34 year-old Haffendi Anuar is a young visual artist who explores themes of identity in his latest solo exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art in Singapore. Alongside other accolades, his works sit in the public collections of Khazanah Nasional, the Singapore Art Museum and the Cass Sculpture Foundation in the United Kingdom.
How did you get first get started with art and how did you make the decision to pursue it as a career?
I had always been making art since I was a kid, taking watercolour and oil-painting classes at Yayasan Seni in Ampang on the weekends when I was in my early teens. In high school, I focused mostly on the visual arts and had in my mind the thought of applying to art school for college. I think it was an easy transition from formal art education to professional practice as before and during university days, I had worked for galleries and assisted artists, so had always been in the art world.
Your recent work, Midday Stanza, explores the theme of identity especially as it relates to being Malaysian. What is your fascination with exploring the multiplicity of ‘Malaysian-ness’ in your art?
For the exhibition Midday Stanza, I wanted to create an environment that in a way is a culmination of what I feel is happening in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur. In a way, I wanted to conjure a cerebral abstracted landscape based on images and bits of Malaysia, while also incorporating elements and news that have been in circulation in the media.
I had always had an uneasy sense of defining the work I produced as “Malaysian”. Even though I am a Malaysian artist predominantly based in Kuala Lumpur, growing up I had a mixed education experience, locally and abroad and that has shaped the way I navigate my practice, concerns and thinking. Thus for this exhibition, I wanted to focus on Malaysia, the recent conversations happening in the country and changes in the political and social realms while not being specific about issues.
Your work seems to embody extremes, at one moment rigid and geometric, like your earlier works, and the next organic and free-form as seen in Midday Stanza. Is there a particular reason why you choose to create and convey your message in these two opposite extremes?
I think that dualities exist everywhere and are a crucial part of life. In my work, I try to balance polar opposites, as well as try to not have a certain visual or formal style. I feel that ideas and context are important components of the work, thus dictate the formal choices I make as well as steer away from stylistic decisions. In terms of the contrasts between organic and geometric forms, I like the juxtaposition and energy that happens when they are both incorporated together into an artwork.
You’ve exhibited your works in various cities in Asia and parts of Europe and New York. As identity is a prevalent theme in your works, how was it like exhibiting works to audiences from a different context?
It is interesting to exhibit in different cities around the world, and what is more rewarding is to have one’s work in dialogue with an artist in the same generation whom are local to that specific city. So if I’m showing in Shanghai, it would be great to show in a group show with young Shanghainese artists whose works have a similar energy as mine. Furthermore I think my work is quite open-ended and that they could in a way be appreciated visually or formally without being aware of the contexts that they come from. Although if the audience is equipped with the background narrative and experience, I guess if would be even more rewarding when encountering the work.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment? What else would you like to explore with your art in the future?
Currently, I am in the midst of producing a new body of work. I am experimenting with new ways of making using fabrics and stitching, but it’s still in the beginning stages so plenty of messy experiments. I am investigating collages for a few years now and would like to compile them into an artist publication sometime this year.
TEXT NEDA AL-ASEDI & SWAROOPINI UDHAYA NAIR
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBIN LIEW
ART DIRECTION AUDREY LIM