ROGUE city council Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) has been under fire for wrecking a sculpture by national art laureate Datuk Syed Ahmad bin Syed Jamal. But while Kuala Lumpur mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz figures out how to stop using taxpayer money in his journey to annihilate Malaysian heritage, let’s take a moment to know the extra special man behind Puncak Purnama.
Syed Ahmad Jamal was born in Bandar Maharani, Johor back in 1929.
He pursued his tertiary education at the Birmingham School of Architecture and the Chelsea School of Art and then returned to Batu Pahat to became a high school teacher. One year later, he would move to Kuala Lumpur to teach at Maktab Perguruan Harian.
At the age of 30, Syed Ahmad Jamal started gaining recognition for his art which boldly stood out from anything in the national visual art scene at that time.
But the bright young man wasn’t quite done with learning yet; by the age of 34, he would receive a scholarship from School of Art Chicago and ten years later would go on to study art history at the University of Hawaii.
Known for saying “kesenian Malaysia bermula sekarang”, Syed Ahmad Jamal made big strides as an educator at Universiti Malaya, but his biggest gig was heading Balai Seni Lukis Negara (now Balai Seni Visual Negara) from 1983 to 1991.
He was eventually honoured with the National Art Award in 1995.
Syed Ahmad Jamal is often dubbed “Malaysia’s Father of Abstract Expressionism”. Introducing emotive explosions of colour and action in an era grounded in realism, he was quickly revered for his work.
There’s something instantly recognisable about his paintings; on first glance they can seem quite psychedelic. One of his best-known pieces The Bait (1959) for instance presents a flurry of movement and frenetic energy through vivid colours.
His art acquired a political edge during Mahathir’s years in power — works such as Soal Palestin (1983) was his response towards world issues — but his penchant for geometric shapes like the triangle would develop with age. Consider M 50 (2007) for example, a piece intended to commemorate Malaysia’s fiftieth year of independence.
Syed Ahmad Jamal passed away at the age of 82, five years ago.
He remains one of the nation’s most important artists and his works can be viewed at Galeri Petronas (which really needs to get their shit together too judging from their barely up-to-date online catalogue and other news we’ve been hearing from within the industry — more on that soon).
In any case, here are some of the wondrous works of Syed Ahmad Jamal. Enjoy and make sure to spread these images if they give you a good trip!