Tag Archives: ariffauzanothman

In Memory of Society

SARENG presents Arif Fauzan Othman’s fourth solo exhibition, “Angkat-Sumpah”. The show features fifteen oil on canvas paintings depicting symbolic figures that convey social values represented by intellectual dichotomies and cultural beliefs. The subject matters were conceived from statuettes created by Arif Fauzan in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown, photographed, later composed, then painted on canvas in a theatrical landscape.

Known for his figurative and abstract-style painterly ability, Arif Fauzan emerges from a six-year interval since his last solo exhibition, “Blackzephyr” in 2017, with a new series of majestic and elegant renditions of sculptural figures to depict “the mystique of Nusantara mythology and the contrasting symbolism of glorified statues in Western culture”.

His latest body of work, “Angkat-Sumpah”, translates as “swear an oath”, but a play on semantics can also mean “glorified curse” or “lift the curse”. The idea of delving into “paradoxical dichotomy” provides an opportunity for Arif Fauzan “to examine the contrasting forces of good and evil, and the disorienting moral landscape that engulfs our modern society, where discerning right from wrong has become increasingly challenging”.


East and West


Arif Fauzan explained further: “Drawing inspiration from the ancient tales of the Nusantara, where individuals are transformed into stones and rocks as a consequence of their actions, I juxtapose this myth with the glorified statues prevalent in Western cultures. The Nusantara myth warns of the perils of straying from righteousness, reminding us of the importance of moral conduct and familial bonds. Similarly, the Western glorified statues encapsulate heroic figures and historical icons, celebrating their achievements and embodying the collective aspirations of a culture.”

Combining the ancient tales of Nusantara and the glorified statue of the West as exemplified through works like “Oh! Tuhan” and “Nilai Bebas”, Arif Fauzan meticulously illustrates the characteristics of clay – from which the figurines derived – its plasticity and malleability through creating various textures and surface details, such as delicate nuances in the facial features and creases of the clothing.

Arif Fauzan selects dark and light colours and contrasting tonal variations to enhance the dramatic effects and chiaroscuro luminosity by applying a monochromatic palette to create depth and intensity for each painting. The unique choice of reflective metal pigments elevates the sense of theatrics with its glistening and ethereal quality.

In “Oh! Tuhan”, a male figure is portrayed kneeling on the ground with his arms raised to the sky, pleading to the Almighty in desperation. A homage to the final scene of a Malay classical film titled “Batu Durhaka” (The Rock of Sin) (1962), the protagonist turned antagonist, Wira, seeks forgiveness from his deceased mother on her grave for the sins he had committed. When exclaiming his final words, “Oh! Tuhan”, Wira turned to stone.

The film narrates the story of Man’s seven deadly sins: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth within the primitive Nusantara milieu in a period when men fought with keris and hand-to-hand combat for self-centred motives, and women suffered exploitation and maltreatment. Ironically, the maternal figure remains sacred to the lustful man. “The Nusantara myth portrays the petrified individuals as cursed, representing the consequence of moral transgressions”, Arif Fauzan aptly described.

In “Nilai Bebas”, a female figure emerges from the dark ocean and ascends towards the burning dark skies. The goddess Libertas of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) inspires the imagined deity. Stripped of her Roman robe, crown, torch and tabula ansata, Arif Fauzan’s reimagined Lady Liberty represents total freedom and glory. This portrayal raises an inquiry about the potential misunderstanding between liberty and libertinism. “The Western glorified statues present an elevated and revered state, symbolising the triumph of greatness and courage. However, the meaning behind these symbolisms can be oversimplified and misinterpreted in the opposite direction,” explained Arif Fauzan.

The romanticism of ancient Greek sculptures such as the Venus de Milo, created during the Hellenistic era, represents the idealised female form and is celebrated for its graceful and harmonious composition. This example of cultural symbolism is widely recognised as an iconic representation of feminine beauty, grace, and elegance, masterfully carved out of Parian marble to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. For Arif Fauzan, the ancient Greeks and Romans created statues for symbolic reasons such as for religious and mythological significance; artistic expression in its highest form; commemoration of heroic figures; symbol of power and authority; propaganda and political ideologies; identity and civic pride; and education and inspiration of moral virtues.

Morality and wickedness are contradictory qualities that Arif Fauzan aims to explore. He stated: “Through my artwork, I aim to provoke contemplation and spark conversations that navigate the labyrinth of moral ambiguity. By juxtaposing the Nusantara myth and the Western glorified statues, I invite viewers to reexamine their values and beliefs, encouraging a renewed sense of moral introspection. This exploration serves as a catalyst for critical thinking, inviting individuals to question the foundations upon which they base their judgments and actions.”

“Berhala Kiri” and “Berhala Kanan” are representations of extreme ideologies and radicalised subsets of specific belief systems that exist in the world, past and present. According to Arif Fauzan: “In our contemporary society, where moral relativism prevails and the boundaries of right and wrong are increasingly blurred, this artistic exploration becomes even more relevant. It prompts viewers to reflect upon the intricate interplay between cultural context and moral frameworks, questioning the validity of absolute notions of good and evil nowadays.”


Cast in Time


Through this observation, history (and mythology) bears witness across the aeons to the pride of power or the wrath of Mother Nature. Archaeological evidence is abundant, from the Great Sphinx of Giza (2558–2532 BCE) to the ancient city of Persepolis (518 BCE), among others, spanning a period of over 2,000 years.

In an alternative perspective, exemplified in history, there is a moment when reversed narrative occurs: when an emperor in the East expresses his desire to protect and defend his rule in the afterlife, followed by a perishing of lives in the West due to a volcanic eruption.

An extraordinary example is the Terracotta Army, a collection of life-sized clay statues comprising thousands of individual figures, including soldiers, officers, horses, and chariots – buried alongside the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in the 3rd century BCE. Its sheer scale is astonishing, created as part of the emperor’s elaborate tomb complex that serves as a representation of the military might and power of the Qin Dynasty.

Whereas, in 79 CE, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was buried under volcanic ash and debris during the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The explosion was so powerful that it completely overwhelmed the city, preserving it under layers of volcanic material. The ash and debris, consisting of fine-grained volcanic material called tephra, rapidly buried the town and its inhabitants. The process by which archaeologists preserved the bodies of Pompeii’s inhabitants is due to a natural phenomenon called “vitrification” or “petrification”. Archaeologists created plaster casts of the victims, providing a poignant and lifelike representation of the people who perished in the eruption. Folklore revolves around a supposed curse placed by a priestess of Pompeii, who cursed the city and its inhabitants for their immoral behaviour, resulting in the volcanic eruption as a divine punishment.

These historical examples are the antithesis of Arif Fauzan’s ideologies for “Angkat-Sumpah”. For Arif Fauzan, “Angkat-Sumpah” is a visual narrative encouraging discourse on ways “to cultivate empathy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation for the diverse perspectives that shape our world.” He opined: “In this artistic journey, I invite viewers to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of myth and cultural symbolism, embracing the lessons of the Nusantara and Western cultures. Through this exploration, may we awaken a collective consciousness that transcends borders, fostering a more inclusive and compassionate global community.”


Sarah Abu Bakar

15 June 2023


Arif Fauzan Othman – Oh! Tuhan, 2023, Oil on canvas, 183cm x 122cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Nilai Bebas, 2023, Oil on jute, 176cm x 176cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Berhala Kiri, 2023, Oil on canvas, 92cm x 183cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Berhala Kanan, 2023, Oil on canvas, 91.5cm x 183cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Mimpi Dalam Mimpi, 2023, Oil on canvas, 183cm x 122cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Arah, 2023, Oil on canvas, 183cm x 122cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Pengapungan Terkawal, 2023, Oil on canvas, 183cm x 122cm
Arif Fauzan Othman – Persalinan Baru Maharaja, 2023, Oil on canvas, 183cm x 122cm