Zukifli Yusoff- participating artist in the GMCA (Great Malaysia Contemporary Art)
Written by : Zena Khan
Photography by : Puah Chin Kok and Artist Contribution
About the Artist
In art, symbols are incorporated as solid visual representations of ideas or concepts that would otherwise be tricky to characterize. In contemporary art symbols included from both popular culture as well as traditional icons easily categorize an artist’s heritage, his views and attitude and immediately open up forums for debate on their hypothesis of contemporary society. Noted international artists with this ability include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and Keith Haring, while in Malaysia one of the most popular contemporary artists who incorporates vivid cultural iconography and symbolism is the celebrated Zulkifli Yusoff.
An eminent artist who has the ability to successfully work across many mediums including painting, sculpture and installation, Zulkifli has won many major awards. In both 1988 and 1989 he was presented with the Major Award for Young Contemporaries at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur and in 1992 he gathered three prizes at the third Salon, the Grand Minister’s Prize, Major Award and Consolation Prize for sculpture and also won an Honourable Mention in Painting in 1995 at the Philip Morris Awards.
Zulkifli has been invited to participate in several important international exhibitions, most notably at the Venice Biennale in 1997. He has also shown at the Biennale of Visual Arts in Seychelles, the Fukoka Asian Art Exhibition in Japan, Immunity 11 show at Art Space, Sydney and the First Asia-Pacific Triennale in Brisbane, Australia. Major international institutions, including the Fukoka Museum of Art and Hiroshima Art Museum in Japan and the Singapore Museum and Gallery, as well as local institutions such as Bank Negara Malaysia and the Kedah State Gallery, collect his work.
Born in Kedah in 1962, Zulkifli’s interest in the arts was sparked with a copy of Art Today given to him by his father. He went on to study Fine Art at UiTM Malaysia, graduating in 1989, and gained a Masters degree from Manchester Polytechnic in 1991. Zulkifli’s father was a key influence in his formative years. A schoolteacher, the elder Yusof was seen as one of the most educated men in their village who disseminated information. He strongly advocated critical thinking, a trait he passed onto his son, along with his interest in politics and sense of nationalism. In a way Zulkifli emulates his father’s work by using his art as a platform to encourage discourse and national pride, and spread knowledge to the younger generation of Malaysians. It should be noted that Zulkifli himself taught for four years at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia before leaving to concentrate full time on his studio practice, he still accepts apprentices into his studio however which leads him to be an important figure in the development of young contemporary artists.
Zulkifli feels there is an inspired correlation between the artists Ismail Zain, Fauzan Omar and himself. He puts forth that Fauzan Omar, who is an artistic influence on him, was in turn influenced by Ismail Zain, and that in the vein of true artists each has tried to learn from their predecessor and utilize knowledge acquired to travel further on their own artistic journey. Referencing his environment and issues, which always change, helps his work to evolve both conceptually and physically, as the form the works inhabit does not restrain Zulkifli. Commenting “Issue should be greater than form” clarifies why it is he is able to create equally dynamic works in the fields of painting, sculpture and installation.
Perhaps his best-known installation to date is the seminal mixed media work Don’t Play During Maghrib, which was exhibited at the illustrious Venice Biennale in 1997. Warning children not to play outside at dusk is common in Malay households as it is thought spirits wander around at that time. As a child Zulkifli’s father would call his children in at Maghrib time ostensibly because of this, but also to check up on them, were they all right, had they been behaving, and get them ready for dinner and bed. Zulkifli references a behavior that is typical in every Malay childhood, but also understands it as his own father taking responsibility for his children, and imparting the notion that social responsibility begins at home.
Zulkifli continued his foray into installations infused with socio-political themes with 2003’s Hikayat Pelayaran Munshi Abdullah which is based on the classic story Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah (1849). This installation is crucial turning point for the artist in terms of the research based art he produces until today, citing in depth research of text and history as a means to fully comprehend his concept before resolving them in a visual manner. This attitude is explored in further installation works such as the seminal Pendita (2011) and Mereka Mencari Mas, a sculptural piece questioning devotion to material posessions over religious obligations.
2011’s installation Pendita is the first time we see Zulkifli using jawi on canvas strips in his works, a technique he has continued in his Rukun Negara series, including Rukun Negara: Percaya Kepada Tuhan, which was showcased at Art Stage Singapore 2013. The Rukun Negara series dissects the Malaysian Declaration of National Philosophy, compiled in 1970, to form a continuous conversation on the elements of nation building. Zulkifli draws form personal experience as well as textual inclusions from Usman Awang’s and Cairil Anwar’s poetry among other media to dissect the true meaning of being Malaysian. The audience is treated to the full range of Zulkifli’s artistic practice in this series, from drawing, painting and print, to installation, all derived from his solid research intensive discoveries in the historical and social fields he is deeply theoretically rooted.
Zulkifli strives to use his position as an acclaimed artist to propagate the values he holds in high regard such as patriotism and social awareness as well as awareness on current and historical issues. His practice has evolved over the last two decades from a raw, slightly loose application to a super refined and intricately detailed practice, mirroring his growing confidence and recognition both internationally and locally as a vital component in Malaysia for the art he creates and it’s resonance within society.
Born 25 January, 1962, in Yan Kedah
Diploma in Art & Design (Fine Art), MARA Institute of Technology (MIT), Shah Alam, Malaysia
Master of Arts, Manchester Polytechnic, UK
MAJOR SOLO EXHIBITIONS
Writing Power, NUS Museum, Singapore
Negara Ku, National Gallery, Kuala Lumpur
The Grand Minister’s Prize, 3rd Salon Malaysia
Major Award – Sculpture, 3rd Salon Malaysia
Minor Award – Sculpture, 3rd Salon Malaysia
AFK (Aliya and Farouk Khan) Collection
Dato Nazim Razak
Singapore Art Museum
National Art Gallery, Malaysia
Fukuoka Asian Art Museum
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum