Lot 093

b. Johor, 1941


Mixed media collage
203.5cm x 92cm

Private Collection, Kuala Lumpur.

Raja’ah: Art, Idea and Creativity of Sulaiman Esa from
1950s – 2011
, National Visual Arts Gallery,
Kuala Lumpur, 2011.

ESTIMATE  RM 25,000 - 40,000

Sulaiman Esa alongside Redza Piyadasa had organised a two man show titled Towards A Mystical Reality in 1974. The Conceptual-Constructivist exhibition was a manifesto based on the artists’ desires to question the course of direction that Malaysian Art was heading in the 1970s. Their aim was to raise artistic concerns and challenges faced by Malaysian artists at the time – ‘dependence on western influences’ - by offering some kind of alternatives through exploring Asian philosophies in their art.

His provocative piece Waiting For Godot I (1977) depicts a nude woman in a resting posture that symbolises Western art orientation beneath an Islamic ornamentation that signifies Islamic art. In an essay written by his wife, Professor Madya Dr. Khatijah Sanusi, stated: “This series is a visual representation of Sulaiman’s inner conflict in resisting Western art... and mulling over the adoption of Malays Islamic cultural tradition in his search for the Truth.”

It was indeed the beginning of his artistic direction with the employment of traditional Malay culture and Islamic art, and by the 1980s, Sulaiman was known as one of the leading advocate of Islamic art in Malaysia. His enrolment at Maryland Institute of Fine Art, USA (1979 to 1981) for an MFA course exposed him with one of the important aspects in his work - the creation of hand-made paper. It was during this period that his creative pursuit was realised – weaving handmade paper illustrating Islamic art patterning that resembles the songket technique.

This stunning symmetrical and chromatic visual is perhaps one of the finest work of art ever surfaced in the Malaysian art scene with its delicate weaves and charming hues resembling the sophistication of a hand-woven songket fabric infused with Persian influenced patterning. At an incredible height of 6.5 foot tall, this blissful piece - crafted in an array of elevating yet soothing pastel blue, green, pink, yellow and violet – stands out with both its dimension and technique.

In his repertoire, the Garden is the paradise where righteous and devout Muslims aspire to a blissful eternal life in the Hereafter and to be united with his or her Creator. Later, the (Endangered) Garden also contains strident warnings against American hegemony as a threat to Islam. In the Islamic Art Seminar in 1984, Lamya Al-Faruqi extolled Sulaiman as a trailblazer in the Post-Modern period for “…studying Islam and its relationship to Art, immersing himself in the craft tradition of his people…” Niranjan Rajah wrote, in his essay, Insyirah Al-Sadr: The Art of Sulaiman Esa: “For Sulaiman, tawhid (Divine Unity) is not only the recognition of the Oneness of God. It also implies the subordination of power, wealth and the individual to the unifying principles of society.”

Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal wrote about Sulaiman Esa’s artistic pursue in his essay Islamic Art:

Sulaiman Esa takes his art practice seriously, his artistic achievements are gradual, and each phase involves a shift in his art-making – found objects, mystical reality, social contexts, cultural references, and finally Islam have constituted main point of focus. This conscientiousness has become the foundation for an increasing number of Malaysian artists, especially among the younger generation, who have moved away from complete dependence on the Western art canon.”

A distinguished artist and art educator, Sulaiman Esa has played a pivotal role in the Malaysian art scene since the late 1960s. He began to integrate Islamic art forms into his artworks in the 1980s in the pursuit of personal and national artistic identity. A graduate from the Hornsey College of Art, United Kingdom (1962 to 1968), he returned home to pursue a brief career as a designer at Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. He then became a lecturer and an associate
professor at Institut Teknologi Mara from 1970 to 1996. His curatorial and writing endeavours include An Islamic Identity in Contemporary Malaysian Art: Achievements and Challenges (National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 1992) and Art and Spirituality: An Introduction (National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 1997) to name a few. His first one-man show titled Ke Arah Tawhid (Towards Unity) was held in 1984 and he pursued his Doctoral studies in Islamic Studies at Temple University, United States of America in 1986. A retrospective exhibition titled Raja’ah: Art, Idea and Creativity of Sulaiman Esa from 1950s – 2011 was held in 2011 at the National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur to showcase an extensive body of works created by Sulaiman Esa over the past 50 years of his artistic career.

From The Periphery to the Centre: The Social Significance of Sulaiman Esa’s Work from 1950s to 2007, Professor Madya Dr. Khatijah Sanusi and Ahmad Farid Raihan
Imagining Identities: Narratives in Malaysian Art Volume 1,
RogueArt, 2012.