Anyone familiar with Malaysia’s contemporary art scene can certainly recognise Abdul Multhalib Musa as one of the country’s leading contemporary sculptors. His unique and energetic sculptures have earned him not only a name for himself, but several awards, residencies and commissions. Abdul Multhalib was born in Penang, in 1976. He gained a degree in architecture from Universiti Teknologi Mara in 2000. Sculpture and the allied arts have always been integral parts of an architect’s training. This sparked a hidden fire and generated an interest in the arts. Multhalib uses his experience and degree in architecture by seamlessly materialising it into his works.

Abdul Multhalib Musa Malaysian Breeze Series, 2003 Lasercut mild steel, 60 x 120 x 3 cm

Multhalib’s sculptures reverberate magnetic energy and unmistakable silhouettes that justify the numerous awards under his belt. His most recent residency was the 2015 Cité Internationale des Arts, funded by the French Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. His notable residencies were the Rimbun Dahan Residency in 2001 and the Australian High Commission Residency in 2004. In 2002, Multhalib was recognised for his work, winning the Award of Excellence at the 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Open Competition in Japan. Subsequently, he also won the Juror’s Choice Award at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur in 2002. He was then selected for the Ordos 11th Asia Arts Festival, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, as well as the Urumqi International Urban Sculpture Symposium in Xinjiang, China in 2009. Multhalib went on to achieve great heights by winning a competition to design a major outdoor sculpture for the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China. Multhalib had undertaken major commissioned works for Petronas, The Hilton, The Grand Hyatt, The Westin, Aliya and Farouk Khan and UMW Toyota.

Perhaps it was the predominant oeuvre of his architectural background that played a part in his sculptural practice, paving a way to his approach in constructing his sculptures. Multhalib uses technology as part of his process, to aid him in visualising three-dimensional patterns. Then, if need be, he creates mini prototypes of that vision to ensure the right use of tools. It also helps him resolve any issues before the actual production commences. He is often aided by a team of builders in the fabrication of his work, similar to a construction of a building. Typically, Multhalib’s sculptures go through laser-cut steel. In order to attain his signature rusty effect, he would then douse his works in salt water and lo and behold, his masterpieces come to life only to be coveted by art aficionados.

According to Muthalib, the conception of his works is spontaneous, non-linear and they are derived from experiences and what he feels. He draws from the natural surroundings as well as built environment. He explained, “At this stage, I have come to perceive the self as a composite that is often contradictory and internally incomplete. Perhaps this is one way to relate to my work, in a sense that it is conceptualised and manifested in fragments and aggregates to reveal a certain personal characteristic that challenges the reader to engage with the work at various levels of interpretation.” The artist fully utilises geometric shapes in his sculptures. Furthermore, mathematical shapes and equations of swirls, circles and ovals are abundant in the composition of his circular series, entitled, ‘Swirls’. His series was showcased at the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur in 2005, featuring as the title suggests, a series of circular sculptures. He had showcased two of his other works, the Involute series (2005) and Twist (2008).

Multhalib approaches all his work with a consideration he developed while working on his Involute series. Although he considers all his works to be part of the same series, it also portrays how vastly different they are under different circumstances such as the shows they are displayed at the time and titles they hold. The sculptor lives by an unwavering principle to date, which is to transform two-dimensional creations to three dimensional figures in order to establish a connection between his sculptures and his audiences. It was initially a fundamental principle he had learnt in architecture which was then applied to art too. After all, beauty is in the eye of its beholder. The artist’s ‘Involute’ series consists of suspended spherical mobile sculptures. One can say that it shares an apparent similarity in aesthetics with the ‘Swirl’ series and his works from the ‘Twist’ series which debuted back in 2008. As mentioned earlier, Multhalib considers all his series similar and as one, yet they differ greatly depending on circumstances. The Twist series features a series of sliced ‘S’ shapes standing up in tall totem-like structures.

Abdul Multhalib Musa Two Sides Two, (2012) Lasercut Mild Steel, 300 x 550 x 450 cm

You may recognise some of Multhalib’s works in public spaces, prominently the Patience of Petronas which graces the lobby of Prince Court Medical Centre and The Essence of National Legacy which can be seen at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre. While there aren’t a lot of public sculptures, Multhalib adds his art to be part of the Kuala Lumpur skyline which has been referred to as a form of contemporary Malaysian sculpture in itself. Synonymous with his talent, his success has earned his artworks a place in prestigious hotels, namely, his Breeze and Bubbles for the Hilton Hotel and his latest, Darussalam at the brand new Grand Hyatt. Darussalam is Multhalib’s first foray into bronze, and was an interesting development for him as bronze limits laser cutting, which is a typical method by which he handles his metals. The final form therefore greatly differs from his previous works and shows an interesting new development in his repertoire. Rather than consisting of metal slices, the sculpture is a tall smooth edifice, mimicking the building that houses it. A bird’s-eye view of the piece outlines a crescent, an icon present in both the Brunei and Malaysian flags, and which is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind signifying splendour and beauty.

Multhalib has masterfully melded his mathematical knowledge, spatial awareness and conceptual abilities to create sculptures that resonate with his audiences, both locally and internationally. Forging his way at the forefront of the contemporary Malaysian sculpture movement, the artist’s ability to connect his works to the spaces that they inhabit, all the while exploring the precarious division of two and three dimensionalities, brands him as an exciting artist whose coming works are poised for an electrifying future.

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