend, we decided to set a day, travel around Kota Baru, take photos, as much as we can, from various angles and compositions. And from those photos, I selected a few and transferred them into paintings,” he adds.

He recalled trawling through nearly 3,000 images – scenes from the markets to mosques to fishing villages and beaches – in the early stages of this project.

Jalan Sultan Ibr ahim, 06: 34pm , which is the artist’s tribute to Kelantan football star Mohd Badhri Mohd Radzi (aka Piya).

Unlike his previous exhibition Md Fadli Yusoff 2007-2012, which was heavier, multi-layered and touched topics like religion and social criticism, A Day in Kota Lama, is about the ordinary and the beauty one finds in daily life.

“Yeah, it’s just a ‘lighter’ show compared to the previous one. I’m focused only on things like visual skill, technical ability … formalistic aspects of art. It’s more like a visual documentation in my own way,” says Fadli, who enjoyed this opportunity to observe life and pursue his reflections.

“The exhibition is very light on content and cheerful on mood. There is no second or third layer to the paintings. What you see is what you get. But more importantly, Fadli’s paintings are very rich and heavy on the details,” explains Amran Ariffin from The Sketch, the exhibition’s organisers.

Christine Rohani Longuet, a Kelantan-based French art writer, echoed Amran and said in the exhibition’s catalogue, “to render his subjects, Padelli used three main techniques already familiar in his work; stark contrasts that give an impression of depth, chiaroscuro that enhance the part of mystery in each character and repetition.”

Kota Baru seemed to be the perfect subject, for the city appears to be mostly untouched by the passage of time. The old co-exists with the present in a harmonious symphony.

Take for instance the work Pasar Siti Khadijah. It depicts a grizzled and scrawny beca (rickshaw) driver, his skin darkened by the constant exposure to the sun. His baggy, white shirt serves as the perfect contrast to the dark background. The man is seen dragging a cigarette, probably taking a rest after hours of driving.

Pantai Dasar Sabak, 03: 46pm.

What makes this piece captivating is the old man himself. Even more fascinating are the intricate details, with his wrinkled skin, squinted eyes (since the photograph was taken at noon) and the delicate curves of his white eyebrows masterfully woven by the artist, who was under the tutelage of local art legend Amron Omar.

Fadli’s favourite painting is the Jalan Sultan Ibrahim piece. This painting shows a teenage boy in a football jersey standing under a billboard right before dusk. But what’s stunning about this, one may wonder? For one, the number “16” on the football jersey is the number of Kelantan football star Mohd Badhri Mohd Radzi (aka Piya). This is the artist’s tribute to him.

For another, it’s the billboard in the painting.

“When you are talking about Kota Baru personally, that piece has the answer. I mean, you can only see that type of billboard, with the model wearing tudung, in Kelantan. Nowhere else,” asserted Fadli, a Fine Arts graduate of Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara) in Shah Alam, Selangor.

We city dwellers are constantly caught up in the storms of modernisation and the merciless rapidity in which a city moves. We rarely have the chance to slow down and appreciate the ordinary. Viewing Fadli’s paintings could almost be an envious affair for life seems simpler in his Kota Lama. And that says a lot.

Md Fadli Yusoff’s A Day In Kota Lama runs daily till June 11 at the White Box, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur. Opening times: 10am to 8pm. More details, call 019-315 6868. Admission to the exhibition is free.