You can’t escape it. Its presence alone is enough to invoke much reverence.
The stallion, black and muscular, with its windswept mane, stands as a commanding guardian at the entrance of the chamber. With one hoof raised, the beast is ever ready to pounce forward.
But, as you approach it, a sight strange and unsettling meets your eyes.
Half the horse seems to have disappeared into the wall. The beast is not proud and dominant anymore. Truth be told, that may not have been intention of artist Jamil Zakaria at all with his intricate installation.
Called Si Kuda Hitam, which literally means a black or dark horse, the stallion, mounted on the walls of Core Design Gallery in Subang Jaya for its X Canvas group exhibition, is the emerging contemporary artist’s interpretation of the “dark horse” idiom.
“There are different perspectives to a singular matter; of positive and negative. Black naturally is of shadows and darkness, but through Si Kuda Hitam, I wanted to show that it is also of power and strength,” explains Jamil.
Kedah-born Jamil, 30, a fine arts graduate from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), is well-known for his chicken wire installations. In fact, he is one of the few Malaysian contemporary artists to thrive on his steel wire works.
But there is definitely something more refined in his new work compared to his previous installations in last year’s Temu show.
In Si Kuda Hitam, Jamil’s decision to use black 2K gloss paint as an additional layer is clearly an astute one.
And this is exactly what curator Scarlette Lee hopes to achieve with the X Canvas show – works with an added sense of sophistication.
The list of artists, a mix of established and emerging names, is known among collectors for a specific medium or style of art, but Lee was certain the eight could produce works beyond their comfort zones.
X Canvas throws a challenge to Al-Khuzairie Ali, Nor Tijan Firdaus Abu Bakar, Haafiz Shahimi, Raja Lope Rasydi Raja Rozlan, Masnoor Ramli Mahmud, Faizal Suhif, Ali Nurazmal Yusoff and Jamil. Two names – Ali Nurazmal and Raja Lope – were also part of Core Gallery’s eye-catching Reason 4 Season booth at Art Expo Malaysia Plus in Kuala Lumpur in September.
“These artists are not mere painters. They have done murals, installations and so on in their artistic journey. The question is, are they given the platform and opportunity to go further and daringly so?” asks Lee.
Thus, X Canvas was chosen as the theme, which could be interpreted as the absence of canvas in the works.
“This year has been a rather stagnant and slow year for the development of (local) art,” admits Lee.
“So I thought, ‘Why not try something new and exciting?’ The (art) viewers might like a change.”
Veteran art collector Farouk Khan believes this exhibition is reflective of the fact that Malaysian art is more contemporary than most of the other countries in the region.
Khan, in calling the show an “experiment”, says each artist has a critical mindset of his own. That is evident in their works.
“They have to do a lot of thinking because they are doing what they don’t normally do,” he says.
One such work is by Al-Khuzairie, 31, called X-Animale. The ceramic installation is that of a tiger’s skeleton placed in a glass box. What’s interesting about the skeletal structure is that the components are not your typical joints and bones that you will normally find at a natural history museum. There is a robotic element to X-Animale, especially the mechanical wheels positioned where the ribcage usually lies.
Most shocking of all is the inclusion of a human skull instead of a tiger’s. Slowly, a commentary comes to light.
Mankind, according to Al-Khuzairie, is responsible for the destruction of the natural world and the extinction of wildlife. But in the years to come, these cruel actions may very well lead to our own extinction.
Not only that, the mechanical-looking skeleton points to a grim future where only robotic versions of such beasts may exist.
Masnoor, 47, who is continuing his Moulding The History series, is an the artist who speaks his mind through his mixed media installations.
His site-specific installation called A Child And Monsters They Made is a commanding piece. It transports you to a room where a small desk and chair faces a wall filled with historical photographs, a cuckoo clock and a window which looks out to a lush, green landscape.
The artist uses aluminium panels to form the wall and embeds an LCD screen behind the window to project the outdoor scenery. When the viewer looks at the screen closely, it reveals a smog-clad forest.
This is Masnoor’s artistic take on the recent haze which blanketed the South-East Asian region for months.
“Our recent haze situation is not just a mere haze. It is a sign, bringing me back to 1998, where Malaysia was plaqued by various troubles (political, financial, etc). Now in 2015, we are faced again with difficult situations. For our new generations to come, perhaps it is time to be conscious and reciprocate in good conscience,” he explains.
If anything, some of the works from X Canvas look the part as well-informed additions to a Recent Acquisitions-type show at the National Visual Arts Gallery, or they could find adventurous collectors who will take them home.
All said, as the year draws to a close, a visually and intellectually stimulating slant to the art scene is much welcomed.
X Canvas is on at Core Design Gallery, 87, Jalan SS 15/2A, Subang Jaya in Selangor till Jan 15. For more info, visit www.malaysiacontemporaryart.coredesigngallery.com or call 03-5612 1168.