Art Row is usually a peaceful place to chill and wank on about art with a few friends but the opening night of Jamil Zakaria’s installation was a frenzied flurry of upcoming artists and Malaysia’s most talked about. Outside the humble gallery, new and familiar faces were mixing and mingling, carried by the beat of busking kids having fun. The party trickled down to Titikmerah studio-gallery, creating a lively buzz down the street akin to a miniature block party.
So what exactly was everyone buzzing about? The gallery itself was dimly lit to set the tone of this poignant, otherworldly piece. Upon entering, we are instantly drawn to the glittering sculpture that flows out from a waterpipe protruding from the wall. Everything is executed in silver; a netting that is moulded into a lyrical waterfall with leaping fish hanging in the air from strings, and springing from the fabricated pool that spills across the floor.
Ignoring my immediate urge to jump into it and ruin the sculpture for everyone, I pondered on it and walked about it, noticing the accompaniment; a soothing soundtrack of trickling water punctuated with chimes of meditation cymbals. This clearly calls the viewer to the theme of introspection. The whole conglomeration of effects made me think of feeling out of place – out of myself – transported elsewhere through some profound tunnel in both a metaphorical and physical sense.
Before long, I located the artist for some chit chat. He explained his work is inspired by a couple of Malay proverbs that he has interwoven to create the general, lucid theme of this piece:
“ada air ada ikan” – literally translating to where there is water, there is fish. It’s like home. You can count on the water, if you need fish. Where we live is the place we make our living
“bonding air bonding ikan” and “seperti ikan pulang ke lubuk” – another fish metaphor here, about a fish returning to its former place or in other words; one who travels far will never forget his village and will surely return home.
“lain lubuk lain ikannya” – different places have different lifestyles and traditions. (different kind of fish.)
Sure enough, the vibes I got related to these concepts of transcendental travel. However, Jamil pushes this further and considers the full circle return and our relations to others around us. The water streams out of the pipe, characterising how we all come from the same place. Some of the fish are flying high soon to fall back into the ocean where they originated, connected by the very material they are made from.
We are inevitably tied to our home, the place we grew up. Jamil revealed that he grew up fishing amongst the paddy fields of Kedah and the chosen medium for his sculpture is pukat, the tools of the fisherman. Through his materials, he has demonstrably connected Malay culture and his personal family history with art. There is a certain mystical quality to his work, shrouded in folklore and rich in tradition.
On the fundamental elements of his sculpture, Jamil explores the idea of lines. He talks about this as one of the basic principles of any artwork, representing relation, connection, unity and journey. Lines create narratives, build pictures or scenarios in works of art. There is almost something painterly about his approach to its construction. Not to mention something hella therapeutic about our reception of it. Taking one day to install, the presence of this piece will linger on for a great deal longer. The exhibition closes 13 August, get your ass down to Art Row for some quiet contemplation.