Mohd Noor Mahmud

Mohd Noor Mahmud- participating artist in the GMCA (Great Malaysia Contemporary Art)

GMCA logo
Written by : Zena Khan

Photography by : Puah Chin Kok


About the Artist

The North-Eastern state of Kelantan is commonly referred to as the cradle of Malaysian culture, and with good reason. While Kelantan’s economy is largely based on agriculture, it’s reputation stems from the deep-seated craft traditions that exist in the state, such as batik, kain songket (fabric woven with gold and silver thread), silversmithing and wood carving. Unsurprisingly Kelantan also generates a stream of highly accomplished artists, amongst them Mohd Noor Mahmud.

Born in 1964 in Kelantan, Mohd Noor graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Universiti Teknologi Mara in 1988 before obtaining a Master’s degree from Leicester in 1996. Mohd Noor has exhibited extensively including at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak State Museum, Sabah Art Gallery, Maybank Gallery, American Embassy and Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and won the third prize in the “Pemandangan Malaysia” competition which was held by Kontena Malaysia in 1989.

Siri Dikir Rambutan Rendang Rebung I 183cm x336cm I  Acrylic on wood on canvas I 2008-2009

Siri Dikir Rambutan Rendang Rebung I 183cm x336cm I Acrylic on wood on canvas I 2008-2009

Mohd Noor’s artistic practice is closely linked to the craft conventions and local industry of Kelantan. The influence of the crafts of his home state are evident throughout his career, but can be seen to have begun with his first series, Siri Imajan (1988). Siri Imajan examines the global trend for jeans, and it’s impact on the traditional fashion in Malaysia, particularly batik. Batik has a close place in Mohd Noor’s heart, both as a child and at university he predominantly wore batik, which is also reflective of East Coast of Malaysia, and the artist felt batik was now being phased out by the increasing demand for jeans. The series forms a commentary not only on the effects of a homogenous global society on local culture, but also on the austere struggle of an artist and student. The amalgamation of jeans and batik directly correspond to representations of West and East, and the fact that the artist used one of the only two pairs of jeans he owned as a model in the series, then washed and re wore them, speaks directly to the financial struggles of young artists.

Siri Imajan I 122cm x 122cm I Mix Media on Canvas I 1988

Siri Imajan I 122cm x 122cm I Mix Media on Canvas I 1988

Mohd Noor’s subsequent series, Siri Gua, again highlights his affection for Kelantan and the influence that complete immersion in the state has on his creativity. In 1989 Mohd Noor visited the Gua Cha in Ulu Kelantan, which are the most actively researched archeological site in the peninsular where Hoabhonians and Neolithics and their artifacts were discovered. Among the articles therein are complete human burials and grave commodities such as jewellery, pottery and stone tools, which inspired the artist to experiment with coarse materials such as sawdust mixed with glue in an effort to recreate the atmosphere of the cave and its inhabiting objects, resulting in highly textural, layered works such as Corak (1996) which is made up of ten layers to recreate the relief impressions the artist had observed.

Rather neatly, it was the studies for Siri Gua that initially directed Mohd Noor to the motifs in “Colours of Kota Bahru”. The artist compiled ten years of documented research and experimentation to produce a body to work that articulates his deep rooted love for Kelantan, visually explaining the draw the state holds for him via an examination of traditional art forms, culminating in a series of highly detailed mono-prints and collages. The dissection of floral motifs in batik leads to their resulting representational value to Kelantanese society and thus starts new conversations of the specific roles of craft and intellectualism within society today.

Siri Gua Corak II

Siri Gua Corak II I 97cm x 66cm I Mix Media on Canvas I 1996

Siri Gua Corak I I 97cm x 66cm I Mix Media on Canvas I 1996

Siri Gua Corak I I 97cm x 66cm I Mix Media on Canvas I 1996

Studying Mohd Noor’s works opens a discussion about the fusion of traditional symbols and motifs in a highly contemporary presentation, and the resultant contradiction of tradition that appears. The artist feels that it is this paradox, coupled with a thorough understanding of the formal aspects of technique that enable him to produce truly original works. Indeed the weight attached to technique and skill is evident from the stunning attention to detail and patient layering processes Mohd Noor diligently applies in his practice.

Mohd Noor speaks of juxtapositions within art, between the raw and refined and harshness and beauty, which correspond directly with his concepts of peripheral cultures, established craft and art, and the evolution process as a whole. He believes any individual piece of art is intrinsically infused with the spirit of it’s creator, as a pictorial representation of the artist’s experiences both spiritual and perceptive. His ability to attach a personal significance within a broader context of society, religion, culture and time lead to the creation of thought provoking art which initially attracts his audience via their stunning visual before quietly slipping in the layers of embedded meaning, leading him to be considered not only a master of contemporary Malaysian art but also a leading commentator on the growing landscape that is twenty first century Malaysia in an increasingly culturally borderless world.


Born 1964, in Kelantan, Malaysia


1996 M.A, DMU, Leicester, UK
1990 Art Teachers Diploma, Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM)
1988 B.A Fine Art, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Shah Alam, Selangor

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