Hussin Hourmain: Embedding Jawi Calligraphy in Contemporary Art

By Nicole Chang

June 2024 FOR ART'S SAKE
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Shin (2021) 81cm x 163cm Acrylic on Canvas. Featured in Husin’s fifth solo, Salam @ Peace: Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf II (2021), which showcased the culmination of Husin’s creations inspired by meditative solitude during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Images by Core Design Gallery.

HUSIN HOURMAIN, a 61-year-old contemporary Malaysian visual artist, is famed for his abstract expressionist works of contemporary Jawi calligraphy, captivating both local and international art audiences. His recent exhibition at Harta Space in Ampang, Selangor showcased his decade-long journey (2013-2023) of exploring artistic expressive forms, materials and mediums to present contemporary Jawi calligraphy.

His aspiration, since he was a child, was to become a fine artist. However, he was steered towards a different path, graduating in graphic design and photography instead, a foundation his parents believed would ensure broader working opportunities. After 17 years in graphic design and advertising, in 2003, Husin pivoted to pursue the dream he had put on hold. Fortunately, he found his training in graphic design to be of advantage in fine art. He uncovered his niche by infusing his narrative with sensible structural coherence and visual impact. He insists on recording his thoughts and concepts through sketches and notes as creative blueprints before translating them onto canvas, mixed materials or installations.

Penunggu Alam: Sayap Jibril...(2017) 214cm x 412cm Acrylic Majestic Paint Coal Charcoal Modelling Pace on Canvas and Iron Wood Panels. Featured in Husin’s fourth solo, Aku: Dalam Mencari Rukun (2018) held at the National Art Gallery. The exhibition showcased Husin’s creations, integrating non-letter objects within calligraphy in abstract expressionistic compositions, reflecting his personal interpretation of “The Six Pillars of Iman” beyond the traditional boundaries.

Husin explored various art styles and techniques, including abstract expressionist mark-making, gestural brushwork, textural painting, mixed-medium art, installations and metaphysical or spiritual expressions before finding a steady footing in Jawi calligraphy. Experimenting with it, Husin was able to push artistic boundaries and foster an appreciation for Islamic art and culture.

Through years of research and creative exploration, he sought to translate his evolving understanding and interpretation of Islamic culture into different collections. Using Jawi characters as his central artistic narrative against a backdrop of vibrant hues and different compositions, Husin creatively repositions the Jawi script, buoying the written legacy of Malay civilisation, particularly for the younger Malay populace, and has since spearheaded the contemporary Jawi calligraphy art movement in Malaysia.

ZAL (2011), 152cm x 244cm Acrylic on Canvas Showcased in Husin’s third solo, titled Awal Hurouf Asal Hurouf (2013), alongside the collection of paintings merging khat calligraphy with abstract expressionism.

Striking A Balance Between The Market and The Message

From his vantage point, hoisted by his experience in the industry, Husin observes a decline in public and private investment in collecting artworks, with entities like the National Art Gallery and private collectors ceasing or scaling back their acquisitions. “Many collectors in my era became more passive observers rather than active buyers compared to before. Although art shows continue to draw in many visitors, most of them are coming from similar circles. While art appreciation may remain strong, actual purchases significantly decreased.” Husin believes diversifying the collector base with varying preferences, interests and budgets is crucial for sustaining a healthy art market. Encouraging the younger generations to collect art is one way to increase demand for art. “Just as artists thrive on creating diverse works, the market relies on a wide range of collectors with varying interests, preferences and budget.”

(From left to right) Kiswah@Rukun Hajar Aswad II, Kiswah@Rukun Iraqi II, Kiswah@Rukun Samani, Kiswah@Rukun Yamani (2023-2024), 244cm x 46cm each (4 Panels) Acrylic on Canvas Featured in Husin’s sixth solo, Vertical Limit: Endless Journey (2023- 2024) revealed Husin’s innovative breakthrough after his Umrah pilgrimage by intertwining Jawi script alongside Latin script to present his social and personal narratives in paintings.

To sustain a dynamic and flourishing art scene within the nation, Husin stresses the need for more initiatives from independent galleries, art venues and individual supporters. These efforts should encompass reinstating the values and significance of investing in local art, as well as promoting art and artists through avenues such as art residencies and competitions. Furthermore, he urges government attention to address the escalating costs of art materials, which have significantly heightened artists’ burden.

Nevertheless, Husin holds to his personal ethos that an artist “must hold responsibility for his own creations, especially when tackling provocative subjects in works” to balance between creativity and sensitivity so that any adverse impacts on the subjects or parties involved are not invoked.

Husin’s art studio next to his home.
Husin conducts research, conceptualises ideas, creates and stores artworks in his studio.

Nicole Chang

has just completed her PhD programme at the Department of Development Planning and Management, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia.