An Artistic Interpretation Of Islamic Calligraphy
Husin Hourmain is one of the rare Malaysian Contemporary Islamic Calligraphy artist. He has spent 3 prolific years to create a monumental series known as Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf that consists of 30 Jawi alphabets. It is the first time a Malaysian artist creates his very own unique identity of our Islamic art.
SHARE WITH US THE ELEMENTS THAT PROMPTED YOU ON THIS ARTISTIC JOURNEY. 3 YEARS WORKING ON SUCH MONUMENTAL 30 PIECES WOULD HAVE TAKEN A TOLL ON YOUR ENERGY.
Since the day I was awed by those gigantic handpainted cinema posters, I fell in love with art. Yet like any normal person with the dilemma of survival and art I had to work in an advertising company for 18 years. Soon the inner art in me just overwhelmed everything else. I went to become a full time artist during the height of the 90s recession. In 2004, I had my first solo followed by the 2nd solo in 2008.
I started working on my calligraphy taking it one step at a time. There are 3 parts to the development. In the first part (2009), the paintings perpetuated an expressive gestural lines, saturated with bright colors and projected an individual emotion. In the second part (2010), the pictorial scheme moved towards a bolder use of lines integrated within layered lettering composition. The third part (2011), the use of colours was minimal with bolder strokes.
NOT MANY MALAYSIAN ARTISTS EMBARK ON ISLAMIC CALLIGRAPHY ART, AND ESPECIALLY SO FOR MALAYSIA CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS. WHY IS THIS SO?
The influence of globalization and many other artists experimenting with new fads, I guess. I am not sure about others but personally I am just seeking my own roots.
YOU SEEMED TO BE VERY MUCH INFLUENCED BY THE MALAY ARCHIPELAGO JAWI ALPHABETS. WHY FOCUS ONLY ON ALPHABETS RATHER THAN THE PHRASES?
Words are images too. With words we communicate. Words are an active mediator to conceptually project the meaning. I remember that the first word from Allah through Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad was “Read”. Even when we were schooled we learn the alphabets before we are able to read phrases. I took the same approach to query myself on how well do I know my basics. My concept was rather than jumping into phrases, better to allow everyone to visually understand the aesthetic forms of the Jawi alphabets.
BEING AN ISLAMIC CALLIGRAPHY PAINTER, WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THE CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD POSES TO YOU?
I have never considered contemporary art as a challenge. Rather it’s an opportunity to enable today’s society of Muslims and non-Muslims to understand Islam through simple visual projections.
In my early days, I took to Pollock’s and Rothko’s influence for my artworks. Through maturity over the years in art, I feel the need to start establish our own Malaysian contemporary art signature that isn’t derived from western contemporary art. Since the calling of my religion, I re-learn the alphabets from the basic as well as studying the calligraphic history throughout the world. Thus leading to Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf. Each piece has various alphabets interweaving into each other to produce an alphabet form that looms above others. My very own way of contemporising our very own Malaysian Islamic Callipgrahy Art.
WHAT UNIQUE IDENTITY DOES MALAYSIA ISLAMIC CALLIGRAPHY HAS TO OFFER?
Historically, the relationship between Malay Archipelago and Arabs can be traced back to the 11th century. The first physical evidence of Islam was a stone inscribed with Arabic letters dating back to 1303 AD, found in Terengganu River. The inscription of the stone recorded an edict to promulgate Islamic legal provisions and a proclamation ordering rulers and governors to uphold the Islamic faith and the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Terengganu Stone is inscribed in Malay language using the Arabic letters, known locally as Jawi script. Jawi is essentially Malay language written in a derivative of Arabic script.
The word Jawi is derived from the Arab word al-jawah, referring to Sumatera Island and also indicating the Malay Archipelago as whole. According to W. Marsden, Jawi in Malay language means ‘mixed’ or ‘crossed’. It elucidates the origin of the script- Arab lettering, mixed with the Malay language. The convergence of Islamic tradition in the Malay Archipelago indicates the leniency of Malay culture in accepting the modesty of Islam. Hence, the Malays adapted the teaching of Islam and converting their lifestyle altogether – socially and politically. So it has been till today.
YOUR 3RD SOLO AWAL HUROUF ASAL HUROUF COMING UP OFFICIALLY THIS MARCH. ENLIGTHEN US.
For the first time, all the 30 pieces will placed together as one big set at White Box Publika. It will be a major exhibition that I hope will wow the local audience and also perhaps bring international recognition to the contemporary Islamic calligraphy art of Malaysia.
This important exhibition will serve to be part of Malaysian Art History and thus encourage more people to understand Islam as a religion through visual communication.
He painted four different versions of his first letter, Alif. “Art takes time to nurture. We cannot push the creativity. We let the creative enterprise to flow out of your soul. Artwork represent the artist. If the artist is honest with his art, it will distinguished favorably”. Eight paintings completed during the year – Ba, Ta, Tha, Rho, Fa, Qaf, Nun and Ha. His early Awal huruof, Asal huruof paintings possessed an expressive gestural lines, saturated with bright colors.
Each subject is centered in its field, the size and proportion just adequate to contain it. Form are structured arbitrarily and overlapping each with other using the alphabet. A clear-cut figure ground differential is set up, which Husin then breaks down by integrating the subject with it surrounding space.
In the second year, his pictorial scheme developed towards a bolder use of lines integrated within layered lettering composition. The works in this period are in the experimentation phase as he tries to break his regularities. For instance, Sin (2010) preserves the structural and expressive lines, but with bolder use of brushstrokes. Compare to Shim (2010), the composition is less crowded. The figures are not placed in the center but rather exceeded the picture plane, as if we have to imagine the rest of the alphabet. In this transitional work, Husin consciously created ambiguity, whereas in his subsequent paintings, he used large open brush strokes exploiting the fluidity of the medium.
“This is the difficult period of the production as I’m moving into the new studio. It takes time in readjusting life and working attitude to a new environment. I even stopped painting for six months just to get into the mood. I have to work faster in order to finish before the dateline to the point that all my paintings look similar”. Consequently, most of his works are being rejected. “Luckily, my dateline has been lifted. It granted me total control of my art direction. So I started looking for new inspiration and getting into a discussion with several friends in the art scene”. Art needs to be discussed within the community to get new insights and exchanging of ideas so that the art constantly evolve in time. This rejuvenate its potential and creates a healthy intellectual discourse.
Husin continued his work with a new prospect. He adopted several aspects of minimalist painters’ work in his subsequent paintings. The use of color is restrained to monochromatic effect giving a dominant impact on the subject. Husin shifted his focus more on a distinctive shape of the letter rather than blending in.
The eye shift from color to color in an unstructured way, completely different from the linear ordering of the letters. The minimal implication on the surface are multilayered, the result of intense repetition of the brushstrokes. “Less is more”, best describes the paradoxical quality that lies in Husin formalistic outlook. Husin aptly administered textural effects by scratch marking the flat surface.
His work rather than fleeing or evading realities deepen its meaning in order to cull its silence. In modulating the surface, the diverse gradation of the scratches implies the presence of the artist, whose hand, when hesitant, creates irregularities. The strokes following the course of the hand are not controlled; they occur as natural data, certifying the vital association of artifact and artifice.