Dream: I Can't Bring It Back, 2009 by Masnoor Ramli Mahmud

Upon graduating from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Masnoor Ramli went on to found the MATAHATI art collective along with Ahmad Fuad Osman, Ahmad Shukri, Bayu Utomo Radjikin and Hamir Soib. Today, he stands out as one of the most influential contemporary figures in Malaysia, as both an artist and an intellectual. Director of the National University of Singapore Museum Ahmad Mashadi views the MATAHATI as representational of the transformations within the Malaysian art ecology which resulted from a changing postcolonial landscape, saying that “as young, ethnic Malays, they represent part of a new generation as well as an urban class that emerged during a period of intense economic and cultural transformation.” Despite this inextricable link to four other artists, Masnoor stood out individually from the start. This was evidenced by his receipt of several art awards, among them the Honourable Mention at the Philip Morris Art Awards (1994 and 1995), and the Petronas Nusantara 4X4 Xpedition (2006), and his inclusion in regional art collections, among them Singapore Art Museum, National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur, GALERI PETRONAS and Maybank.

‘Dream I can’t Bring It Back’ is emblematic of Masnoor’s style of incorporating global references and Pop symbolism into paintings that are commentaries on global and local issues. Masnoor came to maturity in a time when Malaysia was fast developing from a quieter newly Independent country to a leading Southeast Asian nation. As such he has a deeply embedded interest in those issues of politics, the state and culture that define our understanding of the world around us. ‘Dream I can’t Bring It Back’ features references to several well known Western iconographies. Superman reaches out towards the Roman Collosseum, two symbols of Western power and supremacy. While America is still a global superpower (as represented by Superman), the Collosseum lies in ruins, reminding audiences that all power structures and eras of dominance eventually fall. To the side is Nostradamus, the French astrologer and reported seer, whose presence cements the idea of end of times and sweeping changes. Masnoor is asking what changes can we expect in the sweeping era of decolonisation, and how will these changes impact Malaysia? Given the popularity of paintings by Masnoor that feature these Western Pop and cultural symbols, and that their presence often depicts a work that has conceptual impact on the artist, ‘Dream I can’t Bring It Back’ is a key painting from Masnoor’s oeuvre.