Afzal Shaafiu Hassan is one of the few Maldivian artists to have obtained formal training in a visual arts discipline and utilize it in both art contexts and as a medium of visual communication and expression. His work as an artist engages with issues of relevance to both the individual and society. Trained in graphic design and multimedia and specialization in illustration, Afzal has also been producing and exhibiting paintings for many years now.
In present exhibition of new works one can see these parallel trajectories of an individual highly attuned to the visual drama unfolding in front of him - in nature and culture. To distill from this experience seems to be the primary process of his art. It is a recollection - or memory - born from an inquiry into what is perceived visually. If there is any resolution to the inquiry, it is to be seen only in the work.
In his seminal work 'Ways of Seeing', John John Berger says, 'Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before he can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact we are surrounded by it. The relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled.' His words ring even truer now when even for the adult, the primary mode of mediation in the world is visual. We navigate the streets by visually decoding numerous and variously packaged visual messages from street signs to advertising billboards. We also make an increasing number of life style choices based on visual information - TV commercials, lifestyle magazines, publicity images and the like.
It is the context of the proliferation of visual media that Afzal's work takes on its most interesting dimension. The habit of drawing and sketching - one of the most direct methods of immersion in the visual - has remained with him since childhood and is integral to his practice as a designer. However, his professional engagement with advertising design has left him with a deep impression of the expectations of 'clients', or those who procure his skills as a visual artist to position their messages - be it to promote a product or service or to propagate a value. In the case of his work as a painter or a creator of images to communicate and express, he is still left with a sense of expectation of an audience or 'viewer'. Hence, he uses the degree to which he can work outside any expectation of an audience as a measure of how successful he is as an artist.
Adept at multiple techniques of image making, his work in the exhibition 'Visual Memory' include water colors on paper, acrylic on oil on canvas and other surfaces, prints that utilize enamel paint as well as charcoal on paper. The themes of his works also range from the personal to the social and the series of prints produced especially for the exhibition include renderings of texts taken from a Maldivian novel in verse written in the 19th century. Dhiyoge Raivaru, written by Bandeyri Hassan Manikufaanu is the story of a dialog that takes place between two imaginary beings, one living in Africa and the other in India. The author wrote the text after Sultan of the Maldives challenged him to produce an imaginary story as opposed to the documentation of his own real life experiences traveling in the atolls.
In 2005 Afzal had the opportunity to present his work to members of the Sri Lankan artist collective Theerta whose considered critique helped him to locate a contextual focus for his work as an artist. In the ensuing two years, he has experimented with various techniques and themes to produce a body of work that explored entirely new territory. The enrichment of Afzals' output was further facilitated by his participation in artists' workshop and residencies in India and Mauritius where he worked with established artists from the region.
Afzal began his career at the age of 18 when he joined Maldives Post Limited as a stamp designer. In 1997 he was awarded with a scholarship to study graphic design. Since then he has also been working as an art director for an advertising agency and has a number of philatelic designs to his credit.
Visual Memory is Afzal Shaafiu Hassan's first solo exhibition.
From: 24 April 2008 To: 5 May 2008
At: National Art Gallery