A Word of Art

Husin Hourmain combines Islam, calligraphy and art to create Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf, a series set to carve him a space in the Malaysia Contemporary Islamic Art scene.
He tells RAINA NG about his latest work

A 10-year-old Husin Hourmain was bemused watching a group of painters at work on a billboard in his hometown Ipoh and decided he wanted to be an artist. He began drawing whatever he could find and as he grew up, he began visiting galleries and buying art with his father who was an art enthusiast. Hourmain trained to become a graphic designer and went on to pursue a career in fine arts in the year 2000. His recent series Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf hopes to encourage a wider understanding of Islam as a religion and is set to be a part of Malaysian Contemporary art history.

What were the major challenges you encountered while creating the series?
The year 2010 was a difficult and critical time. I had just moved into my new studio and had to adjust to a new environment. I even stopped painting for six months just to give myself time to get into the right mood. I had to work faster in order to catch up with my deadlines. Problem was, I was rushing to the point that all my paintings began to look similar. I began to find it difficult to give each alphabet its own character and attitude. Just like in the Qur’an, there is a different story and message to share in every juz’.
It is like when someone starts to learn the muqaddam, he has to be focused and determined. He has to go through the muqaddam page by page and step by step in order to be able to read it well. Practice makes perfect. It can take years to complete the muqaddam and the Qur’an. I went through the same process when I was working on my Jawi series, layer by layer, alphabets overlapping one another, painstakingly controlling every brush stroke. The focus and determination is shown in the complete work of art.
I learned in this process that I needed to look for new inspirations and to get involved in discussions with my friends in the art scene. I believe that artists need to discuss art amongst ourselves to gain new insight and exchange thoughts and ideas. Only then can we improve and evolve the art scene, making new discoveries from time to time. This rejuvenates potential and creates a healthy intellectual discourse.
What are you communicating or expressing through your pieces?
Looking at the entire body of my work this time around, this series of 30 seminal pieces represents my quest to understand my roots. Words are images too. With words, we communicate. Words are active mediators that conceptually project meanings. For these pieces, I took the same approach, constantly querying myself on how well I knew my basics. By learning the script, I learn the characters and by learning the characters, I learn the words of God. I believe that rather than jumping right into phrases, it is better that I allow people to visually understand the aesthetic form of Jawi alphabets. I went through the trouble to relearn each Jawi alphabet in my works from the very beginning and study the history of calligraphy throughout the world. All this culminated in Awal Hurouf, Asal Hurouf.

You talk about trying to help others understand Islam through your works. Can you tell us more?
I believe that art is an indirect way to encourage people from various backgrounds and cultures to understand Islam visually. Looking at each of these pieces, every alphabet has its own distinctive character – each one marks a different emotion, expression and gesture; each one requires a different technique, stroke and attitude. Each one is similar to the surah contained in the Qur’an that speaks of many messages.

How much do you think your works will be appreciated by the general public?
What I try to do is to bring Islamic influence which I am familiar with together with western techniques which I have grasped. Abstraction looms deep in my paintings, which manifest a spontaneous and expressive gestural characteristic. It is fair for me to say that my aesthetic approach has its foundation in American abstract expressionism, for instance Jackson Pollock. Form is constructed through chaotic gestural lines, yet in a controllable manner. I’ve always been inspired by the intensity and attitude created by the lines and shapes in Pollock’s paintings.
To be judged by the public to whom I am trying to convey my message is something I can appreciate. At the end of the day, it is not about my religious point of view but a reflection of my cultural heritage. I am not creating a work of Islamic art. I am a fellow Muslim creating something that relates to my belief.


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