The story of a Malay intellectual and artist | Prestige Online

PRESTIGE has an intimate look at life’s work of Ahmad Shukri—one of Malaysia’s foremost (and elusive) contemporary artists.

Widely acknowledged as one of Malaysia’s leading Mixed Media artists, Ahmad Shukri is a master at creating vibrant artwork that is a visual description of the Malaysia he inherited. The artist was born in 1969 in Kelantan, a state rich in heritage and craft traditions such as batik, silversmithing, and wood carving. The deft hand required for such refined work seems in be innate in Shukri, who naturally tends towards diverse mediums, while the conversations he sparks on unity, politics, or the environment reflect a deep understanding of the physical and social landscape he inhabits. It’s little wonder then that Shukri’s art is housed in venerated art collections and spaces, whether around the world at The World Bank in Washington, Fukoka Art Museum, Singapore Art Museum, Al-Burj Dubai, and Remisen Brande Denmark, or at home in Malaysia within The AFK Collection, National Visual Arts Gallery Kuala Lumpur, Petronas Gallery, Mandarin Oriental, and The Ruma Hotel and Residences.

On a sunny morning in early February, I pull up at Pati Satu and Higgap Art Space, the home/studio/gallery that Shukri has built over the years with his wife, Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail (herself a leading contemporary artist who revolutionised ceramics into a sculptural fine art medium locally) for a tour and photo shoot for The Arts Issue of PRESTIGE. Arranging the shoot itself touched on the ideas of collectiveness I’ve always found running through the practice of Shukri who’s a founder of celebrated artist collective Matahati, via the inclusion of Zaid from Segaris Art Center as photographer. Given Segaris Art Center’s close association with UiTM as a gallery that supports and exhibits the university’s art alumni, it felt fitting to invite Zaid to document one of UiTM’s most illustrious Fine Art alumnus delving into his art story of the past four decades.

Making Moves

Shukri describes the moment of moving from Kota Bahru to Kuala Lumpur in 1987, when he began studying Fine Art at UiTM, as a revolutionary moment in his life, referencing the impact of lecturers such as Fauzan Omar and Ismail Zain who shifted his views on art and the world. “My understanding of art before UiTM was that it had to be drawn or painted on a flat surface. My lecturers at art school helped me gain an expanded view on what art is, through introducing me to new ways of making or theories. Art has undergone several evolutions since the Renaissance up until the Modernist, Contemporary, Avant Garde ages…and it won’t ever stop evolving. Another important moment that impacted me while I was a student was the ROCI exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg’s mixed media artwork held in Kuala Lumpur in 1990.”

Realising contemporary art has moved into new areas of form and medium shaped the way Shukri made art, and in turn transformed the way in which art was viewed by wider audiences. Collector Aliya of The AFK Collection recalls an early experience with the contemporary Malaysian art: “We visited an art competition exhibition in the mid 1990’s and I saw an installation Shukri had made completely out of computer disks. I’d only ever seen art as painting or sculpture before; Shukri’s installation changed my idea of what art is.”

This story first appeared in PRESTIGE Malaysia’s March 2024 issue. To read the full story, pick up a copy in store or subscribe on Magzter.

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