Injecting realism into Malaysian art

Although the idea for Ali Nurazmal’s chiaroscuro painting was inspired by Caravaggio’s works, he reconstructed it by inserting elements of Malaysian life


FANCY seeing cartoon characters like Pokémon and minions in something as serious as realism art?

Local artist Ali Nurazmal Yusoff’s solo exhibition titled “Project A: Last Man Standing” at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur displays 37 of his paintings that are either inspired by or adapted from the works of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, a renowned Italian painter of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Caravaggio was famous for the intense and unsettling realism of his paintings.

Ali Nurazmal, 42, whose exhibition ended last month, has injected local elements into his figurative works to reflect Malaysian culture while maintaining the authenticity of European realism art.

He said he sought inspiration from Caravaggio’s paintings for his own works as he wanted to provide a breath of fresh air to the local art scene.

“Besides local elements, I also like to portray myself and others from my surroundings in the paintings that I’ve adapted from Caravaggio’s original works,” he told Bernama.

Inspiration During MCO

The paintings are based on Ali Nurazmal’s expressions of Malaysia’s social, cultural and political happenings (pic: Bernama)

Ali Nurazmal’s paintings are based on his expressions of Malaysia’s social, cultural and political happenings.

Having been a singer and entertainer previously, his works are reimagined versions of what he sees through his eyes as an entertainer and his purpose is to “entertain my audience”.

This talented artist, who has a degree in fine arts from Universiti Teknologi Mara, uses oil paints and canvas as his medium as he feels it helps to make his paintings look more lively and bring them closer to the soul of Malaysian society.

In reference to his painting titled “Imitation Master: Nasi Lemak Spaghetti” that depicts him holding a packet of nasi lemak and a classical European character handing him a face mask, he said it was an adaptation of Caravaggio’s “The Fortune Teller” and that it was one of the three paintings he completed during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

“My solo exhibition was initially scheduled to start on March 23, but was postponed to July 7-30 due to the MCO,” he said, adding that the paintings on display at the exhibition were done over the last 11 years.

“Imitation Master: Nasi Lemak Spaghetti”, he said, conveyed the message that if Malaysia fails to take precautions to fight Covid-19, the situation may go out of control as it did in Italy.

Another painting he did during the MCO, titled “Imitation Master — Makcik Bawang’s Gossip Corner”, depicts two characters named Foodpanda and GrabFood and others enjoying a fast-food meal.

“It reflects the actual situation Malaysians were in during the MCO when they had to stay at home and forced to order food online or try their hand at cooking new dishes every day,” said Ali Nurazmal.

He said this particular painting was done using the chiaroscuro technique which refers to the use of the light and shade contrast in paintings and drawings.
“This big-scale painting is an attempt by me

to produce an artwork that can be considered museum class. A lot of such artworks have high value and are often kept in museums as part of their collections,” he said.

Entertainer, Storyteller

‘Imitation Master: Nasi Lemak Spaghetti’ is an adaptation of Caravaggio’s ‘The Fortune Teller’ which is among the 3 paintings completed during the MCO (pic: Bernama)

He said although the idea for his chiaroscuro painting was inspired by Caravaggio’s works, he reconstructed it by inserting elements of Malaysian life.

“If you observe this painting closely, you will realise that it has two sides, one with Caravaggio’s characters and the other with my own creations,” said Ali Nurazmal, who has five sons aged between six and 16, and hails from Butterworth, Penang.

Two years ago, when Malaysians were captivated by the Pokémon Go mobile application, he came up with a painting called “‘Imitation Master After Caravaggio” depicting several Pokémon characters and his own favourite minions.

“I’m not only conveying a message through this painting, but also entertaining my audience as I painted it in my role as an entertainer and storyteller,” he said, adding that most of the visitors to his exhibition enjoyed viewing his works as they struck a chord with them even though not all of them could decipher the inherent meaning.

Ali Nurazmal, who emerged champion at the Olymp Arts Competition in Lausanne, Switzerland, when he was 15 years old, aspires to hold his own solo exhibition in Europe one day.

“Apart from exhibiting my paintings, my works can also serve as a cross-cultural platform where western culture meets Malaysian culture,” he added. — Bernama