Ancient Alphabets – Through Immersive Eyes (New Sunday Times)

written by Sarah NH Vogeler

Artist Husin Hourmain pays homage to the Jawi script and the national culture in his latest solo exhibition one of its kind Malaysia Contemporary Islamic Calligraphy Art.

THERE is a certain quality to Husin Hourmain’s third solo offering, much like his manner of speech; matter-of-fact, positive, engaging. As Malaysia contemporary artist deeply imbued in abstract expressionism, his canvases illustrating the Jawi alphabet are monumental in scale, exploding with sumptuous colour, multi-layered, vigorous (of swipes, smears, streaks) yet controlled painterly strokes; the mood frenzied-romantic.
His latest exhibition, Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf, a Malaysia Contemporary Islamic Calligraphy art exhibition – in Kuala Lumpur is a significant departure from his previous solos, Energy (in 2004), and From Zero to Something, Zero to Nothing (2008) which delved into the anxiety-riddled realms of Man’s relations with Nature.

Jawi’s emergence is directly connected to the arrival of Islam in the archipelago, derived from the Arabic script and letters or huruf. It played a pivotal role in the community, and was liberally utilised in all areas of trade, customs and administration in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“I took some respite after From Zero to Something, Zero to Nothing to recharge. These new works took three years to complete, with a break in between.”

“Ba”, “Tha”, “Tho”, “Ra”, “Fa”, “Qaf”, “Nun” and “Ha” were completed in 2009, and a year later he moved to a new studio space. The move caused an unexpected paradigm shift, and he went on a half year’s hiatus to reintegrate himself with his new milieu.

“Sin”, “Shim”, “Lam”, “Dhot”, “Zai”, “Kaf”, “Mim”, “Sod” were consequently finished in 2010, and “Dal”, “Zal”, “Tho”, “Zho”, “Ain”, “Ghain”, “Wau”, “Lam-Alif”, “Hamzah” and “Ya” followed suit in 2011.
“One of the greatest gifts we’ve been given is the ability to read, learn and follow the words of guidance sent down by Allah, Lord of the Universe. By understanding his words and messages, we’re then able to acquire faith, knowledge and to understand the purpose of our existence; to know and worship the One and Only God of all Creation.”

I asked about the first Jawi letter, “Alif,” commenting on how poised it was, contrasted against an addled and crisscrossed setting. “It took four attempts and was the longest to complete,” confides Hourmain.

Even his somewhat guarded and achromatic works, as seen in “Fa” and “Ha” still couldn’t hide the artist’s unrestricted palette; the graphic designer in him escaping momentarily. “Sin” and “Ya” are determinedly jubilant, both seem to leap out of their domains, “Ghain” meticulously striated in a sea of ochre, “Lam-Alif” drenched in rich browns and blues. There’s immense pleasure, a sense of lightness when viewing Hourmain’s works, which are undeniably immersive, but in no way overwhelming.


This Kuala Kangsar-born artist reminisces fondly of drawing all kinds of vehicles in his scrapbook. Chancing upon a larger-than-life cinema billboard one day, his fate was sealed. His formal art education was completed at Malaysian Institute of Art followed by a year’s worth at Institut Kemahiran Belia Negara (IKBN) focusing on photography. Fuelled by his late father’s encouragement, (Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf is dedicated to him) he first pursued a more stable career as a graphic designer.
It was just a matter of time before I became a full-time artist, he adds.
His foray into calligraphy goes back to almost a decade, Allah — Study (2006) was an early attempt. Two of his works, Menanti Senja (2010) and Dulu, Kini, dan… (2012) were featured in 2013’s Taman Nurani Exhibition at Galeri Petronas, along with works by Syed Ahmad Jamal, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, and Sulaiman Esa.

Curator Scarlette Tan of Core Design Gallery says: “Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf is a monumental series that may be considered a part of our national heritage. It’s relevant as these 30 Jawi alphabets are significant only to the Malay Archipelagocompared to other Islamic Middle Eastern countries.
“His 30 seminal pieces are truly universal; there are no boundaries or barriers and it is truly a Malaysia Contemporary Art.”

Hourmain speaks of his wife’s unconditional support, a sister who came to the show’s opening despite being unwell, of friends who have been a source of comfort, even of those who didn’t fully comprehend his works, yet purchased them. His works are splattered with potent blacks, shades of reds, gothic blues, amber and virile yellows.

Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf assuages the spirit of French surrealist poet, Robert Desnos’s Sky Song,

The flower of the Alps told the
seashell: “You’re shining”
The seashell told the sea: “You echo”
The sea told the boat: “You’re
The boat told the fire: “You’re glowing brightly”
I said: “She’s beautiful, so beautiful, she moves me.”

Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf
Venue Core Design Gallery
White Box, Publika, Solaris Dutamas,KL.
Date Until March 20.
For details Visit

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