Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book
Written by Zena Khan
Any discussion on installation in contemporary Malaysian art necessitates a thorough examination of Zulkifli Yusoff. Exploding onto the art scene in the 1980s, Zulkifli has the ability to successfully incorporate vivid cultural iconography and symbolism into his internationally lauded artwork. His firmly Malay artistic essence is the result of an exhaustive scholastic approach based on research and the fundamentals of fine art, elements which when combined explain the recognition his powerful portfolio receives both at home and abroad. Looking at history through a contemporary lens has been a favourite subject for the artist to explore, as audiences will note here with his newest installation Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book.
By studying Zulkifli’s mixed media paintings and installations such as Asian Voice, which was shown at Art Stage Singapore and Believe In God, exhibited at the 2013 Singapore Biennale, viewers can track the development of the multilayered, monochrome cut canvas strip surfaces which have found great popularity both critically and commercially. Technically, both works are similar to his seminal installation Pendita. Thematically, Asian Voice looks at the national anthems of South East Asian countries, while Believe In God, the first work in the Rukun Negara series, speaks of belief in God as resulting from an appreciation of nature. Both however are based on the artist’s exhaustive research based pre-production process. Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book began with this same academic approach, and was inspired by Zulkifli’s readings of speeches by Tun Abdul Razak at the National Archives.
Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book continues Zulkifli’s interest in the policies and rhetoric of Tun Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister. This interest has been documented in his production of Zulkifli’s Tun Razak Speeches series, which includes works such as Wasiat 1975, inspired by Tun Razak’s last speech broadcast on 31st December 1975 and Demonstration, inspired by Tun Razak’s speech in the aftermath of the 1974 student demonstrations.
Tun Razak was a great statesman who implemented several key policies, which have had long-term benefits for the nation, such as the New Economic Policy (NEP). Tun Razak Series – The Green Book draws on another of the late Prime Minister’s initiatives for inspiration: The Green Book. Up until the 1970s Malaysia relied heavily on its rubber industry. An international decrease of rubber requirements however led to a depression of rubber prices which set back the economy. Coupled with inflation, rural citizens were badly affected. Tun Razak understood the need to create new economic avenues within the country, and to this end The Green Book, an agricultural initiative, was conceived. The Green Book had a dual aim of aiding those in rural environments, who had been affected by the depression of rubber prices and inflation, as well as lessening the country’s dependence on international commodity markets. Implemented in 1974, it aimed to make Malaysia self-sufficient agriculturally through subsidies and encouraging farmers to increase their output.
The Green Book emphasised using land to its fullest capacities, with short-term crops, clustered agricultures, livestock breeding and freshwater fish conservation plans. Additionally, certain vegetables, such as corn, long beans and chilies, and livestock, such as cattle and poultry, and fish were especially promoted. Zulkifli represents this on the surfaces of his installation, where he collages on monotone images of the agricultural produce emphasized within The Green Book. These images were created on canvas, with the thick black strokes that is consistent with Zulkifli’s mark making, before being neatly cut out and pasted on the installation’s base. Layering these images in neat grids alongside each other emphasises the order and structures outlined within the initiative when Tun Razak unveiled it on December 20th 1974. Technically this style of collaging represents a new movement from the artist, forward from the collaging style he developed over the last few years, beginning with Pendita. Previously, Zulkifli added imagery over his cut canvas strips. Now in Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book he begins by painting his canvas a dove grey, interspersed with large circles of deep green representing agricultural landscapes in rural Malaysia. The images are then pasted directly onto the painted surface, before being overlaid with cut canvas strips, creating interplay of negative and positive spaces in new directions. The overall tone moves away from his recent style of working in black and white and adding colour through resin, by beginning with the painted colour fields. This sequence of painting, collaging figurative images and then adding linear canvas strips is continued from the panels, which make up the ‘walls’ of the installation to the large shapes in its centre. Zulkifli stylises agricultural produce and tools to create large sculptural shapes from fibreglass, which are arranged in freestanding compositions in the centre ofTun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book. Covering them in the same process creates a natural linkage between all elements of the installation, and allows the viewers’ gaze to easily flow across the large-scale work.
Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book is an example of Zulkifli’s fascination with the impact historical texts expound on both cultural memory as well as contemporary understandings of society and individuals on themselves. Excitingly, the artist unveils the beginnings of new aesthetic directions in Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book, building on past experiences to further his explorations of the formal tenets of art creation. Equally as exciting for those who avidly follow Zulkifli’s career is the opportunity to view one of his installations, which is the genre he has gathered acclaim for at important international events such as the Venice Biennale. A turning point work for the artist, resulting from the academic pre-production process prized by critical contemporary art, Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book is a stunning visual explanation for the adoration Zulkifli receives from critics, curators and collectors alike.
Title: Tun Razak Speech Series – The Green Book
Artist: Zulkifli Yusoff
Size: 300 cm (h) x 500 cm (w) x 500 cm (d)
Medium: Resin and Collaged Typographical Canvas Strips with Printing and Painting