The late Zulkifli Dahlan (1952-1977) was a trailblazing visual artist that tragically had his life cut short.

KL-born Zulkifli, or better known as Jo to his fellow artist friends, died aged 25 of lymphoma cancer in August 1977, and left behind an artistic legacy – over 1,000 pieces of works – that has yet to be truly appreciated and reappraised until now.

The Bumi Larangan: Zulkifli Dahlan exhibition at the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) in KL takes a look back at the promising and legendary talent, who was a true individual and team player in the local art community.

Zulkifli, who never received formal art training, was one of the founders of the Anak Alam art collective, which promoted multi-disciplinary arts and culture in the 1970s, and he also was the first artist to win the Young Contemporaries competition award launched by NVAG in 1974.

The Bumi Larangan show isn’t short on Zulkifli’s popular paintings, especially works like Kedai-Kedai (1973) and Realiti Berasingan: Satu Hari Di Bumi Larangan (1975), which communicate his beliefs and diverse ideas about the human experience and freedom.

“His visions about humans, humanity, nature and the future are certainly amazing and staggering,” writes Nur Hanim Khairuddin, an independent curator, in the Bumi Larangan catalogue.

Bumi Larangan: Zulkifli Dahlan

In Bumi Larangan, there are many sketches and studies that have never been shown before, which add to the exhibition’s comprehensive overview on Zulkifli’s career.

Bumi Larangan: Zulkifli Dahlan

Zulkifli Dahlan’s Untitled (lino print on paper, 1970s).

Many of the works exhibited focus on Zulkifli’s fusion of hybrid humans, flora, fauna and machines cramming surreal landscapes, while several detached, unconnected side narratives and scenes in the artworks will leave viewers amused and curious about the artist’s thoughts and concerns.

The gallery walls, filled with cartoonish, caricatural figures in surreal landscapes, bring to light Zulkifli’s imaginative yet contemplative mindset. Bumi Larangan, from a curatorial standpoint, nails the artist’s history and the wild visual demands of his creativity, which bridges naive art and the graphic schema of cartoon (art).

“The themes that he dealt with, particularly those relating to the discourses of humanism and post-humanism as well as socio-cultural issues, reflect profound contemplation and visionary thought of a young artist,” she adds.

The many sketches and studies that have never been shown before add to the exhibition’s comprehensive overview on Zulkifli’s career, which began in eccentric earnest in the late 1960s, before he explored more unconventional work tinged with humour, hope and cynicism in the 1970s.

The exhibition is the result of a project, which started in 2015, to study and document a collection of Zulkifli’s work kept by his family.

Bumi Larangan: Zulkifli Dahlan is on at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak in KL till July 2. The gallery is open daily from 9am to 5pm (during Ramadan).