Matahati ke Matadunia - Malaysian Contemporary Art to the World


MATAHATI is a loose collective of five leading Malaysian contemporary artists: Ahmad Fuad Osman, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Hamir Soib @ Mohamed and Masnoor Ramli Mahmud. Formed in 1989 while the five were studying together at UiTM, Matahati has grown into the most important and influential artists’ group in the history of Malaysian art. Matahati is not founded on formal or stylistic principle, and is not fashioned as a distinctive aesthetic movement. Rather, what binds the members together is a unity of purpose, originating in their student days and maintained in the fluid structure and spirit of mutual respect and camaraderie. They share an interest in current social, political, and aesthetic issues, but – except for their overarching dedication to the visual refinement of complex concepts and their employment of virtuosic technique – the members of Matahati work and evolve separately. Even so, this “team of individuals” has retained its cohesion for almost two decades, mounting on the average an exhibition a year and rapidly gaining international attention.

Since their first group exhibition in 1993, the artists of Matahati have not stopped intriguing, enlightening, influencing and shaking up new Malaysian art and captivating the imaginations of art lovers and art professionals, internationally as well as locally. They stand out, individually and collectively, for their broad exploration across the visual arts and their boldly pluralistic experimentation with old and new media, visual and performed. They engage in painting, installation, video, performance, theatre, music and film – so far.

The work of Matahati artists merges many extant styles; it can be called realist, expressionist, surrealist, pictorialist, illusionist, magical-fantasticist, and/or pop, for starters. Fusing eastern and western modalities and bringing together diverse compositional, colouristic, textural, and pictorial approaches, colouring and surface treatment, their collective stylistic attitude has established a new paradigm for Malaysian painting. One facet of Matahati art that has had a profound impact on new Malaysian art, for example, is the use of emotionally charged, context\-driven imagery. In Matahati painting, realistically rendered human figures, self-portraits and animal forms function as pictorial icons, symbols and indexes. They engage also feature multiple trajectories fired by current theories of representation and critically addressing extra-artistic issues such as globalism, free-market liberalism, pop culture, and the surge of information technology. The Matahati artists play with such notions, entering into the rarefied but crucial realm of postmodern confrontation, postcolonial raves, “alter-native” cultural identity, historical deconstruction, and self-reflexivity. Writers and thinkers as much as artists, their texts respond to local/global realpolitik, media hegemony and civilisational clash.

Finally, though, by way of their art, the Matahati artists, too, wish to search for spirituality and transcendence. In this respect they join artists the world over in their ultimate ambition. Meanwhile, they employ whatever artistic means are available to them to reach that goal, forging their own distinct artistic identities in the process.

Besides their personal and group activities, Matahati has launched several outreach programmes. MAGER, a series of collaborative projects bringing together Southeast Asian artists, positions Matahati among the prime movers of art in the region. Arttriangle Foundation, partly inspired by the success of MAGER, organises annual group shows involving local and regional artists. Money generated from the shows is channelled back into the art community as grants for young artists and support for artists in financial trouble. House of Matahati (HOM), founded in 2006, provides an exhibition space and residency programmes, mainly for emerging talents.

In 2008 the Petronas Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, along with the Annexe Gallery and the 12 Art Space Gallery, gave Matahati a retrospective entitled For Your Pleasure. It displayed the largest selection of the group’s output to date, and surveyed its immense contribution to Malaysian art and its developments within the Malaysian social and cultural context.

In view of Matahati’s ceaseless involvement and continuous vision, in this their twentieth anniversary, Ad.verse, together with Los Angeles-based DCA Fine Art and Atmesfer, present Matahati di Mata Dunia – Matahati in the Eyes of the World. This is to be Matahati’s introduction to the United States. The group has made its presence felt in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and as far abroad as Great Britain, but this is Matahati’s initial foray into the Western Hemisphere. This exhibition is the crucial stepping stone toward Matahati artists’ possibilities in the West, a special opportunity for networking in new art scenes and for bringing their artistic careers to new heights. As an international showcase, Matahati di Mata Dunia serves the efforts of the Ministry of Unity, Culture, Arts & Heritage and the National Art Gallery of Malaysia to bring Malaysian fine art to a wider audience.

Haneem Kydeen
Peter Frank (THE Mag, LA)