The Reef Series: By The Cliff, 1992 by Fauzan Omar

The Father of Malaysian Contemporary Art, Fauzan Omar made art that did not look like anything that came before him. He elevated what art could be, from representational imagery of idealistic, romanticised scenes of Malaysian life that had a colonial slant to them, to depictions of the fiercely independent mindset that swept Malaysia in the wake of successful policies in the newly post-colonial era, many of which were led by the country’s second prime minister Tun Razak. Fauzan’s eloquent visual statement, as projected here in ‘The Reef Series: Drop Point’, represents the decolonisation of Malaysian mindsets, a process that heralded the beginning of the country’s contemporary era. Viewed through this lens, ‘The Reef Series: Drop Point’ is made clear not only as an art object but as an artefact with strong social, political and economic value.

One of Fauzan’s major contributions to the Malaysian art movement was a rejection of the rigid sacredness bestowed upon flat surfaces in art. He developed a self-led technique of layering swathes of canvas, cut, torn, pressed, stitched and glued, to create different textures, thickness and shape. He was inspired by ideas of materiality, allowing himself to be guided by the material at hand (canvas) and ways in which responding to its character would allow him to build structure. While attacking the canvas is a notion often seen in art history it is typically associated with acts of cutting into the canvas, as seen in Luciano Fontana’s work. Fauzan set himself apart on a global scale by building up the canvas. As he used a deconstructing approach (cutting, slicing, tearing away) to reconstruct his canvas (building up form, shape, colour), his technique led his concept; that is a comment on the physical landscapes as a result of economic, socio-political and industrial development in Malaysia’s post-Independence era.

Interestingly Fauzan turned to a classical art subject matter in developing this contemporary mindset: the landscape. ‘The Reef Series: Drop Point’ draws inspiration from the coastal life and aquatic ecosystems that surround the Malaysian peninsula. Studying the ‘liquid world’ that acts as a home for sea life and benefits humans, he sought to understand its physical construct. With Malaysian geography as his point of instigation ‘The Reef Series: Drop Point’ blurs the lines between realism and abstraction, telling broader stories about Malaysia’s social, physical and art histories, becoming a critical a repository of knowledge and history, that strongly impacted our local intellectual processes from their creation up until present day.