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Beneath the Surface

With Zakii back from LA, this remarkable artist is sure to create some stunning work from his experience.

But rather than looking ahead, we want to take a moment to look back- specifically, at what drives Zakii to create some of his work.

Zakii’s series of charcoal drawings takes in a wide range of subject matter: everything from your ‘man on the street’ to cultural performers is represented, and in some respects it represents Zakii’s open-minded worldview. His art consists of taking in all peoples and recognising their worth. But as you might expect, this is a rather basic and simplistic assessment of his work. It’s here that we can draw parallels between Zakii and another, rather unexpected artist.

Many of Zakii’s figures represent the artist in essence: a neat encapsulation of his thoughts and feelings at a certain time. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Zakii Anwar.

Art aficionados will certainly be familiar with the work of American painter Mark Rothko, a remarkable artist working in the 20th century. Even if you aren’t, you’ve probably seen his work at one point or another: each consists of abstract blocks of colour that instantly conjure up a mood, succinctly and abstractly. It’s a remarkable example of capturing an emotion, in a language so simple as to be universal.

On the face of it, with Zakii’s work the subject matter is more literal, capturing a specific object or individual: an animal, a fruit, a sea monster. Rothko’s work is more about allusion, dealing in abstracts like blocks of colour. Yet Rothko and Zakii are arguably united by their work – in spiritual ambitions. We can receive each artist’s formal images beyond their two-dimensional representations: each carefully chosen form is an avatar instead for non-material qualities that the artists wish us to connect with. It is now left to us to figure out what we are responding to in the works.

More importantly, each picture acts as a snapshot: it captures the emotions of a specific moment in time. That Rothko’s work can go from this to this is a testament to that idea.

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Photo courtesy of Ahmad Zakii Anwar

On Facebook, we described these pictures as an avatar for Zakii. If we were to explore this idea further, they arguably represent something honest, raw and primal, perhaps a desire for honesty captured in a single moment. The animal doesn’t put an airs or make pretensions: it is what it is, and makes no apology or attempts to conceal itself. But with this comes an element of mystery: who is the man with the tail? He doesn’t conceal his uniqueness from us- indeed, he goes out of his way to show us it. But he’s still keeping something back. His face- his real identity- is hidden from us. What is he hiding, and why is he hiding it from us?

This, of course, is the question that Edge of Obedience seeks to answer. As we follow Zakii on his journey, we aren’t just seeing him create his work- or gain new inspiration for it. We’re seeing his life captured in a series of snapshots- even if, like Rothko, we need to look beneath the surface to understand the emotions being expressed. Like all art, seeing is only half the battle, and as the film nears completion we hope this is a battle you feel better equipped to win.

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Tom GibsonBeneath the Surface

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