Living the proverbs
Of Malay proverbs, mobile phone art and a journey of self- discovery.
MALAYSIA is rich and replete with lovely Malay proverbs ( peribahasa) – some are witty, some are gentle, some are scathing and a fair number are just plain odd. The constant, however, is that we’ve got some wise or funny saying for nearly every situation, as artist Hyrul Anuar, 27, discovered during a stint working at an art space ( Fabrica) in Italy last year.
His vibrantly- coloured vivid take on various peribahasa has earned him wide acclaim, but while these drawings will bring a smile to your face they were inspired by a tough time in the workplace.
“My job in Italy was my first ‘ baby’, it was a huge deal for me. But I developed some issues with a colleague and in reaction I was badmouthing her. Then I realised that it was me who was acting poorly – so I drew an interpretation of the peribahasa about ‘ spitting into the sky’ using Sketchbook for Galaxy ( Note 3). It continued from there,” says Hyrul in a recent interview in Petaling Jaya.
His peribahasa can take anywhere between 10 minutes to an entire day to draw, depending on how inspired he is.
“If I feel a proverb fits a situation I’m in, I just draw it. When I was a kid, I loved to draw and design fashion but was never interested in pursuing it as career.
“After STPM I went to ( arts institution) Aswara and studied film and tried my hand at production. I finally wound up in advertising,” reveals the art director.
Now the series, which is viewable on his Instagram account at @ malayproverbs, has taken on a life of its own. Social media has given it a wide audience beyond Malaysia.
Hyrul was also featured on BBC’s website and his mobile phone art is currently being shown in The Visual Series Of Malay Proverbs exhibition at Fabrica Features in Lisbon. The show ends on March 28.
The Visual Series Of Malay Proverbs was first shown at a twoday exhibition at Yasmin At Kong Heng Museum in Ipoh last August.
But despite its popularity, Hyrul doesn’t want to turn this into a job.
“I don’t want to kotorkan benda tu dengan duit ( spoil it with money) because I started doing it out of sheer passion,” he maintains.
Some of his favourites are Meludah Ke Langit, Akhirnya Muka Sendiri Yang Basah ( doing something foolish that backfires) and Mengikat Perut ( binding the stomach, or to save money by eating less).
“Yesterday a musician asked me about album art. I’m considering it but I don’t want to make this as a money thing – I don’t even know how much to price things, I just give them away for free. Because I like it when people get inspired and want the art to be part of their life. I’m touched.”
This is just his hobby, he underlines, as he loves his job in advertising where he says he has just found his own voice.
“I don’t want to destroy that passion for art by making it my job. After the Lisbon exhibition I want to turn these proverbs into a book and maybe create an animation too.”
Hyrul also plans to expand the project, which has about 30 images, into a regional series, and has already been looking at the proverbs from countries like Thailand and Vietnam to interpret them in his own unique, colourful style.
Hyrul’s art is a means of expressing himself, an alternative to “just complaining on Facebook”. His art is a dizzying mix of impressionistic art and sleek ad campaigns, with an intensely Malaysian touch as he takes on topics like black magic, mythology and literature.
He enjoys exploring any kind of style and medium (“I like all of them!”), explaining that while some artists stick with one style, his youth spurs him on to explore his options.
There is a heartfelt piece about his late mother.
“I miss the way she gets angry with me. If I had the chance to talk to her again, that’s what I want – for her to scold me. She gave me advice, but in a memorable way by scolding me. This and the Malay proverbs project really reflect who I am, my personality comes out.”
Hyrul is a little astonished by the praise his proverbs series has garnered, as it wasn’t about attention or fame.
“I just want people to be inspired and strive to be better. Some people don’t like my art and I know from the start I’m not a great illustrator or painter – but I have a story to tell, I have a reason behind it, and I want people to know what it is. I don’t want to portray myself as the best painter. I do it to express myself, and hopefully someone else will like it. I just want people to like the stuff I do,” he says, joking that he preferred scolding to compliments (“must be a Malaysian thing!”).
And what’s next for the Sabak Bernam- raised lad? He is currently working on a new project for ( international magazine) Vice about dark love and black magic; and also wants to make a short film about his mother, who he describes as an “inspirational and practical woman” who always threw her support behind him and his endeavours.
“Beyond that, I want to explore human emotions, human stories, rather than pretend to care about other things. But I also want to explore that from the platform of advertising, since it’s so large. The industry, we need to do more for people. We must be real in everything,” he says.
For a side of melodrama, hyrul’s Makan Hati ( eating one’s own heart) warns of the dangers of self- pity.
Laksana Menggigit Tangan Yang Menyuapkan Nasi ( biting the hand that feeds you), which basically shows how some people repay generosity or kindness with ingratitude and injury.
Laut Dalam Dapat Diduga, Hati Manusia
Siapa Yang Tahu ( The sea’s depth can be predicted, but no one knows what’s in another person’s heart).
Meludah Ke Langit, Akhirnya Muka Sendiri Yang Basah ( doing something foolish that back