“The body: the warmth it provides, the sweat it secretes, the thin fabric that covers it, its ghostly presence in images and its desire to be seen are ideas which I investigate in Flat Lands. Exploring the body through an everyday artefact, the kain pelikat, a sarong predominantly worn by men and omnipresent in parts of Southeast and South Asia, I think of the clothing in relation to the bodily frame, with and without it, as a piece of architecture or a grid and its depiction in images in popular culture, archives, social media and books. What does the fabric mean to me? What does it say about my home country (Malaysia)? And what started as an anecdote told by mother that as a child, I used to spend countless of hours under my father’s kain, has now developed into an exploration of my identity as a queer Southeast Asian artist working in my current home -London. The seemingly procedural gestures of layering, propping, sewing, flattening, cutting and combing articulate a methodology that push and pull an elastic and contextual body of works; in the process of evolution.”
-The artist, 2021
Haffendi Anuar (b.1985, Malaysia) presents a new body of works which reference and explore the kain pelikat, a type of colourful tubular transnational garment usually worn by men in parts of Asia. Oriented in relation to his childhood memories of encountering and being physically enveloped by the fabric, his research and exploration into the iconography of the garment encompasses personal family photos, archive images, selfies on Instagram and texts describing the Malaysian landscape. The research materials are used as stimuli in developing textile-based sculptures, paintings, mixed media collages, and works on paper which consider the contemporary context of his home country, identity, and colonial capitalism in the region.
This is exemplified in Unit, the sculptural family which occupy the gallery space – a same-sex couple with their children each donning their own kain pelikat. In this work, Anuar sets up the kain pelikat in a contemporary Malaysian context, thinking about family, love and relationships. The ‘figures’ are basic in form and so, it is the kain pelikat which denotes each individual, becoming anthropomorphised, whilst also linking the family unit together through colour and pattern.
Layering is an inherent process in Anuar’s oeuvre. In the draped textile installations, Drying Rack, whereby printed text, paint and fabric - including felt, painted and dyed canvas, rice sacks, denim and kain pelikat are placed in voluminous stacks creating a whole. The work references clothes drying racks and specifically, the inhabitants of homes in Southeast Asia who would sun-dry their laundry, suspended from the upper floors of their high-rise apartment windows. These vernacular forms display Anuar’s commitment to utilizing a sculptural language that utilizes inspiration from the everyday life.
No matter which medium he works in, Anuar begins by cancelling out the ‘white background’ by prepping the surface with an initial layer of his own making. The draped textiles receive a wash of coloured paint – applied roughly with a large brush creating an uneven surface. Photographs, hand-painted and drawn elements, text, sewn lines and other textile elements are subsequently added building up the complete artwork.
The artist's paintings and works on paper are also something sculptural, working in layers again to create multi-dimensions. Often these works begin with layers of newsprint, creating a black and white ground for painting or collage, as can be seen in Bodybuilders Duet. This diptych - the most explicitly figurative work on display - echoes again the notion of same-sex coupling. A pair of muscular bulging torsos face each other. The thickly applied contours are created using squeeze sauce bottles. The paint application process reminiscences one of Anuar’s childhood fast-food favourites – the Ramly burger, a ubiquitous street-food in Malaysia. Dripping layers of toppings and sauces such as mayonnaise and chilli sauce are heavily applied onto halal meat patties using such containers. Notions of indulgent desires and an obsession of one’s body are explored in these works whilst also hinting at the artist’s own regimented workouts at the gym.
The imagery used in the Cobweb series is carefully selected in reference to Anuar’s own identity and cultural heritage. A selection of the works utilise fragments of photographs of his family members sourced from his own familial photo albums. In doing so, Anuar explores his constantly shifting sense of identity and self in relation to his own upbringing. Conversely, certain works in the Cobweb series utilise found archive imagery. Whilst completing his MFA at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, Anuar explored documentation and photographs in relation to the kain pelikat from the colonial era in the collections, archives and libraries of the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Bodleian Library. In doing so, Anuar interrogates the Western gaze by overlaying the images with the motif of the web in reference to the post-colonial empire and its over-arching reach, as well as a means to reclaim the images as his own.
The exhibition presents some of the artistic outcomes of Anuar’s practice, but it is not a conclusion. Instead, in his own words, he describes it as a ‘pit stop’; a moment of reflection in order to share his journey. The audience is invited to delve into his practice, uncover the layers of canvas, texts, books, photographs, reference material and imagery that make up Flat Lands.
 . Whilst same sex couples do exist, albeit marginally, and are socially accepted in metropolitan circles in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, these couplings are not official recognised by the government or institutions and rarely seen in rural towns.