In the mind’s eye

An up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion by Ka­mal Mustafa ex­am­ines how the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence is as much au­ral as it is vis­ual.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By N. RAMA LO­HAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE ear is of­ten ig­nored in vis­ual art. Maybe be­cause it’s just an ap­pendage and it’s not sexy, and people pre­fer look­ing at other parts, like the torso, for in­stance,” rea­soned Ka­mal Mustafa.

There’s in­ter­est and then there’s fix­a­tion ... and there’s also a fine line be­tween the two, which is where the 62-year-old artist’s out­look seems to nes­tle most com­fort­ably. But Ka­mal also con­cedes that the play of se­man­tics in­trigues him in equal amounts.

His up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion Sim­u­la­tions (Feb 20-March 2), his first solo, of­fers but a smat­ter­ing of this fas­ci­na­tion, and with ti­tles of paint­ings like Hearsay, Heresy And Hereafter, One Thou­sand Ears Of Hearsay and The Hear­ing, it’s ap­par­ent where he’s com­ing from. It’s with good rea­son, too, that he’s selected his choice of vi­su­als since the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence is as much au­ral as it is vis­ual.

“Hear­ing has got to do with sec­ond-hand knowl­edge, knowl­edge handed down to us, and it’s not some­thing that can be ig­nored. We can­not live life with­out the con­cept of hearsay, and this has pro­vided me a big can­vas to play with,” Ka­mal ex­plained dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view in Kuala Lumpur.

But it’s not all about ears that en­com­passes his 22-piece collection, even if it takes up a large chunk. There are those that de­pict the hu­man form and stacked pa­per­work, even, but the­mat­i­cally, the collection places strong em­pha­sis on the con­struc­tion of mem­ory, his­tory and knowl­edge.

No doubt, thinly veiled un­der the nu­mer­ous de­pic­tions of ears are so­cio-po­lit­i­cal mes­sages which stir the senses. Ka­mal feels that what we think we know is ac­tu­ally based on nu­mer­ous lay­ers of in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

“As a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dent, I was taught that pho­tog­ra­phy im­i­tates re­al­ity, but that’s no longer true be­cause ev­ery other thing is spun around these days,” he said, paint­ing a lu­cid pic­ture of the age of tech­nol­ogy we live in to­day, and ref­er­enc­ing Jean Bau­drillard’s book Sim­u­lacra And Sim­u­la­tions, a philo­soph­i­cal trea­tise from 1981, in the process.

Ev­ery artist has a process of how his art is con­ceived, and Ka­mal’s is no less or­ganic. He has placed his knowl­edge into some­thing more mean­ing­ful from his ca­reer in films, hav­ing now re­tired. “This is atone­ment for me. People say art is neu­tral, but artists are af­fected by their sur­round­ings. I ab­sorb what’s around me, fil­ter it in my head, and that comes out in my art,” ex­plained the for­mer film di­rec­tor, who was be­hind some of the most heart­warm­ing Petronas TV ads.

In fact, it’s his ex­per­tise in mov­ing pic­tures that has al­lowed him to not only cre­ate mere static pieces for this collection, but ex­tended works, which he plainly de­scribes as “hy­brid”, al­most mock­ing the gen­er­a­tion he comes from. The ex­tended pieces are art­works with cutouts, with screens plugged in the holes from the rear, fea­tur­ing mini movies with “no sto­ry­lines”.

While the scenes might be made to seem ran­dom or even in­co­her­ent at points, closer in­spec­tion re­veals sub­lim­i­nal mes­sages.

He works with acrylic and uses com­put­ers to align his paint­ings, which nat­u­rally call for the use of in­dus­trial-sized print­ers, since some of his works in­volve a mon­tage of four pieces of can­vas. “Acrylic and com­puter ink seem to blend well. Also, the ink man­u­fac­turer says the ink will not lose its lus­tre for 75 years, which bodes well for archival pur­poses.”

Ka­mal was born in 1952 in the small town of Sabak Ber­nam, Se­lan­gor. He spent his sec­ondary school ed­u­ca­tion at the Malay

Col­lege Kuala Kangsar in Perak, af­ter which he ap­plied for a govern­ment loan to pur­sue his in­ter­est in film, even­tu­ally earn­ing a BA in Film from the Polytech­nic of Cen­tral Lon­don. “As much as I loved art, I knew I had to earn a liv­ing and pay off my loan, so I did ad­ver­tis­ing,” he re­vealed, know­ing his vo­ca­tion would pay the rent.

And now that he is able to stand on sturdy fi­nan­cial ground, he can fi­nally pur­sue his love with fer­vour. “I’d al­ways shared my art with people over the years, but it was dif­fi­cult to get ex­po­sure, since I wasn’t push­ing hard be­cause of my job, but things have de­vel­oped lately.”

While caught up in the rat race and keep­ing a roof over his head, Ka­mal made some land­mark TV com­mer­cials for Petronas (work­ing with the late Yas­min Ah­mad) and a host of other clients. He fondly re­calls the ones he did for the oil and gas com­pany for the Gong Xi-Raya fes­tive pe­riod of the mid 1990s (one of which touched on the wa­ter­shed May 13 ri­ots) and one for the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix.

So, what can a piece of art say that no amount of words can? “Art is not part of mass me­dia, so it’s elit­ist, which is why you might need more words to de­scribe some­thing. And if you put an il­lus­tra­tion in an art gallery, that makes it art.”

Ka­mal knows his art and he knows it well, but there’s noth­ing re­motely elit­ist about him. In fact, he’s just one of those people who has some­thing pro­found to say to the com­mon man. When you meet him, you just feel you’ve met the salt of the earth. And that grounded per­son­al­ity shines through in its re­splen­dent glory in Sim­u­la­tions.

Sim­u­la­tions, pre­sented by Fer­gana Art, runs from Feb 20-March 2 at White Box, Pub­lika, So­laris Du­ta­mas, Kuala Lumpur. Ad­mis­sion is free and ex­hi­bi­tion times are from 11am-7pm daily. For more info, visit www.fer­gana-art.com or www.ka­mal-mustafa.com.

Dead and buried: ar­chiv­ist comes across as a warn­ing for hoard­ers to be­ware.

Thou­sandearsOfHearsay de­picts the hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion process and the role of the ear in it.

de­spite the plethora of ears, Ca­copho­nyOfSi­lence is made out to be a para­dox­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion.

Lit­eral take: The walls truly have big ears in echoVal­ley.

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