Written by Zena Khan
Animal figures are among the earliest known representations in art, as evidenced by the painted bison in the caves of Lascaux or early illustrations of animal heads by the Ancient Egyptians. These early representations were a mix of realism by way of direct observation, mixed with the essence of the creature’s significance to the culture depicting it. In this way, wildlife art has always commented in some form or another on the relationship between man and animals, often giving clues to the values that societies or individuals desire or admire, as can be seen in Al-Khuzairie bin Ali’s latest work, The Contender.
The Contender is part of Al-Khuzairie’s recent body of works, which explore the relationship between man and animals through several views, such as conservation and the environment. Mass migrations from rural environments into urban areas due to the rapidly developing landscape of Malaysian society naturally lead to a widening in the gulf between humans and nature. Al-Khuzairie feels a need to strike interest in an urban audience on wildlife, given the disconnect that might exist due to increasingly different environments. With The Contender, he looks at the popularity of the horse, as corroborated by its frequent use in brand imageries. The artist wonders what the reasons are that the horse as a creature is aspirational for people, and feels the answer lies in the majesty of its character. Traits associated with the horse are strength, energy and dignity, all of which humans strive to achieve for themselves. Al-Khuzairie’s appreciation of the animal is shown in his composition of the horse; it rears up on its hind legs, standing tall with a great presence. Infusing his ceramic horse with magnificence, he translates it into an object to motivate and stir aspiration within his viewer.
As with his earlier works, the main area of The Contender is filled solely with a ceramic skeleton of the animal Al-Khuzairie is discussing; in this case, a horse. The individual bones forming the skeleton are interspersed with a series of mechanical parts, establishing a subtle contrast between the smoothness of sculptural ceramic bones and an industrial atmosphere resulting from the mechanical elements. Al-Khuzairie achieves this through a mix of cast stoneware and hand built techniques. As a medium, ceramics naturally lend themselves to industrial depictions given their approval as a utilitarian trade material. Finishing the stoneware in white gives a natural impression of bleached bone, masking the mechanical elements slightly from a distance, thus rendering the object instantly recognisable to audiences. The deep, dulled gold touches speak to the majesty of the animal’s innate characteristics the artist wishes to convey. Fragility is innate in ceramics, which satisfies the delicacy of the bleached bone aesthetic with which the viewer is presented.
Ceramics are known to be temperamental in the making process, and achieving a quietly perfect finish to his complex piece speaks highly of Al-Khuzairie’s quick mastery of his tricky medium.
His ability to elevate the genre of wildlife art from mere reportage into a commentary on the changes he witnesses in the environment and society, as a result of government policies creating economic success leading to urban migrations among the Malaysian population, speaks to a philosophical streak inherent in artists from the East Coast. Simultaneously personal yet narrative of the changes within society, The Contender encapsulates a truly contemporary presentation of a highly traditional process in a beautiful finish.
Title: The Contender
Artist: Al-Khuzairie bin Ali
Size: 185 cm x 124 cm x 10 cm
Medium: Mixed Media – Ceramics and Stoneware