Contemporary art is expected to mirror the state of contemporary society, thus acting as a rich resource for individuals to draw on as they reconsider the familiar, and challenge established notions. In this spirit, the constant emergence of new techniques and mediums is not only encouraged but also lauded, as can be seen in the experimental pyrographic print works such as Catfish of young artist Haafiz Shahimi.

Art is primarily a visual medium, and the form it takes is a physical representation of the ideology it contains. Understanding contemporary art’s role to speak about the current state of society, and further understanding Malaysian society as one that constantly undergoes rapid developments, it follows that for an artist of the new generation rethinking the application of known mediums would be a primary concern. Haafiz views the responsibility of an artist as educating their audience through the evaluation of existing ideas. For him, this extends to both the content and execution. It was his search for a resolution to this self-led brief as a student that led him to discover the pyrographic print technique for which he is quickly gaining fame. Stemming from Haafiz’s correlation between the formalistic principles of printmaking and the laws of thermodynamics, his innovative prints are testament to the artist’s commitment to his skill and innate understanding of contemporising local craft traditions to enable connections between his work and audience. Haafiz’s first step is to personally cut out images onto the metal blocks he uses, creating personalized chops that are similar to the batik chops used in traditional Malaysian batik printing. Heating these to an exact temperature, which depends on the quality of the image he wishes to imprint, he applies the chops onto surfaces of canvas or jute. Catfish is imprinted on a base of jute. The difference in quality between canvas and jute is apparent in the final tone of the work. Where canvas, which is similar to paper, burns and produces a blackish tone, jute is thicker and does not burn as strongly. This leads to an overall sepia tone covering Catfish. Quick gestural drawings in charcoal and pencil are laid over the print, adding a sense of movement to the two-dimensional surface. This layering of experimental print and gestural drawing are testament to the artist’s knowledge of his chosen print medium, love of drawing and skills as a draftsman.

Haafiz looks to Malay lore for his main image of Catfish and has reproduced an image of a black leopard. In Malay folklore, the black leopard has associations to black magic, “Harimau Kejadian”. According to this myth, a pact with the devil endows the individual to transfigure themselves into the form of leopards. According to the Kerinchi people of Sumatra from who Haafiz learned this tale, this ability is usually within women, who use it to safeguard their homes when their husbands are away working. The artist understands this myth as a way of garnering a status to demand respect, by creating fear. Stylistically he renders it to appear as the image from a crest of nobility, as in contemporary society logos are equated with status. He questions the issue of status within twenty-first century Malaysia, equating the attainment of titles as a way of demanding respect within society. Originally titles were bestowed on those who made contributions economically, socially, culturally and patriotically, but now the artist raises the issue of those, whose contributions to the betterment of society are unclear, yet have received titles. There is also the global issue of institutions and governing bodies that expect their official branding to garner them admiration, yet they fail to fulfil the very duties they were set up for. It is perhaps an apt time for this discussion given the current political climate in the Middle East and the lack of support Palestine receives from the United Nations and leaders of the international communities. Haafiz comments on the need for individuals and institutions to contribute to the community as a way of attaining respect, rather than relying on the smoke and mirrors of titles and brands as a way of demanding it.

The expansion of technique into new directions is an indication of Haafiz’s desire to contemporise existing issues so as to connect to younger audiences. Catfish is a wonderful visual landmark in the refinement of his signature style, filled with the dynamism and depth that is required for socio-political works to arrest an audience’s attention. Noting these leaps, Haafiz makes in the creation of highly individual content and aesthetic, marks him out as a young artist within the Malaysian contemporary art industry to watch out for.


Title: Catfish

Artist: Haafiz Shahimi

Size: 154 cm x 183 cm

Medium: Pyrography Print, Charcoal, Spray Paint, Oil on Jute finished with 2K Matte Paint

Year: 2014


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