Dinner with someone…?

Umibaizurah Mahir, Dinner with someone group, 142cm x 37cm x 37cm Mixed Media-Stoneware procelain transfer image flower meta, rubber rish on wood cabinet with wheel 2014
Written by Zena Khan

The observational quality of Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail’s personality has led to a thread of works documenting human characteristics running through her successful ceramic practice. Indeed, the highly appealing, multi-layered characteristics of her ceramic artifacts themselves seem to understand the nature of human desire, cementing the idea that Umi, as she is popularly known, is well-versed in the wants of her audience, as demonstrated in her latest works Dinner with someone…?

Dinner with someone…? forms the basis of a new series of works for Umi, through which she aims to make distinctions between the natures of humans and animals. While genetically animals themselves, humans are said to be better than animals due to the gift of self-consciousness. A deeply spiritual soul, Umi aims to understand the meaning behind this statement, and utilize it to further her own personal growth. While animals tend to busy themselves with fulfilling the basic requirements of living, the evolution of man and society has led humans to constantly pursue superfluous desires. Possibly a result of the hold consumerism has on societies of the twenty-first century, these pursuits often give way to the worse sides of human nature to emerge, exaggerating the wickedness which is inherent in mankind. Good can only conquer evil through the acknowledgement of both sides within a person, and through her discussions on the duality of human nature, Umi reveals the possibility for redemption.

The basis of Dinner with someone…? is a series of ceramic busts. Umi casts the basic bust form out of her regular plaster-of-paris and clay mold techniques, subsequently deforming the faces by hand. Pulling out the noses and lips, she exaggerates certain features until the faces themselves border on grotesque. The artist is known to have affection for creating hybrids or distorted forms within her artifacts, using it as a way to amplify the basic characteristics she studies. This penchant for making impressions over perfect real human bodies is continued in the abstract organic shape the head is perched on, which is a distorted representation of the human figure. Her skills as a ceramist are shown in the layers and textures covering the face and neck of her busts. Layering several detailed colourful finishes on the ceramic is a signature finish for Umi, and a testament to her thorough understanding of the medium. Each dye or decal requires an exact temperature and length of time in the kiln; knowledge of this process is the end result of several years of dedicated experimentation.

Each bust has a plump ceramic bird perched on its head, signifying freedom and a link between humans and animals. Umi appreciates the character of the bird, which she sees as a constant presence in daily life, as careful and practical, and by placing a bird on the top of her work suggests these characteristics are ones that should be closely followed and emulated.

The busts are fixed on wooden pedestals, which appear to be antique cabinets. In reality, they are hand-made by Umi specifically for Dinner with someone…? from salvaged wood. By using the same stand for the different busts, she introduces a unifying element. The stands are all on wheels, reminding viewers who are familiar with her career of the successful earlier Toy series. The element of antique furniture roots the work in a framework of Malaysian tradition, yet the wheels point to the contemporary evolutions of life continuously moving forward.

Umi is recognized as one of the foremost ceramic artists in Malaysia, and displays her work not only locally but also in Japan, Singapore and Germany. Her dedication to her craft enables her to mix her philosophical insights with a feminine air of whimsy, leading to perfectly pretty and tightly detailed ceramic artifacts such as Dinner with someone…? Her work is a wonderful example of artists understanding themselves intellectually and visually, and transmitting that to their works, and in this way she establishes a highly specific connection with her audience.


Title: Dinner with Someone…?

Artist: Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail

Size: 142 cm x 37 cm x 37 cm (each piece)

Medium: Mixed Media – Stoneware, Porcelain transfer image, 3D Printing, flower metamrubberfish on wood cabinet with wheel (total of 5 pieces)

Year: 2014


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