State of sur­real

Zulk­i­fli Dahlan died young but he left be­hind an im­mense legacy in art.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Art -

THE late Zulk­i­fli Dahlan (19521977) 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 KedaiKedai (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.

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).

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.

Zulk­i­fli’s Bu­rung Mer­palang sculp­ture, which was re­con­structed for the Bumi Larangan ex­hi­bi­tion, at the Na­tional Vis­ual Arts Gallery in KL. — Pho­tos: AZMAN GHANI / The Star

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