Written by : Zena Khan
Photography by : Puah Chin Kok
About the Artist
Appearing in the contemporary Malaysian art scene in the early 1990’s as a founding member of the MATAHATI collective, Hamir Soib combines his theatrical approach to painting with a magical-fantastic realism style to create works that act as a critique of the socio-political state of today’s society.
Hamir’s initial entry into the art scene in Malaysia was via the MATAHATI show “Life” in 1993, and from then on he participated in various group shows and competitions. Slow to receive mass acclaim, Hamir concentrated on his day job as a set designer for theatre and film, where his main forte was fashioning dramatic backdrops for the stage. Theatre backdrops are painted so as to be understood by spectators that are sat a distance away, this means that often when one views the backdrop up close it’s unintelligible. It is only when the viewer moves a significant distance back when suddenly it all comes together and sets the physical scene for the ensuing performance. It formed an unconventional training for Hamir that means he is able to now create work that has a huge visual impact on his audience, and leads into how Hamir was the pioneer of the larger than life painting trend that is now prevalent in the Malaysian art scene.
Hamir’s seminal painting “Pillihan” effectively demonstrates the influence of his theatrical background in his fine art career. Measuring 24 feet by 10 feet, “Pillihan” translates into “Choices”, and is a commentary on money politics debates that were raging in 2005. Hamir is remarking on the choices presented in today’s world between fundamental values and material ambitions. In the bottom left corner there is a man holding on to the roots of a tree that shoots up into the top of the painting, emphasising Hamir’s ideals of society holding on to it’s culture and values, and thus growing stronger over time. Across the right of the page Hamir has painted a donkey exploding from a volcanic eruption, whinnying in terror and confusion. This represents the outcome of the opposite choice, of caving into corruption leading into chaos.
In 2005 Hamir founded Gudang, which indicated his decision to immerse himself solely in his fine art career and marked the beginning of his trajectory as one of the most important painters on the contemporary art scene. Gudang was Hamir’s personal studio and workshop. Additionally it served as alternative art space that provided multi media showcases, sought funding for independent film making and perhaps most importantly granted residencies to both young graduates and foreign artists. 2005 brought with it Hamir’s Young Artist Incentive Award from the Shah Alam Gallery, and first solo exhibition at Gudang, “Pameran Tunggal”.
“As a Malaysian artist, living and working in Kuala Lumpur, in the 21st century, his monolithic works are representative of the times we live in, and this body of works are a witty, sometimes cynical look at what the country and its people have become.” Hamir’s painting Sepat O Sepat, considered one of the most significant paintings of this era, underlines this and is a notable example of Hamir as a socio political commentator. Measuring 6 feet by 8 feet, “Sepat O Sepat” simply features a large fish centred on a plain white canvas. The sepat is a fish that was common in the padi fields in the kampungs (villages) in post-independence Malaysia. Villagers could easily catch the fish in the padi fields surrounding their homes, and then along with the rice and vegetables grown in their own gardens would have a ready meal. Over the years as the country has become increasingly developed the padi fields have shrunk and the sepat’s habitat has shrunk, and is no longer easily found. Here, the sepat has been used as a symbol to relate Hamir’s growing dismay at the realization that pollution has begun affecting the Malaysian landscape and the impact of man therein due to development, it is a testament to both his narrative ability and connection with his audience that he encapsulates such layers of meaning and dismay with what is essentially the detailed rendering of a large deformed fish.
At the time of “Sepat O Sepat” Hamir was entrenched in painting with oils. Naturally inquisitive he wanted to explore mediums to discover how he could affect the atmospheric quality of his work, which led to the development of his bitumen and monochromatic period, beginning in 2008 and seeing him through to 2012. Bitumen is a dark paint, in shades of brown, made from coal tar that was frequently used in 19th century painting in the West. Hamir discovered that he was able to paint highly detailed and gothic art works using bitumen, such as “Nafsu Nafsi” which highlights his inimitable ability to add super fine detail into large scale paintings.
Hamir is well known for developing and refining his techniques via a work, or series of works, and then coupling those techniques with new developments to push him to new levels. Once he had satisfied his ability to use bitumen as successfully as he could oil and acrylic he experimented with it as a drawing tool, while conceptually shifting from social issues to personal ones by exploring his religious identity through contemporary calligraphic works. The first of his paintings to include calligraphy, “Kering”, does so in an indescipherable manner as a non central element, but as his calligraphic works came into high commercial demand he began to focus on the calligraphy as the primary focus. His ultimate calligraphic work is unanimously considered to be a private commission series of four Quls produced for a private residence. The Quls are four prayers that form a core for the Quran and provide protection for the reciter, and by installing four large Qul paintings, one for each prayer, at the entrance of the house Hamir creates a religious narrative that blesses and shields.
Hamir’s skills lie in creating large-scale paintings, that utilize line, shading and chiaroscuro to create a gothic atmosphere infused with implications of social consciousness and religious devotion. One of the truly fascinating qualities of his work is their ability to mirror the current issues facing society, be they political, social or religious which, when coupled with his unrivalled painterly technique explains his ability to connect with his audience on a rare level that is a hallmark of an outstanding artist. As he moves forward in 2013 with a return to his socio-political narrative and re inclusion of a colour palette in his work, as evidenced by The Auctionland it is an exciting time to monitor his unending expansion.
Finalist (Painting)- Sovereign Art Award, Hong Kong
Malihom Art Residency –Abn-amor Malihom, Penang, Malaysia
Young Artist Incentive Award – Galeri Shah Alam, Shah Alam, Selangor
Best Art Director (film 14th Malaysia Film Festival) –
for Perempuan Melayu Terakhir collaboration with Zuraini Anuar
Imbasan , Wei-Ling Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Pameran Tunggal GUDANG, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
AFK (Aliya and Farouk Khan) Collection
Dato Nazim Razak
National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
UiTM Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia
UiTM Perak, Perak, Malaysia
Maybank, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malihom, Penang, Malaysia
A.P Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur
ESSO Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Capital Corp, Securities, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia