Wednesday, April 8, 2009

National Culture Congress, The Impact to the Malaysian Artist Artwork

A definite answer as to when did the movement in Malaysia contemporary art begin remains a question. Opinions differ among historians and artist alike but acceding to David Kanansky (1988), “The contemporary art movement in Malaysia began about twenty five years ago. It is quite surprising how many fine artists have emerged on such a short time…”[1] As Redza Pyadassa (1992) shares the same view as Kanansky’s about the begging of Malaysian contemporary art, “Modern art activity in Malaysia begin in earnest only in the immediate period after World War II. This somewhere belated development, peculiar to the Malaysian situation, may be attributed to the general lack of encouragement given to the cultural activities by the British, whose annexations of parts of the Malay Peninsula begin in 1924.”[2] Zainol Abidin (1996), in support of the view expressed by Kanansky and Piyadassa, emphasizes this point in an article ‘Contemporary Malaysian Painting’ that Malaysian contemporary art began in the second decade of this century i.e. circa 1920s[3]

Malaysian contemporary art was at its high of experimental period during the 1960s when Malaysian artist who received their training overseas returned to the county with western ideas. During the period, the freedom of expression was stretched to the very limit of creative realm, farming their perception of the universe on international views considered in vogue during the era. This resulted in a myriad of works produced during the era; works with no definitive guidelines as to what constituted Malaysian contemporary art. Furthermore, most of the works produced during the era had no definite point of reference to traditional elements, which consequently detached them from any attempt to promote national image.

Malay sentiment was re-awakened during the mid 1970s following the racial unrest that erupted in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, which saw violent clashes between the ethnic groups. As a young nation, Malaysia was rudely shaken by the crisis, and efforts to restore inter0recial relationship among the ethnic groups were seriously pursued by the government to ensure that the event will not repeat itself in the future. In 1971[4] The First National Cultural Congress was set up with the objective to encourage artist to project the sense of national pride and identity in their work. With the clear sense of direction outline in the Congress, the perspective that had a bearing in the larger interest of the nation in presenting the national culture now shapes the artists’ minds. Redza Pyadassa (1992):”The growth of a modern art tradition in Malaysia since inde3pendence has manifested essentially pluralistic tendencies, as might he expected of a multiracial and multicultural environment lacking a homogenous cultural identity.”[5] It is decided in the National Cultural Congress that the country needed a common national cultural identity to unify the multiracial population. The basis of the national vision has been agreed as following:

The Vision
. To unite the whole country by the national culture
. To guide, spread and construct national culture in creating national personal identity.
. The richness and the higher quality in the spiritual and the living by balancing the development of our social economy

Basis Formula
. Malaysian National Congress has to follow the original citizen of this region
. Other related cultures that relevant and appropriate can be adopted into the national culture
. Islam is the important elements in creating the national culture.

. To acquire and develop the national culture in attention to concern the national culture through the joint venture research, development, education, expanding and relation
. To upgrade and to stabilize the culture by leadership
. Create the right communication to national awakens, nationality and the Malaysian nationalism
. To fill the need in the region social culture in the whole nation by the social culture service
. To upgrade the status and art quality

(Dasar, Matlamat dan Strategi Pembinaan Kebudayaan Kebangsaan, Kementerian Belia dan Sukan)[6]

Armed with clearly stated outlines as to what should be incorporated in the works before they are considered relevant to the aspirations of the national culture, the Congress identified the works by Syed Ahmad bin Jamal, Ismail Zain, Sulaiman Isa, Ruzaika Omar Bassaree, Ponirin Amin, Siti Zainon Ismail, Matura Abdul Rahman, Zakaria Awang and Ahmad Khalid Yusuf[7]. It was hoped that these artist would collectively raise national artistic standard to a higher level through their works. This aspiration is evident in Bakar Zain (1998)’s presentation in a dialogue entitled ‘Astra, Semi Rapa dan Buddy, “Suatu hasrat besar yang menjadi perjuangan sejumlah kecil budayawan ialah untuk melihat kebangkitan budaya di Malaysian dan Asia bagi mengembalikan imej dan harga diri bangsa”[8] The importance and the need to produce works with which we can identify as Malaysian is noted by Kok Chren (2000) is “ Malaysian natural topical environment with its rich diversity of flora and fauna provide a natural palette for the artist to mix the color and (re) compose the form. Also, abstraction demand more creative and original interpretation of whatever, with an approach that can be analogical, aesthetical or spontaneous. For artist who are Muslim idolatry represent nation of human go against Islam structures and to they are more disposed to this organism, geomantic, organically over mystical”[9]

In this forum, the invited panelists are among the artists that created an impact on the National Cultural Congress. They are Rozaika Omar Basseri, Dr. D’Zul Haimi, Ramlan Omar and Jailani Abu Hassan. I will try to establish a connection between the paradigms that had been set by the National Cultural Congress and how the works by these artists are influenced by those paradigms in presentation of the visual art.

1. Rozaika Omar Basseri
Rozaika Omar Basseri attended the meeting of the National Cultural Congress in 1971 as an artist. The idea of national culture art had been exposed to her at the very creation of the guidelines of national culture itself. It was in Dungun, Terengganu that she had the opportunity to gather the elements that would set herself as the embodiment of the aspiration of the National Cultural Congress. In her ‘Siri Dungun’, Rozaika brings out the element of ‘Kerawang’, a wooden decorative installed above the windows of a traditional Terengganu Malay house. Acknowledging the powerful work by Rozaika, Syed Ahmad Jamal Considers her work as ‘…and Rozaika Omar Basseri in Dungun Series, “Window within window’” become established in Malaysia imagery”[10]. The traditional element, which Rozaika has successfully incorporated in her ‘Siri Dungun’, has resulted in a work that’s truly Malaysian. It is a masterpiece of Malaysian art image.

Rozaika Omar Basseri 1 : ‘Siri Dungun’ 1979

2. Ramlan Abdullah
For Ramlan Abdullah, an artist should respond to his environment. Having admitted that his work is directly influenced by the guidelines set by the National Culture Congress, Ramlan warns that an artist should not consider the guidelines as an excuse to re-produce creative works that look like Malays culture and at the end it is just a cut and paste work.
Ramlan has consistently used sign and symbols in his work in relation to the choice of materials, technology and nature. In ‘Mother and Child’1990, he connects the symbolic relationship between a mother and her child with the element of construction, structural and gravity of his sculpture.

Ramlan Abdullah 2: ‘Mother and Child’ 1990

The same element is evident in his work ‘Down to Earth’ 2000, a table sculpture created by him with the combination of the nature element. The balance of element to create the artwork has the gusher to the sympathetic element to the nature and technology.

Ramlan Abdullah 3: ‘Down to Earth’ 2000

In ‘Time and Direction’ he incorporates the Islamic element where the theme to create the artwork is ‘Way’. In this artwork he shows the ‘Kiblat’ as information and guide for the Muslim to perform their daily prayers. The sculpture has brought a mark to the venue where the sundial has its own task direct to Muslims in the right direction.
3. Jailani Abu Hassan
Jailani Abu Hassan interprets the guidelines in the National Cultural Congress from a different perspective. As a painter Julian’s work is based on the expirnces as a child frowning up in Malaysia. In an interview he says:

“Our childhood and heritage they all are part of our subconscious mind, obviously, sometime has triggered this element to resurface-perhaps to re-establish my culture roots and identity”[11].

In his work title “Congkak Lubang 6’ (1997) he uses the element of traditional plaything once widely popular among the Malays.

Jailani 4: ‘Congkak Lubang 7’ 1997

Jailani experiments with various types of media and this has brought him prestigious acknowledgement through his painting entitled ‘Catan Orang Kampung.’ These paintings have worn a Major Award in 1998 Malaysian Contemporary Art Competition. It is important, he explains, that in searching for new dimensions an artist should understand the medium and it’s potential. The work that related to his discover about his environment, himself and his belief in god[12]. Iqbal Abdul Rahim (2001) says: “Much has been written about Jai’s travels and study overseas, but the truth is, Jai never left Malaysia.”[13] Here we can see how his artworks have brought us inside Malaysian without conscience; it brings us back to the National Culture.

Jailani 5: “Congkak Lubang 6” 1997

Jailani 6:”Petai on Stack & Red’ 1997

The National Culture Congress has also changed the way of presenting art in Malaysian image and for the Muslim artist the fact that Islam is the important basic elements in creating the National Culture, it has brought up the establishment of the Islamic ideas and element in the artwork.

By the late 1970s, the search for Malay roots becomes enmeshed with Islamic ideas liked to an international fundamental revival. The Muslim artist will try to present their art based on the Islamic need as mention by Hani Ahmad (1995):
“Since Islam is centre on Unity, Islamic art cannot base upon Tawhid (the divine unity), a concept implying the oneness of God. His realities, name and attributes, God is the supreme artist and thought man He finish His creation in art. There should not be any separation between art and religion and to be artist, art is the expression of his or her soul. Art is like a door or window through which our can enter a still wider area. It is the expression of beauty, which comes naturally with ease and relaxation. The abstraction (in the form of awang larat)manifests the concept of unity in multiplicity and acts as the unifying factor between to matter and the spiritual world, The form and content emphasizes the divine culture the project ethic and traditional identity”[14]
This matter also has invited Sharifah Zuriah Al Jeffri to give her understanding on the issue, for her:
“In contrast, there are Muslim artist almost work are influenced by the Malay-Islamic tradition. This change began in the eighties when artist perused the Islamic concept of art. Figurative forms are summed and preferences are the plain calligraphy, native and abstract”[15].
Among artist who pioneered in the Islamic arts, is Syed Ahmad Jamal, Khalid Ahmad, Gaffar Ibrahim, Sharifah Fatimah Zubir and Sulaiman Esa followed by some others important names such as Omar Rahmat, Zakaria Awang, Ponerin Amin, Awang Damit , Mat Anuar, Hashim Hassan, Raja Zahabuddin, Mastura Rahman, Habibah Zikri, Rozaika Omar Bassree, Siti Zainon, Shukor Hashim, D’Zul Haimi, Khatijah Sanusi, Wan Ahmad, Fatima Chik, Tengku Sabri, Ramlan Abdullah, Ali Rahman, Wan Zahari , Arrifin Ismail and others.[16]
This is same of the Islamic artwork created by Malaysian artist in conjunction of the National Culture Congress

Khalid Ahmad 7: ‘Alif, Ba, Ta” 1971

Sulaiman Esa 8: “Nurani” 1984

The search for cultural identity and a sense of cultural commodity within a multiracial, multicultural context need not be restricted to one vision of reality alone. Among the artist regarded as being involved in neo-regionalist concerns are Tan Choon Ghee, Ismail Hashim, Viktor Chin , Nirmala Shanmughaligam, Haron Muchtarm, Wong Hong Cheong, Redza Piyadassa, Eric Peris and Bayu Utomo Radjikin[17]. The Artist mentioned has been established with their artwork based on the ethnic culture, Not all the Malaysian artist active in creating art has practiced the Islamic method in his or her artwork. The experiments to identify formulation have offered an insight into the artist perception of modern painting, in their Pre-occupation with the medium and technique, it could be understood that for them, modern painting was about stylistic innovations detached from considering of meaning of subject matter.

4. Tajuddin Ismail
While some regard their presence a significant force in the contemporary Malaysian art scene, otters insist that their creative contribution remain questionable. For instance, Tajudin Ismail, one of the panels in this forum, for him the National Cultural Congress doesn’t bring any impact to his creativity. In his opinion the congress should be just created as a guideline for the artist to create their arts. For him an artist shouldn’t use it as limitations to produce their creative work. In this presentation the congress has created a single viewpoint of creating art, in fact the congress is suppose to be a landmark and a way of style for developing the Malaysian art. As for him, the interest to emphasize the certain revolution of art has brought him to be more interested in experiment the idea and looking for style[18]. When he creating an apart work the inspiration for him will come through life, experience, nature, travelling and the people he meet, because all of this is important for his source in capturing an idea.[19]
Just have a glimpse of a few of his artwork:

Tajuddin 9: ’Terrance & Terrain No. 2’ 2000

Tajuddin 10: ‘Monson – Tanjung Biru’ 2001

The issue I try to bring up in this forum is haw the Malaysian artist has the impact on the National Cultural Congress of 1971; they either embarrass or rejected it. The change they have made presenting their art, from the western way to the Malaysian style. In presenting the Malaysian style in visual art, artist has been introduced to the Malay culture base with the Islamic content. Muslim artist try to revitalize the spiritual and religions foundation in their artwork. Even though the Islamic image are from the adaptation from the Middle Eastern countries still the traditional Malay art and craft did have embody the spirit of Islamic art. Just have a look at the philosophy of the Malays wood coving: the sprite of Islamic has been blended into it, function as the understanding of the Malay ontological interrelationship between God-Man-Universe:

Tumbuh berpunca
Punca penuh rahsia
Tumbuh tidak menunjak lawan
Memanjat tidak memaut kawan
Tepi berlengkar penuh mesra[20]

The root of Malay culture has been used to (re) present the national identity into art and the National Cultural Congress also have created a frameworks refer to the basic culture of the multiracial content in this region, Not all the Malaysian artists have used the Islamic content in their creative work; the guidelines to producing art based on the congress have been adopted in ethnic group arts. Where the artist have reacted their artwork based on the culture continuity within a multiracial, multicultural context, The impact of ht National Culture in creating Malaysian artist artwork have been successfully (re) presented. But there is still a difference between those who choose to droll on move universal themes (at birth in a Malaysian setting) and those who attempt to force on issue who are manifesting particular to Malay sentence, At the end it is all up to the artist, if they think that the National Cultural Congress is the right guideline for them to be creative then it is, and if they didn’t the creatively work still been accepted by the Malaysian.

[1] David Kanansky (1988), Contemporary Painting of Malaysia, Balai Seni Lukis Negaram Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pg 1
[2] Redza Pyadasa (1992), today’s Malaysian Seen Through Art, Contemporary Malysian Art, The Japan Faundation ASEAN Culture Gallery. Pg. 11
[3] Zainol Abidin Ahmad Shariff (1996), Malaysian Art, Contemporary Paint and Traditional Adornment, Malysian Tourism Promoting Bhd. Pg. 7
[4] Redza Pyadasa (1992), today’s Malaysian Seen Through Art, Contemporary Malysian Art, The Japan Faundation ASEAN Culture Gallery. Pg. 12
[5] Ibit, Pg. 11
[6] Kementerian Kebudayaan, Belia dan Sukan Malaysia, Dasar Matlamat dan Strategi Pembinaan Kebudayaan Kebangsaan, Kuala Lumpur.
[7] Redza Pyadasa (1992), today’s Malaysian Seen Through Art, Contemporary Malysian Art, The Japan Faundation ASEAN Culture Gallery. Pg. 12
[8] Bakar Zain (1998), Mencari Imej Malaysia, Dialog Sastra, Seni Rupa dan Seni Bina, Yayasan Seni, Perak.
[9] Kok Chren (2000), 10/2000, 10 artins for year 2000, Art Salon Bangsar Baru Kuala Lumpur.
[10] David Kanansky (1988), Contemporary Painting of Malaysia, Balai Seni Lukis Negaram Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pg 13
[11] Rush Hashim (1999), Jai – Drawing with the minds eyes, Kuala Lumpur
[12] Ibit, Pg. 21
[13] Iqball Abdul Rahim (2001), JAI, Gallerie Taksu, Kuala Lumpur.
[14] Hani Ahmad (1995), Art and Sprituality, Balai Seni Lukis Negara Kuala Lumpur.
[15] Sharifah Zuriah Al Jaffri (1995), Contempolary Malaysian Art, Balai Seni Lukis Negara, Kuala Lumpur. Pg. 7
[16] Sulaiman Esa (1992), Identiti Islam dalam Seni Rupa Malaysia, Pencapaian dan Cabaran, Balai seni Lukis Negara Kuala Lumpur. Pg 20
[17] Redza Pyadasa (1992), today’s Malaysian Seen Through Art, Contemporary Malysian Art, The Japan Faundation ASEAN Culture Gallery. Pg. 12
[18] Tajuddin Ismail (2003), Forum Malaysia Contemporary Art Class Master 2003, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam.
[19] Ibit
[20] Sulaiman Esa (1992), Identiti Islam dalam Seni Rupa Malaysia, Pencapaian dan Cabaran, Balai seni Lukis Negara Kuala Lumpur. Pg 20


  1. Salam kedamaian,

    Kak Yan... dah lama tak nampak;
    rupanya di sini tercampak,
    dulu hitam sekarang dah ungu;
    betul ke tidak betulkan aku,

    ape kabo?

  2. betul he..he... sorry lambat membalas la ni baru sempat baca. Dah jadi orang unggu dah anda macam mana... tapi hitam itu tetap menawan...

  3. Azian, boleh bagi info on omar rahmat punyer paintings tak? please....

  4. Terima kasih kerana telah melawat blog saya, seperti mana saya ingin membantu tuan untuk mendapatkan maklumat tentang omar rahmat, namun berat hati untuk saya nyatakan disini saya tidak ada lagi membuat penyelidikan mengenai beliau oleh itu maklumat berkaitan dengannya masih belum saya perolehi, maaf kerana saya tidak dapat membantu, cadangan saya anda cuba membuat penyelidikan di Perpustakaan Balai Seni Lukis Negara atau di geleri-geleri yang mempunyai karya beliau... maaf sekali lagi TQ

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. trima kasih 4 info...