Enough About Me. What do YOU think of me?
Nizam Abdullah graduated with a Diploma in Visual Digital Art from Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology in 2004. June 2009, brings his first solo exhibition at the Annexe Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, entitled threesixfive ME, where he displayed new series of works with a theme that incorporates nothing but him self. The self-portraits of the artist adorned the gallery walls in mediums of mixed media paintings, drawings and video installation.
The title chosen for the exhibition was well suited, as the show conceptually takes an introspective approach. It refers to the artist’s 365 days self-portrait. Literally displaying different facial expressions of his face from an everyday perspective of a whole year. At first glance feels like a simple act of extreme narcissism. But, after, reading the curatorial brief, it became clear that the notion behind this exhibition was a response to the never-ending questioning of one’s existence, of the need for self-validation and the process of seeking perfection through repetition.
The Malaysian contemporary art scene, is saturated with upcoming artists. Initial shows usually comment on the exterior world and display an uncertainty in signature style. However, in terms of subject matter for this young artist, we must applaud Nizam Abdullah’s bravery. He does what many young artists are too anxious to do, he presents his audiences with multiples entry points into his processes of self-examination.
Adopting self-portraiture as a theme for an exhibition can be a complicated approach. The direction taken could either be an in depth psychological mirror image of the self or it could simply project self-indulgence. For Nizam, his self-portraits seem to straddle both possibilities. By using only a close up image of his face repetitively on canvas, paper and even video installation, its hard not to conclude that this exhibition seems more like a shallow self absorbed non statement, rather than an exploration of the meaning of existence.
“Practice makes perfect” is a common quote, focusing on the belief that by means of repetition one can attain perfection. However, the artist contradicts this belief through a process of distorting duplications of his portrait with a Xerox machine. The random result of this method mutates his face, into monster like images. In a way, insinuating that by solely using the process of repetition, it does not necessarily result to perfection at the end.
Nizam takes the repetitive use of himself, to visually display his idea of what self-identification means to him. Through the deformed self-portraits, his objective is to mirror the many identities he presumes. Yet, he does not successfully translate this notion across to his audience. Although the images are different from one another due to the manipulation by the use of the Xerox machine, the variety of images only seem to show a one-sided perspective of Nizam. Yet, it is the out line drawing of the artist’s face printed on A5 paper distributed amongst friends and families to share their own examination of who Nizam really is, answered his search for self identification. The A5 sheets revealed most of his traits and personalities, depicting a person of creativity, loving personality, vain, full of playfulness and free spirited at heart.
His frustration with the endless journey of self-discovery was vaguely translated through The Scream That Nobody Hears but Me and Bliss Indifference, Agony (2009). Perhaps, it is his playful and goofy expression that stirred away the feeling of loneliness in the paintings. Although, the colour palate he selected, mainly dull and stale, depicted a rather monotonous expression to his self-portraits. This deliberate choice of sombre colours seems to symbolize his weariness.
The various media used reflects the artist’s perception of a routine during different times, both days and hours. Utilizing the horizontal orientation of his canvases, he symbolically paints lengthy illustration of him self across them, cleverly depicting the sense of time. The pace of the show is brought down to a slower tempo, in the second gallery space with the calendar like piece Original Perfect, with 30 pieces of ink on paper drawings representing each day of the month. With it installed spread across the wall of the Annexe gallery second hall, because of its small dimension it takes a bit of time to look at them.
His video installation, On and On and On and On and On… TBC, of a hand flipping stacks of papers with the artists’ face sketched in the corner, is rather hypnotising. The endless looped motion, trapped in a time and installed at the end of the gallery space, suggest that although he has undergone a year of self-discovery, he remains relatively the same.
Has the artist found the answer in his quest for self-validation? Yes, in a way, by bringing various representations of his face, he forces us to look and remember. However, the show is made up only of images of his face, which may not be the best entry point for some viewers. Yet, his honesty about painting what he knows best, which is him self, using repetition as a form of self-examination and the results of self-identification through the perspective of friends and family, thematically tied the exhibition together.
Original Perfect, 2008–2009, Ink on paper, 21 x 15 cm (part of group of 30 pcs)
This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 25 July, 2009.