At the peak of the lockdown, artist Saiful Razman made a trip back to his hometown of Teluk Intan. It turned out to be a surreal experience. The busy streets to which he was accustomed, now desolate, transformed him into a different realm.
The experience resulted in the artwork Walk in Silence, Don’t Walk Away in Silence that was recently named the 2021 UOB Painting of the Year by UOB Malaysia. Apart from the RM100,000 cash prize, Saiful also stands to win a prestigious one-month residency programme at either Japan’s Fukuoka Art Museum or the UOB Art Gallery in Shanghai, China.
In creating the work, Saiful continued to work with tissue and gauze to take an introspective look at life through the depiction of a house. The approach is minimalist because the artist felt that he didn’t need “much fuss.” The goal was to be subtle and capture the silent mood.
Saiful has been working in this vein since 2015. In 2016, he received the Bakat Muda Sezaman award which led the gallery to commission a series of work inspired by veteran artist Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal’s Puncak Purnama. That, he says, was the starting point for him as his unique approach of using mixed-media started to gain attention. In 2020, he continued to develop this approach, which resulted in the accolade.
Interestingly, Saiful was featured in the first issue of Augustman back in September, 2008. Then he was a gallery assistant at The Annexe Gallery, located at Central Market. Reflecting on his early days as a young artist there, he says
he tended to absorb the creative activity that surrounded him. His latest work thus comes from a personal place, telling stories of loss and hope. In conjunction with the UOB achievement, there is a mini-retrospective of Saiful Razman taking place at Rissim Contemporary gallery that showcases his journey as an artist.
HOW DID YOUR TRIP BACK TO YOUR HOMETOWN DURING THE PANDEMIC INSPIRE YOUR ARTWORK?
There was no one, no cars, I felt like I was in a film. That was when I started to visualise the mood. It was very subtle, very silent. When you work in a confined situation, it is the best time to explore. I started working on storyboards and moodboards. The process was organic. I focused on the idea of the house and then combined it with a tunnel. A house is where you find shelter and the tunnel is what you need to get through to get to it.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU’VE GROWN AS AN ARTIST FROM THE TIME YOU STARTED AS A GALLERY ASSISTANT AT THE ANNEXE GALLERY TO NOW?
I was just 20 plus years old. The Annexe was the hype of creativity where writers and artists all came and expressed themselves. I saw everything and absorbed the energy. At the time, I created very expressive work but eventually as you live, the process became more introspective, coming from inside. At times, I feel old (laughs), like I’m doing the same thing, but I know that this is me. The idea is always in my subconscious mind. The process is to present it from a different perspective.
Saiful is seen in a shirt, jacket, trousers and shoes by Gucci