Memory and drawing play central roles in the practice of Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris. Episodic memory specifically—each person’s individual ever-mutating recollection of any given occurrence—dialogues with his accumulation of internal archival material gathered from his homeland’s folklore and myths, mixed with pop culture, Sci-Fi and more.
What his eyes have seen, his mind has stored: “They are my resources, a reservoir of ideas and inspiration, forever full and flowing,” he explains. Memory is also genetically and orally inherited, adds Idris, remarking that his memories and feelings are likewise part of his parents’ experiences that have been passed down. But his approach—despite being based on highly personalised elements—at its core is philosophical, and somewhat detached.
“Throughout the journey of our life, we are constantly running after and preoccupied with things, and it seems that all those things are not only to fill a cerebral databank, which subconsciously converts the activities into cherished memories,” he outlines. This particular slant is at play in his two-part series Higher Order Love, which he presented during Asia Contemporary Art Week’s FIELD MEETING 6: Thinking Collections, which took place at Alserkal Avenue 25-26 January.
Recorded and stored without prejudice, Idris’ memories—hearing his mother’s tales of ghosts, witnessing Thaipusam ceremonies, or learning of the Japanese invasion of Malaysia and ensuing racial segregation—have formed an eclectic bounty from which he draws upon. “The cultures of Malaysia have become ingrained in us and it is only natural that I was drawn to borrow these cultural and religious images in my artwork. I don’t see them as separate cultures and identities, but as one national melting pot.”
Malaysian artist Hasanul Isyraf Idris
It is this unique and cohesive amalgamation that informs Idris’ body of work, one which is cacophonous, anthropomorphous, intricate, fragmented, visceral, and psychedelic in appearance. Idris describes his works with the words ‘chaos, love and enigma’, and admits that the oscillating tone and mood is intentionally left open to interpretation. “There is a lot of uncertainty, or questions, raised in my work,” he notes. “For viewers, the images can trigger emotions or maybe stir relevant memories which would be different for each person.”
The open-ended possibilities paired with the richness of colour and imagery—each element of which represents a fragmented morsel of memory—recalls artists Raqib Shaw or Heironymous Bosch, both of whom played roles in influencing Idris’ diligent, meticulous, and laborious process. Executed with pencil, ink, watercolour and colour pencil on paper—necessitated by the humid environment of his open-air studio—“the method and technique require intense concentration,” explains Idris of the repetitive nature of his style, which often finds him in a meditative state. That in turn leads to intuitive drawing, whereby the process of open, continuous drawing ‘summons’ memories forth in a continuous stream to produce his surreal imagery, which toys with perspective. “The memories are alive, they change as I visit them,” he says, and this results in works that don’t adhere to a singular memory, rather, an infinitely layered rendering of Idris’s investigating, digging, and cleaning up of his mental library where myths, realities, and narratives are combined, created, and reformatted.
Idris’ works are simultaneously pleasingly evocative and harrowingly terrifying, reflecting as much upon global circumstances as they do nuanced historical or cultural themes. Whether figures in biohazard suits, upright muscled ducks, or DNA-cum-bacterial forms merged with arabesque, the works are not hindered by the lack of immediate comprehensibility. Rather, given time and multiple studies, the frenzied fusion of disparate elements provides a genuine, if subjective, presentation of not only the root of his work—Malaysia—but global contemporary times.
The Higher Order Love series, which has been exhibited globally, revolves around the concept of falling in both its negative and positive connotations. It evokes the politics, geography, flora, and ethnic diversity of Pangkor Island in Malaysia, addressing ancestry, heritage, racial riots, migration, and alienation. “It demands a lot more ‘self digging’ and pivotal reflecting,” explains Idris of the characters inhabiting these works. “I feel that the mood is melancholic and unresolved – they are searching and longing for something uncertain. In the process they found other things—foul, fearsome, and mysterious—but the primary thing is still not found.”
However, despite keeping his subjects close to home, Idris notes that Malaysia’s population doesn’t necessarily easily digest it. “It concerns me when people withdraw from it at first glance,” he laments. “Maybe there needs to be a dialogue about it, but that doesn’t always happen with the kind of artwork I am into.”
Whether experienced as delightful or gloomy, a bad trip or a surreal vision, Idris’ oeuvre highlights the impact and consequences of subjective memory and interpretation, and he stands unmoved by the mixed conclusions. “The intangible materials are more important,” he says. “Object or intangible collections are like archival material which assist as a medium to send us back to the memory or source of emotion connected to it.” Idris remains inspired by that potential deterrent—that invisible resource that stirs the subconscious.
Installation view of Hasanul Isyraf Idris's Higher Order Love during ACAW FIELD MEETING Take 6: Thinking Collections in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. Photography by Tara Atkinson.
Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Disturbing the Enemy with Sheera, 2017, 91.5x61 cm, watercolour, ink and colour pencil on paper.
Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Intense Light to Cause Lena, 2017, 91.5x61 cm, watercolour, ink and colour pencil on paper.
Hasanul Isyraf Idris, Cakrawala Peace Terms, 2017, 91.5x61 cm, watercolour, ink and colour pencil on paper,