Silent Conversation on Art Emperor

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Translated from Art Emperor Article

When the epidemic slows down and international travel resumes, the art industry gradually regains its vitality. In May 2023, Malaysian artist Masnoor Ramli Mahmud (1969-) collaborated with Core Contemporary Art and came to Taipei to participate in the Art Solo Art Fair held in the Taipei Flora Expo Park. As a pioneer of contemporary art in Malaysia, Masnoor sees this exhibition as a milestone for crossing borders again after the pandemic. This solo exhibition continues last year’s activities and shares Masnoor’s latest creations with art enthusiasts in Taiwan under the theme of “Silent Conversation.”

Since the 1990s, art development in Malaysia has progressed from modern to contemporary in line with global trends. In his twenties at the time, Masnoor had just completed his art academy degree and bravely immersed himself in the tide of the era. Looking back, Masnoor has participated in various art groups and has been enthusiastic about experimenting with different media and techniques. Masnoor has always been at the forefront of exploring new forms of art, using narrative techniques such as video, photography, installations, and mixed media.

The increasingly diverse art forms naturally align with the social conditions in Malaysia at that time. Many artists began to respond to and even reflect on reality using experimental methods. These works played a significant role in discussing various phenomena faced by the “post-colonial society” and the transition from agriculture to an industrial and commercial society. During his artistic journey around the world, Masnoor has presented many impactful creations. Through flexible artistic methods, he conveys the truth of Malaysia to the world.

The profession of an artist often combines the roles of an observer and a thinker. Especially in contemporary art, works often exhibit critical and speculative qualities. Such breakthroughs require time to be digested by transitioning societies. Masnoor’s artistic creations, even in the 2000s, continued to face challenges from public opinion. However, the fact remains that despite some traditional frameworks, Masnoor’s work has been recognized by multiple art galleries and museums.

Continuously striving at the forefront of art connects Masnoor’s creations with society. However, when the world faced the COVID-19 pandemic and had to undergo lockdowns, people’s understanding of collective society was also challenged. For Masnoor, the lockdown interrupted the acquisition of materials and experimentation, almost halting ongoing creative projects. However, this situation paradoxically opened up another path for creativity. Masnoor started to reflect on his own existence from the inside out.

In terms of media, the pandemic situation led Masnoor to return to the most fundamental aspect of painting, “hand-drawn sketches.” At the same time, the pause in communal life provided Masnoor with more opportunities to focus on his inner world. During a significant amount of solitary time, Masnoor picked up graphite pencils and began drawing. Stroke by stroke, Masnoor gradually entered a state similar to meditation, and his thoughts became purified. In this process of repeatedly experiencing oneself, Masnoor began to feel doubtful about existentialism and gradually shifted his focus to the meaning of existence and life.

The main theme of the exhibition, “Silent Conversation,” represents Masnoor’s process of self-analysis and sorting, which is transformed into paintings and accumulated for the solo exhibition. The series of works, based on figurative sketches, demonstrate Masnoor’s drawing skills through different compositions and human forms. Through the stacking of visual layers, various spiritual states and stages of life form self-portraits. This exhibition showcases only three sets of works, but while posing individual questions, they also echo each other’s ideas.

The series “Musim/Season” (Four Seasons), consisting of four hanging scrolls, was created during the long period of home confinement. Masnoor abandoned the use of projectors and returned to traditional grid positioning to determine the outlines. The traces left by the grid lines subtly emphasize the process of hand-drawing. The four pieces depict flourishing flowers and plants or cracked earth in dark tones, forming a profound sense that blurs the boundary between vitality and demise. Each piece focuses on a different stage/state of life, ultimately forming a cycle from a baby in the womb. The heaviness of the graphite itself delicately describes the oppression of home confinement while presenting hope for the future in the visual focal points (bright areas).

The works “Tanpa Tanda/Without Markings” (Infant) and “Wadah dan Essensi/Vessel and Essence” (Lamp) are composed of a combination of 25 small-sized 30 x 30 cm paintings each. The former continues the previous series and depicts fragments of cells, fetuses, babies, and toddlers. They are arranged in an inverted triangular shape, forming an image resembling the womb of a mother. It interprets the most initial and pure appearance of life from multiple perspectives. The latter no longer focuses on human forms but realistically portrays different types of lamps. From candles and oil lamps to sky lanterns, these non-electric light sources are arranged in an upward triangular formation, extending like the guiding light of the most important aspect of life.

The latest set of works, “The Wall is Complimentary,” utilizes mixed media and is composed of collages of numerous small patterned units. The underlying patterns in each square are randomly selected from screenshots on social media. Masnoor then digitally overlays partial hand-drawn baby images. After the collage of squares is completed, Masnoor colors them with acrylic paint. Finally, they are arranged on the canvas in a yin-yang Tai Chi pattern.

Through layers of structure, Masnoor presents his observations of social conditions. In today’s increasingly developed communication networks, the virtual world has exerted a significant influence on the behaviors and thoughts of the new generation. The relatively free online ecosystem conflicts with the social structure where power was monopolized by the elites in the past. Such social circumstances are more complex and diverse, and people need to be more mindful of their spiritual influence. The artwork discusses the dual nature present within every individual. In the process of creating and presenting this work, Masnoor constantly deconstructs and reassembles rules and inertia. Ultimately, it points to the spiritual pursuit of harmony and balance within each person.

In the curation of “Silent Conversation,” Masnoor shares a different artistic perspective from the past. He slows down the pace of creating works that constantly collide and face the larger environment. Starting from the experiences of the pandemic and home confinement, he unravels the most authentic spiritual state of the present. The exhibition contrasts the anxieties and fears of the collective with the gradually calming inner spiritual world.