Ahmad Fuad Osman

Above: title: 'Samson', acrylic and charcoal on paper, 152x183cm, 2007. Collection: Dr. Steve Wong.

Above: title: ‘Samson’, acrylic and charcoal on paper, 152x183cm, 2007. Collection: Dr. Steve Wong.

As an artist, Ahmad Fuad Osman (b. 1969) is not limited by the restrictions of medium or mode of expressions which is evident in his drawings, paintings, digital prints, video, multimedia installations and performances. He graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the School of Fine Arts, Institut Teknologi MARA Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia in 1991. He has had five solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows locally and internationally and recipient of numerous awards and grants. He lives and works in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka.

Ahmad Fuad Osman’s new body of works of paintings and slide projection for residency exhibition titled ‘Recollections of Long Lost Memories’ is initially inspired by the 50th Merdeka celebration. Large oil on canvas paintings deal with the lack of historical awareness especially with the younger generation in their discounted version of Malaysia’s history, current and topical issues, as they all are too caught up with latest gadget or trend. By selecting certain important occasions or moments in the nation’s history and using old archival photos related to the event as reference, Ahmad Fuad painted them larger than life in black & white and inserted an anonymous but contemporary person into the composition, juxtaposing the past with the present, creating a dialogue.

Fuad presented his new body of work at the 13th Rimbun Dahan Residency Exhibition, alongside the work of Australian resident artist Gabrielle Bates, 13 to 27 January 2008, at the Rimbun Dahan gallery.

Above: A still from 'Dreaming of Being a Somebody, Afraid of Being a Nobody (Malaysian Version)', single channel video, 16 mins 37 sec, colour sound, 2007. This work was created for the Art for Nature 2007 exhibition at Rimbun Dahan.

Above: A still from ‘Dreaming of Being a Somebody, Afraid of Being a Nobody (Malaysian Version)’, single channel video, 16 mins 37 sec, colour sound, 2007. This work was created for the Art for Nature 2007 exhibition at Rimbun Dahan.

BY CARMEN NGE

The occasion of our nation’s 50th Merdeka this year has been a convenient excuse to excavate the past. To celebrate our coming of age, art galleries respectfully mount exhibitions that reference the historic occasion or that unearth artifacts from a (not so) distant past. It was at such an exhibition that the idea for his “Recollections of the Long Lost Memories” series came to Ahmad Fuad Osman.

As he gazed upon an old picture of Tunku Abdul Rahman crossing a river, Fuad kept seeing another person standing in front of the Tunku. In his mind’s eye, this someone was distinctly from the present and as Fuad pored over other pictures, more figures from the present began to people the blank spaces in the photographs.

“History is false memory,” Fuad muses as we chat in his residency studio. “We don’t get to influence history thus we don’t care about it that much.” Certainly, most young Malaysians’ marginal contact with history occurs in the classroom in the form of dry textbooks and uninspired teaching.

History is false memory because history is selective; the saying that history is written by the victors is certainly true in our own nation. Why do we remember Tunku’s “Merdeka” cry but not the bombing of the Tugu Negara in 1975? What deal did the ruling elites strike with the British to gain independence? Those of us who lived through the events of 1957 remember it very differently from those of us yet to be born. But discrepancies exist, even among those who experienced similar events. Humans are adroit at forgetting details they’d rather not remember. Who preserves our nation’s memories and to what end? And do younger Malaysians really care?

Fuad’s paintings and slides for “Recollections of the Long Lost Memories” are, in part, a response to our nostalgia-steeped 50th anniversary celebrations. His huge canvases juxtapose past and present by constructing a collision between the older and younger generations, who are clearly differentiated by the former’s sepia, monochromatic tones and the latter’s brighter colours. Fuad’s portraits of Tunku are confidently rendered in strong brushstrokes—Malaysia’s most revered Prime Minister is, unsurprisingly, clearly remembered and his aura, intense and palpable.

The ‘intruders’ from the present, however, add a layer to Fuad’s work never before seen. They inject themselves into archived history and Tunku’s time-space with irreverent gusto and youthful exuberance; the hippie-like character in Fuad’s slide projections makes us smile. Here is an updated, post-reality TV and retro cool version of John Lennon’s doppelgänger—complete with round sunglasses and a peacenik vibe but who is also an ardent Manchester United fan. Is this the overseas-educated, postmodern Melayu Baru in search of his roots or is he merely soaking in the historical sights to feed his cam-whoring?

For the first time in the artist’s oeuvre, humour surfaces. From his salad days at UiTM and subsequent first few exhibitions as part of the Matahati art group in the early 90s, Fuad has always expressed a penchant for the philosophical and the serious. From early abstract pieces to later figurative ones, as well as occasional installation and performance art, Fuad is best described as a heady artist. He has experimented with irony and visual satire but never humour and whimsy.

Perhaps his year long residency in Korea and a previous shorter stint in Vermont, USA has allowed Fuad new vistas of expression. It is a risk to be sure for audiences rarely expect to see humour in art. Yet it is a fitting tool with which to interrogate our nation’s history because as we look back on the last 50 years and consider the antics of our politicians, the deplorable state of our leaky infrastructure, the shenanigans of our police force and the lackadaisical attitude of the populace, how can we not laugh at ourselves?