Art Features – May 19

Two brilliant artists and stalwarts of the modern Malaysian and contemporary art scene, Nizar Kamal Ariffin and Syed Thajudeen are combining their newly produced masterpieces, to usher in the holy month of Ramadan.

The two-man art exhibition entitled, ‘A New Moon’, is bound to captivate the hearts of art aficionados with their individualistic approach to the theme of the exhibition. 

Nizar, is an abstract expressionist who expresses spirituality, freedom, faith and personal growth through intricately planned and structured lines. 

Syed Thajudeen is a figurative painter with a distinctive stylisation and romantic treatment of his subject matters, portrayed through rich colours.

The works of these two painters share similarities in the depiction of underlying metaphors and a wholesome, heightened mood of spirituality. 



Art and Soul of the Jawi Series 

Nizar Kamal Ariffin was born on Sept 9, 1964, in the small town of Kuala Lipis, Pahang. His journey in art began when Nizar joined Senika, Pahang’s art society in its capital city Kuantan, at the age of 20. He found his destined path to be a painter while working with the Minister of Culture and Youth. He was then appointed as a resident artist at Taman Seni Budaya Pahang, and has been making his mark in the art scene ever since. He graduated with a degree in Fine Arts and Graphics from Universiti Sains Malaysia. After graduation, he moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1993, where he painted at the APS (Angkatan Pelukis SeMalaysia) House, Central Market, while doing freelance graphic and print work. In 1998, he joined the Conlay Artist Colony at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex. 

Today, the artist has made many achievements, including two honourable mentions by the Phillip Morris Asian Art Award in 1999 and 2000. His works have also been exhibited throughout the country and overseas, notably the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur and Ulterly Gallery in Singapore.

A Soulful Icon

Nizar’s signature brush strokes are iconic and immediately recognisable. He masters in his lively yet meticulous strokes of paint, resulting in a great finesse of overlapping lines and juxtaposing shapes that create interesting outcomes. 

Nizar’s desire to soul-search has fuelled many passionate projects that portray each of his personal journey. His expedition has blessed the art world with many abstract masterpieces such as his Topeng Series in 1998, which was a prelude to his self-acquiring journey; and the Tree of Life, or Pohon Beringin Series comprising landscapes of the mind and spirit. 

The Jawi Series

This time, Nizar picked religion as the prevailing theme in his painting series. His latest – the Jawi Series – invites viewers to experience his relationship with the Islamic religion through art. The Jawi script is arabic alphabets held in high esteem by Muslims, as the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam is written in it. 

Nizar is no stranger to using colours to express his feelings. His earlier works in the Jawi Series show Nizar’s penchant for metallic yet serene shades of yellow, pink and blue. This year, the artist has put a spin to it, updating his signature strokes with striking standout colours for each of the painting. The monochromic pieces – simple, yet visually impactful – will be striking additions to any wall. 

The powerful presence of colour in Nizar’s work subliminally communicates his thoughts – purple symbolises devotion and peace, while white often indicates faith and purity. At a closer distance, one can experience another dimension of the piece through his intimate and passionate paint strokes and lines. After a good couple of looks, the viewer will notice a subtle floating circle, almost like a divine presence in the artwork. All these provide a fitting background for a Jawi word that Nizar features in each of the painting in this series. 

Nizar’s Allah and Muhamad artworks seem to have the influence of the minimalist movement of art, which was booming in the mid-1900s’ in the United States. Minimalism in visual art offers a highly purified form of something, and it tends to convey truth, simplicity and harmony, as it does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. The paintings’ abstract expressionism and minimalism characteristics are a nod to Cy Twombly’s free, monotone scribbles. The purity and tranquility of the two artworks also remind one of Rothko’s use of colour palettes and a sense of calmness that his paintings seem to exude. 

Each of the white paintings are dedicated to an important religious figure of the Islamic religion. The Jawi words refer to Allah and Prophet Muhammad respectively – staying true to the theme of religion and spirituality. In Islam, Allah is synonymous with God, and Muhammad was the founder of the religion. The Jawi writing camouflages perfectly into the artworks, almost as if it is invisible at first sight. Perhaps it is the artist’s way of implying that God and faith may not be visible but always there. 

Nizar’s 2018 works of the Jawi Series form a theme of its own, focusing on messages of the religion such as love, thankfulness and peace. Instead of colours, shapes take centre stage this time. The circle, being the dominant visual element in the artworks, symbolises wholeness, the Self, and even God. Each Jawi word in the series depicts a wholesome feeling – “A Hubbu” means Love; “Hubbu Alasami” is Love of Peace; and “Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim” translates to Most Gracious, Most Merciful”. 

Pink is the common colour across the three paintings. The colour of love and hope, meets the colour blue, which is believed to bring peace in many cultures, in “Hubbu Alasami” – a fitting name for the piece. The convergence of pink and yellow in “A Hubbu” embodies the feelings of affection and joy when one is in love. 

Nizar’s feathery, outward strokes are almost as if they radiate the painting’s spiritual energy into the air of wherever the painting is displayed. Whether it is the passionate and loving energy of the colour pink, or the calming touches of the colour blue, onlookers will definitely channel Nizar’s emotional vibes. 

Nizar Kamal Ariffin’s Jawi Series will be showcased in the Ramadan exhibition scheduled for the May 1 to June 5 2019 at KLAS.  



Painting The Tale of Love and Spirituality

Syed Thajudeen has been painting for the past 50 years and is recognised as one of the stalwarts of the Malaysian art scene. Born in India, in 1943, Syed Thajudeen’s father, Penang-born Shaik Abu Talib, bundled his family back to the safety of India, only returning after the Japanese surrender in 1945. In India, Syed was exposed to the vibrant colours that were ubiquitous there. Across the pond in Malaysia, the artist found himself overwhelmed by the tropical hues, humidity and pageantry of multi-religious festivals.

Syed Thajudeen has honed a mastery of the human form, being able to create miniature pieces to mural-sized masterpieces. He is also known for his paintings of Mughal figures set in period landscapes. His works emit a distinctive stylisation, romantic treatment of subject matter and the rich colours as in the Ajanta cave paintings of Maharashtra and of Mughal paintings (enriched with Indian mythology). This, together with the traditional visual arts’ integral connection with literature, music, dance, sculpture and philosophy, helped shape Syed’ Thajudeen’s early works. His works, as individualistic as they are, attempt to evoke a state of ‘rasa’ or heightened mood that belongs to a larger tapestry and sensibility of Asian artistic traditions. In many instances where his favourite subject matters deal with women and love, they share the same archetypal symbols and metaphors.

Obsession with art

In Penang, Syed Thajudeen studied at Methodist High School right up to Senior Cambridge. In Form 3, he was made the secretary of the school’s Art Club, and regularly partook in art competitions organised at the Han Chiang High School across the road, and naturally, bagged himself several prizes. Evidently, his innate gift for art began to rear its head at a young age. In 1965, he took part in his first group exhibition at the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery (PSMAG) officiated by Penang’s first Governor, Tun Raja Uda Raja Muhammad. When he returned to India to further his studies, the seed of an artist was planted, complemented by a burning passion. 

With his proud parents’ blessings, Syed Thajudeen was off to India again, this time purportedly to study medicine but he found it uninspiring. So he made the bold decision to follow his calling and switch to Fine Art studies, much to the dismay of his parents. He studied at the Government College of Fine Arts (CFGA), India’s oldest art institution from 1968 to 1973 for his diploma and 1974-1974 for post-diploma, majoring in painting. Syed Thajudeen’s presence in India was at an impeccable timing, during the critical period of Indian art modernism, with the flourishing of art movements which saw many great names from various schools of art emerge. 

At the CFGA, Syed Thajudeen went through the rigours of the Sadanga rituals, the Six Limbs of Indian Painting, under the tutelage of many gurus of sculpture, portrait, contemporary art and ceramic mediums. It was in Chennai that he sold his first painting entitled, Dr Faustus, about the fall of Man, written by Christopher Marlowe and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 


Syed Thajudeen’s art career has been nothing short of amazing with nine solo exhibitions under his belt; selection to prestigious exhibitions overseas—Malaysian Art (1965 to 1978), Commonwealth Institute, London (1978); 2nd Bangladesh Biennale (1983); Contemporary Paintings of Malaysia, Asia Pacific Museum, Pasadena, California (1988); Rupa Malaysia, Brunei Gallery, London (1998); Malaysian Contemporary Art, National Museum of Art, Beijing, (1999); Guangdong Museum of Art, China (2004); World Expo in Shanghai (2010), the Olympic Games Art Exhibition, London (2012) and the Special Exhibition of ASEAN-South Korea Commemorative Summit (2014).

Back in Malaysia, the artist was selected for major exhibitions such as the 1st Asian Symposium, Workshop and Exhibition on Aesthetics in 1990; Figurative Approaches in Modern Malaysian Art in 1996; 45@45 in 2003 and Between Generations: 50 Years Across Modern Art in Malaysia in 2007. Upon his return in April 1974, Syed Thajudeen landed himself a part-time job at the Mara Institute of Technology (now UiTM) teaching Textile Design and Figure Drawing from 1974 to 1976. His peers included Dr Choong Kam Kow, Sulaiman Esa, Ahmad Khalid Yusof, Redza Piyadasa, Joseph Tan while his students included Ponirin Amin and Mad Anuar Ismail.

Syed Thajudeen asserted that his role in this institution wasn’t to teach, instead, to guide the students. He stressed on anatomic drawings and advocated model portrait drawing with half-naked male models and fully-clothed female models. The administration panel at ITM frowned upon it and did not renew his contract. To pay the bills, Syed Thajudeen had a brief stint in advertising, first with Mulberry, then Trang before he was hired permanently by the United Asian Bank (now CIMB Bank) as its resident artist. He opted for the voluntary separation scheme (VSS) in 2001, in order to become a fulltime artist. 

Artistic Style

Many of Syed Thajudeen’s art pieces incorporate literature, music, dance, sculpture and philosophy, showcasing his vast knowledge on the subject matter; never straying far from women and love as they share the same archetypal symbols and metaphors. His romantic treatment of his subject matter and the use of rich colours are again, derived from the influence of the Ajanta cave paintings of Maharasthra and Mughal paintings.

Despite being highly criticised for his obvious Asian influences, overtly use of colours, as well as for painting human figures, which is scorned by Islamic fundamentalists, Syed Thajudeen has convinced his detractors otherwise. His masterpieces are now an important element of Malaysian art and its history. He has painstakingly developed a distinct vocabulary that is innovative and refreshing in the schematic colours and rich in symbolism. 

The artist’s depiction of women is pretty, vulnerable and the epitome of sinuous grace and female wiles. His early exposure in India is why all his maidens are all dark-skinned instead of the norm Caucasian, white-skin beauty.

Syed Thajudeen’s ‘Kebaya’ and ‘Waiting for the Lover’ series are his widely popular artworks, emoting the joys of love and femininity in its truest form and beauty. Some of his known works include the founding of Malacca by Parameswara and his travels, the Malacca Sultanate series, The Eternal Love between Hang Tuah and Puteri Gunung Ledang, which were a three-year project. Aware of the artist’s flair of telling a story, Shell Malaysia commissioned him to illustrate six Malaysian fables for its 1990 calendar.

Dubbed as the modern art romanticist, Syed Thajudeen has always been piqued by love in any tale, which he expands and embellishes for a wholesome paradigm. The ‘love’ theme is ever resonating, part of his artistic repertoire. Currently, Syed Thajudeen’s works adorn the walls of Petronas Gallery, National Art Gallery of Malaysia, Singapore Art Museum, corporate buildings and many private homes in Malaysia and abroad.  Since colours are part of his artillery, he taps into his unique ability to tell a story through a blend of colours so it presents a lyrical and poetic manner, which is immensely appealing to his viewers. The artist’s brilliant employment of colour combination and background base is owed to his deeply rooted Indian background, fused with Malay cultural elements. 

Syed Thajudeen’s final solo exhibition entitled, ‘Paintings on Love’ was held at KL Lifestyle Art Space@Jalan Maarof, in 2011. This romantic exhibition comprised works from over the years including a small collection of ink on paper drawings as well as several works created that year, titled, ‘Ka’bah’, ‘Ibu’, ‘Holy Book’, Meeting of the Eyes II’ and six works in the ‘Waiting for the Lover in Kebaya Labuh’ songket series.

Syed Thajudeen’s Islamic Series

Syed Thajudeen, in his Retrospective book narrated that the artworks from the Islamic series present the spiritual belief that all humankind will eventually return to a great and profound spiritual state. The artist believes that when the people possess strong spirituality, peace will come to the land, giving us strength, knowledge, calmness, confidence as well as wisdom. With this, it is believed that each and every one of us will live together joyfully. Syed Thajudeen has also mentioned that all holy scriptures exhort the need to love a positive, productive, righteous life and that whatever we do, we reap what we sow. 

When Islamic-themed art exhibitions grew rapidly, Syed Thajudeen never failed to get an invitation which he always reciprocated, like the 1994 Islamic Art exhibition at Galeri Petronas Kuala Lumpur and the Man and Spirituality Exhibition, held at the National Art Gallery in 1995. 

Love, a theme that the artist revolves around also permeates through the spiritual realm with the sublimity of spirit, in praise of God, the Tauhid supplication. His works from the Islamic series such as ‘Kaaba II, 2016 Oil on canvas, 150 x 150cm’ evokes a Muslim’s blissful communion with The Almighty while ‘Moon of Ramadan I, 2015 Oil on canvas, 31 x 31cm’ is a triumph of faith and abstinence, as well as a tribute to the moon, as the moon is a Muslim’s companion.


KL Lifestyle Art Space 




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