By the Illumination of the Moon

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Critical Reflection of The Inaugural Exhibition by Tunku Kamariah Mahmood Iskandar, Written by Zena Khan

Zena Khan holds a Masters in Curating Contemporary Art from Royal College of Art, London, and specialises in Malaysian Contemporary Art.

For over a century, Surrealism as a genre of art has provided artists a vehicle through which they may uncover and communicate both the state of society as well as their own Self. Through the use of fantastical, dreamy imagery, often with the aid of various mediums, artists working in Surreal tendencies generate creative work that might tell personal stories, which connect to wider audiences. Certainly, these characteristics are evident in ‘By the Illumination of the Moon’, the inaugural solo exhibition for Malaysian female artist, Tunku Kamariah Mahmood Iskandar. A wide selection of Mixed Media paintings brought together for the first time, they trace the journey of the artist’s life revealing personal insights through captivating content and aesthetic.

While this exhibition marks the first time audiences are invited to experience Tunku Kamariah’s colourful, Surrealist works as a whole, the artist has been painting and drawing for over three decades. An enduring dedication to making art is immediately evidenced through her commitment to exploring the formal tenants of art production. Relying on an observational approach, which comes to the fore in the form of portraits and figurative renderings of the female form, she expands into new directions through bold mark making and thick, gestural brushstrokes. Intricate details are rendered throughout too, creating a layered visual contrast that draws viewers in. Tunku Kamariah demonstrates her skills as a story teller through the use of composition; while some artworks are composed more minimally through a focus solely on the subject, others see a central figure supported by background patterns and colours. Much like a written short story, this change in visual tempo captures audience attentions by creating a curiosity for the individual circumstances of each painting’s subject.

Tunku Kamariah employs saturated palettes that feel inspired by juicy jewel-tones. This suggests rich fantasy and exuberant narration, in the vein of Surrealist artists, supported by her observations of the world around her, and her own inner life. References to the extended time she spent on America’s West Coast are plentiful, as is a live for New Mexico. These experiences and feelings come through strongly in the renderings of spikey foliage, illuminating quality of the abound. Viewers realise that they are not only being granted glimpses of the artist’s inner state but her reflections of the world around her. While these reflections are often philosophical in nature, they are not staunchly sombre, uplifted by visuals that mirror the artist’s own optimistic persona.

Indeed, the personal is a strong theme that runs throughout ‘By the Illumination of the Moon’. Even the exhibition title hints at the artist herself. Her given name ‘Kamariah’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘qamar‘, which translates to moon. Tunku Kamariah declares the night as the time when she is most creatively prolific, and several of the pieces in this solo exhibition were produced while sat under the moonlight. It is an intimate series, one which recalls Tunku Kamariah’s statement on the role of art: “Art can be a person’s solace. It reminds us of our humanity.” In this way she not only expresses her true inner Self, but extends avenues for connections to all who view her richly pigmented, densely layered Surreal artworks.

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