Moulding the History: The Eyes that Blink our Minds
Written by Zena Khan
Moulding the History: The Eye That Blink Our Mind is a 2014 acrylic on canvas by quietly contemplative contemporary painter Masnoor Ramli. Forming part of his new series Moulding The History, it is the first piece created after his 2014 solo exhibition Aviation, and fittingly combines the major themes of global politics and economic power, which the artist constantly ruminates on, with the minor theme of MH370, which has occupied Masnoor’s mind for most of 2014.
Most of the canvas in Moulding the History: The Eye That Blink Our Mind is comprised of a seascape. Either side of the canvas is lined with a figure: to the left, the artist has painted the current Chinese premier Xi Jinping, while to the right is the American president Barrack Obama. As in the first work from Moulding The History, Obama is pictured from the back. Masnoor relies on his subject’s popularity as a pop icon of the twenty-first century to render the American president as instantly recognisable. The ease with which viewers are able to identify a faceless Obama speaks to the dominance of American culture and media in today’s global societies, hinting at the control America exerts over most of the globe. As Obama stares out into the ocean, Xi Jinping turns to him as if in conversation. It is as if the artist does not state the conversation between the two politicians, but rather opens it up for his audience to interpret. In this way, the artist asks the public to connect their understandings on current events to his work, and can be seen as encouraging discourse on socio-political affairs throughout society.
The layout and colour palette of Moulding the History: The Eye That Blink Our Mind has purposefully been kept simple, so as not to detract from the complexity of the issues being discussed. Masnoor’s use of Obama and Xi Jinping stems from his thoughts on the struggle for economic and strategic controls by the world’s superpower nations. China is experiencing incredibly rapid growth as a global force, mostly due to the indisputable fact the country looks set to become the world’s largest economy. America, which has been the dominant world superpower since the end of World War II, is having a natural reaction to this, and is attempting to gain strongholds within the Asian region to temper China’s power. This has led to the strong interest in Southeast Asia from America, as evidenced by Obama’s 2014 state visit where he described Malaysia as a pivotal state for America’s efforts to solidify its position regionally. Despite painting international politicians, the effect their actions currently have on Malaysia roots the works as staunchly local in content. Through the ambiguity of the discussion hinted at between Obama and Xi Jinping, Masnoor further highlights the secrets within political discussions and agreements, not all of which are released to the public.
Linking theories of secrets of state to the theories behind the MH370 aviation tragedy, Masnoor emphasizes that these discussions have an impact on far more than just economic matters. The stormy, grey seascape stretching across the canvas, coupled with Obama’s stance as staring out at the expanse, underline the vastness of the search and rescue areas for MH370. Several theories have emerged in relation to the cause of the flight’s disappearance, and its eventual fate, yet there is still a lack of concrete evidence. Originally chronicling the speculation and conspiracy theories behind MH370 in the painting Moulding The History: Grey Area in a Grey Sky, Masnoor now questions if there is truth behind the thoughts of the conspiracies, especially as several seem to stem from information of military personnel. Masnoor has an affinity for theories, which he sees as different from speculation; as they are based on facts and finds, often they add to the information or ideas he has on a current event. Today, secrecy seems to shroud mainstream media; internationally this has led to the public placing increasing amounts of faith in theories. Accordingly, the public has begun to rely heavily on alternative news sources for information in order to determine individual perceptions on events and their outcomes; so as to avoid the influence of a single media whose bias increasingly seems influenced by those in positions of power.
An expected responsibility of contemporary visual art is to respond to international socio-political questions. Incorporating key symbols and compositions to chronicle the state of twenty-first century society, Masnoor revisits a favourite theme on the impact of a borderless world on local culture with Moulding the History: The Eye That Blink Our Mind. The first painting after his long awaited solo Aviation, Moulding the History: The Eye That Blink Our Mind can be seen as a classic Masnoor Ramli work, bolstered by the beauty of its highly atmospheric, almost exclusively grey-toned aesthetic.
Title: Moulding the History: The Eyes that Blink our Minds
Artist: Masnoor Ramli
Size: 172 cm x 310 cm
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas