Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 09.16.28

The Power of Symbols

As you’ve seen in articles such as this one, Zakii’s work covers a wide range of subject matter. What’s perhaps more striking is how Zakii’s work engages with religion and faith. He is both overt and subtle. That’s part of his craft – he has a knack for creating a visual and emotional tension that elevates his paintings and drawings beyond mere verisimilitude. We’re excited to show in our film how all these elements come together, resulting in his remarkable body of work.

At the same time, Zakii’s exploration of faith in his work has attracted controversy… but not always from the places you expect. While at a local art school, a fellow student defaced one of his paintings, offended by the fact that Zakii as a Muslim had painted Christian imagery. Zakii was re-interpreting Velazquez’s painting ‘Christ on the Cross‘. In a similiar vein, Zakii’s works ‘Kris 1 and 2′ were burned by their buyers when the collectors later converted to fundamentalist Christianity. The ability to take offence travels wide.

"Man and Mask with Kris," painted in 1995 and burned by its owners.

“Man and Mask with Kris,” painted in 1995 and burned by its owners.

For some, these incidents can seem an extreme reaction to a picture’s content.  Yet, it’s a bold illustration of an important point: namely, that symbols both religious and secular have enormous power over our day to day lives. For better or worse, they resonate with us, producing powerful reactions: for example, where the crucifix is seen as a symbol of hope, or an intolerable symbol of blasphemy, depending on viewpoint.

The recent controversy over the display of the Confederate flag in America helps reinforce how symbols can be deeply offensive (or worthy of preservation) depending on the people observing them. As you’re no doubt aware, the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag was inflamed by the shootings at a black church in South Carolina on the 17th of June. It ignited a debate on the display of the Confederate flag, widely held to be a symbol of racism, over the state’s capitol building. Despite some opposition, the flag was finally lowered on the 10th of July, even as it is still regarded fondly (by some) as an emblem of the South and a traditional cultural symbol. Outside of South Carolina, the Confederate flag has been erased, while in other areas of the country it is being restored.

During our filming, we took time to observe the symbols easily taken for granted in modern life, but which are ever-present. We’ve discovered fascinating relationships between such symbols, the environments Zakii journeys in, and Zakii’s ultimately symbolic figurative work. Going through our visual assets now for the film’s edit is really exciting – there are so many clues to how the artist responds to what is around him. So…what is around him?

Keep a close eye on the website over the next few months, as we shed more light on the formation of Malaysia, and the rich variety of artwork the country has produced over the years. Subscribe on the right for our alerts so you don’t miss a thing.

Tom GibsonThe Power of Symbols


  1. Virtual server

    On an individual level, it is highly encouraged to identify and focus upon symbols that hold special meaning for you. At first these symbols may appear in dreams, doodles, but over time they become personalized, take on a deeper meaning, and come to represent aspects of our psyche that had previously remained dormant or difficult to put into words.

Leave a Comment