" Satira Jangan Gelap Hati "

How should we react when faced with the ugliness of kings or rulers? The answer was probably in Nasir Ed Din when he continued to cry one day in the 13th century. People said that he continued to shed tears after the king stopped crying and this made the king curious. The king cried because he saw his face in the mirror after seeing how old and ugly he was. Upon seeing the king crying, the dignitaries who were there also cried because they supposedly wanted to sympathize with the king. After a while, according to the famous jester jokes in Europe, although the king stopped crying after a while, Nasir continued to shed tears. Everyone there felt strange. Thus the king asked, “Why are you still crying O Nasir?”

Then, Nasir replied, ‘“My lord, you saw yourself only but once in the mirror and already you cried. I have to look at you all the time.”  In every moment, people need jokes — so I have read in many cynical stories in the Orba era, that is, at a time when the Seoharto regime  was still strong in Indonesia. Perhaps, between the entertain-with-restrictions, done side-by-side, it creates a balance for hope and justice to continue to exist, and perhaps even for the sake of preserving humanity.

How can a story like Nasir Ed Din’s be positioned as a socio-political role? Even worse, when the clowns are none other than characters doing imitations of wardrobes as worn by the emperor. This was seen not just in old Europe, but also in the days of “Elizabethan Theater .”

Yu Sze was of course saddened when he learned that building a fort with large stone blocks had claimed thousands of lives. He then met the emperor, carrying a message in the form of a joke that finally the successfully halted the construction of the fort which we know now today as the Great Wall.

There, on that day, the king laughed. The people are happy. The comedians turn out to be the saviour of the day.

Nasir is the ‘clown’. Yu Sze in China. In its vagueness, the joke was not something alien or foreign. Take for example of shadow puppets that introduced Semar, the characters like Petruk, Bagong, Gareng or to the Malays, the character Pak Dogol – or at least in the song “Langgam Pak Dogol” by M.Nasir.

My friend, Ali.

Ali, in the “Satire in Paint” exhibition, as we saw tonight on May 6, at a gallery in Petaling Jaya, likes to take on the role of a comedian  or performer, or “clown” as the basis of the subject- image. From there, he built the fragments. Maybe beginning with his criticism like Semar who farted when disagreeing with the king’s decision or actions.

“Comedian” and “critique” — is where maturity of intellect and process will differentiate him from the current two or three painters. In other galleries, or in galleries where Ali makes his debut solo, some are keen to highlight a subject-image that is considered “rebelious.”

Some need to draw, for example, images of nudity, or a dog, a pig — because, the subject is considered taboo (taboo) in Malaysian-style feudal society (irregardless of religion or non-religion)… just as mothers, fathers nor the two or three current painters.

But often, nudity, dog or pig paintings are not served to their families — not out of fear of God’s curse. But, to the system and power they ‘worship’, except God. Indeed, the label “rebel” that they try to portray as a contemporary artists will surely fall and be nullified.

‘Nude paintings’ for example, is just an effort to (who knows) make some pseudo-liberal women who see it to become sexualily excited, and then give in to erotica. Nothing more ‘rebelious’ than that! No.

The desire for sex is indeed the trick of the painter-artist, who, not far from the ability of his mind, though, to the subject of sex itself which should be a question and restlessness far beyond the purpose of inserting someone into their bed full of hypocrisy. I mean, personal affairs do not need to be made public…

My friend Ali, apparently is not one of them. He does not need ‘rebellious’ imagery like my other friends. He just needs to break the tradition of universal criticism as once shown by Nasir Ed Din, Yu Sze and maybe even Semar or Pak Dogol.

Ali is married and has five children.

There stands Ali in his painting. There are no two Alis; be it the feudal and the ‘cool’ wannabe. There is only one Ali. That is, what is seen in his paintings in this exhibition.

 In other words, painters of pigs, dogs and nudity may have identities. But of personality, not necessarily and because they have more than one face. Many may continue to be confused, even rejoicing.

 Then, the exchange of comedian roles as protagonist was marked in the fall of 1940, in the popular comic in America, Batman. An additional character was introduced –  Joker. The character is nothing but length and criticism of the great American caricature symbol, Uncle Sam.

Between You and Me

Between the painting with the two male (comedian) and female characters just now, there is another piece that wears a similar set, namely “Between You and Me” (“Between You and Me”). This time a “little comedian” character [like a doll] is hidden, while in the other painting, the character of a small comedian only has his legs protruding.

Whether the character is vague, or just with visible legs, clearly it is part of the “urban gothic” background (which also remains in many of Ali’s paintings) as an attempt to create a mysterious role and atmosphere. Sometimes semi-awesome and it, by itself, invites an exotic feeling more than seeing a dog-pig painting, or even a fully naked body.

“Hide” and “mystery” in other words, Ali’s paintings are still wearing hijab. I’m not sure, is the fully naked one more exotic than the still mysterious one?

Portrait of Malay Man Age at Early 30s

I am unsure how the episode “Portrait of Malay Man Age At Early 30’s” ( “Portrait guy Malay In Early 30s”) will offend powerful imagery of the “joker” normalcy. There are ‘other strengths’ that Ali highlights. It revolves around technical mastery — or, often, when people refer to a post-modern trend, they will talk about “technique-is-meaning.”

Ali seems to have succeeded in something so conceptual, in debates and many philosophical lectures. He chose as much as he could to determine the color on his fingers whether it was a realistic color or a ripe green of a banana tree.

Yes… hands, and fingers, facial expressions, clothes, sofas, or whatever seems to be a ‘comedian character’ for entertaining purposes. All that will change, just with the applied color. From the “serious color” to the ‘identity’ color of the comedian.

In my opinion, such styling is proof that color has never been an obstacle to the formation of form (form) as an essential element in a basic awareness of the four diagonal paintings.

Ali is our friend from the group of young painters who will shake, time after time. There is also a secret in the “Imitation Master — After Caravaggio” (“Imitation Master — After Caravaggio”).    

First, it is an early painting from the “Entertainer” series that fills tonight’s showroom. Ali seems to have predicted that he will be part of the ‘players’ in a picture of “fraudulent intentions” as painted by Caravaggio.

 Imitation Master–After Caravaggio

But the “Imitation Master” has not yet worn a red nose, or a half-green face and therefore, it will of course remain a marker of a clear change to the process that Ali period. The process of recognizing identity and forging personality. Although the solution to establish meaning is largely determined by technical mastery and visual requirements, the process of “fitting” oneself into the middle of the work is not an easy task.

Many are probably ‘good’ at painting and their paintings are beautiful — that is not a guarantee that they can leave the ‘painter’s self’ into the visual space, outside of himself. The pig artist, for example, is not necessarily himself mature enough to be and as a ‘pig’.

There is no doubt about it, the question of personality becomes quite expensive for an artist — let alone when faced with the question of how it can be done when faced with the ugliness of the king or the rulers; and, how should we deal with the ugliness of the times? Ali has suggested something…

Dogs, pigs, even naked people have no meaning anymore when it comes to the role of half-god characters like Semar, like Nasir Ed Din and Yu Sze. Revolution, often needs “the rebels” —not the hypocrites! —To get close to power. But reform requires a dimension of common sense, and it is often in the closest position to knock on the door of truth.

Written By

Hasmi Bin Hashim

Art Critic

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

(For Ali @ Nurazmal Yusoff Exhibition: Satire In Paint)