What’s in a word? For veteran artist Nor Azizan Rahman Paiman, the word “inventory” has always fascinated him. It has an interesting concept and a fascinating ambiguity, he explains, as it refers to both the past and the future.

“An inventory is an action where you look at what you have at a peculiar point in time. It reflects what happened in the past. At the same time, an inventory is about the future. You count, you measure, you weigh what you have, you analyse your strengths and your weaknesses and, from there, you plan the future,” says the Malacca-born artist, who is popularly known as Paiman.

It is apt that in his fourth solo exhibition, Inventory, Paiman not only looks back on his past 25 years as an artist, but also considers the future as well. The show is an ambitious one, containing many artworks, objects and oddities from Paiman’s colourful artistic career.

The show, considered by Paiman as a “milestone in his career”, is on at Fuman Art Kuala Lumpur.

It collects about 100 of the artist’s works, spanning 1997 to 2016.

“It is a very dense exhibition where visitors will see my work and get a better understanding of my way of working, of the purpose of my work and of my sense of humour. There is much more to see than artworks, there are question marks, jokes, statements … it is not just about pleasing the eyes, it is also a moment where one will be softly taken towards questions on society, on our future and on the meaning of our lives,” says Paiman, 46, who is a senior lecturer in the Fine Art department of the Universiti Technology Mara UiTM of Perak.

Judicial (oil on canvas, 2012).

Judicial (oil on canvas, 2012).

Paiman, who has been active in the art scene since the early 1990s, is currently writing a thesis on performances in Malaysia.

Inventory is where I am standing today,” he declares.

Paiman, who is based in Seri Manjung, Perak, has long been considered as one of the country’s most fascinating contemporary artists.

He received many awards, including the 2002 Major Award at The Young Contemporary award exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery. This show packs in Paiman’s diverse range of works from different periods: Toaster Bread series (2016), Buang Shui (2016), Menu Pilihan Rakyat (2016), Kerajaan Langit (2016), Heroes Anti-Heroes (2014), Ali Baba And The 40 Thieves (2012), AP series and many more.

The rush of colourful, whimsical and thought-provoking art is what greets you at Fuman Art gallery.

Featured pieces such as The Guardian At The Forbidden City, The Naive Shareholder, Bangsawan Lebuhraya, and The CEO And His Partners will give viewers a sense of Paiman’s critical thinking through art. His humour – dark, biting and sharp – is most apparent.

One of the oldest works in the exhibition is Wild World (1997), which Paiman says is a very important piece to him.

“I like the style of it, and how it has some similarities with German Expressionism of the 1920s and peculiarly some paintings of Emil Nolde, but at the same time, it is clearly a work of mine. I appreciate how it is decorative and peaceful but, if you analyse it, you will find a lot of symbols and possible interpretations,” explains Paiman, who is more than partial to socio-political commentaries.

For veteran artist Nor Azizan Rahman Paiman, the word ‘inventory’ has always fascinated him. Photo: Fuman Art KL

For veteran artist Nor Azizan Rahman Paiman, the word ‘inventory’ has always fascinated him. Photo: Fuman Art KL

Nor Azizan Rahman Paimans Buang Shui (photograph 2016). The work is part of his Inventory show now on at at Fuman Art Kuala Lumpur.

Buang Shui (photograph 2016).

Paiman adds the exhibition includes three important works, namely Kerajaan Langit, Menu Pilihan Rakyat and Buang Shui.

Buang in Malay means throw and shui in Chinese means water. Buang Shui, in short, is about how a person, who was once dirty, can be cleansed and start anew. This is one of the meanings I see in this work but my friends have shared with me other ways of understanding this work. This is a great pleasure for me,” he reveals.

For a taste of new, Paiman’s Toaster Bread series is treat. The works, according to the artist, were based on various political or financial scandals that happened in Malaysia last year.

“Each painting is the portrait of a politician involved in a way or another in one or various scandals. There are 12 paintings to symbolise the 12 months of the year.” “All the paintings illustrate the creativity of some people, who manage the country, in finding ways to violate our trust. The material used, thick paper that looks like bread, illustrate that those issues are still ‘toasting’.”

Despite many of his works featuring well-known political figures, Paiman mentions he does not really consider his work to be political.

TP (toaster paper bread, 2015).

TP (toaster paper bread, 2015).

“It depends on what you mean by ‘political’. My work is not propaganda; I am not supporting, through my art, any political party or condemning any other. My artworks do have connections with political references because they reflect the world we are living in, they inspire me and make me think. I, also, believe they are very universal. Politicians all around the world have been saying and doing the same things since Plato at least. People can thus relate easily to those political references,” elaborates Paiman.

To him, what is important is that his art serves as a conduit that encourages people to ask questions. “It is important that my artworks trigger thoughts. I want my art to be enjoyable, of course, but at the same time it has to be interesting. I don’t know the ‘truth’. I don’t even know if there is a truth but I create my art hoping that will be part of the quest of each of us to find his own truth,” he shares.

Inventory is on at Fuman Art Kuala Lumpur, Shah Alam till March 5. For more information or to make an appointment, e-mail: contact@fumanart.com. Facebook: Fuman Art.