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  • Feb 01, 2024

Last chance to view abstract Islamic art at National Gallery Singapore

Exhibition view, "The Neglected Dimension," 2023. Images courtesy of National Gallery Singapore. 

Four modern Indonesian artists get their time in the spotlight in “The Neglected Dimension,” National Gallery Singapore’s presentation on the intersection of Arabic calligraphy with abstract art. From now till 25 February 2024, the exhibition explores the incredible artistic experimentations that occurred in Indonesia with calligraphy, showing the dynamic expressions related to Islamic aesthetics by modern and contemporary artists in Indonesia.

The four artists in question are Ahmad Sadali (1924–1987), A.D. Pirous (b. 1932), Haryadi Suadi (1938–2016), and Arahmaiani (b. 1962), representing three generations of artistic training at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and distinct approaches to calligraphy that reflect changing values, identities, and conventions in Indonesia from the 1970s to the present. Each artwork has been carefully selected to show how artists explored the artistic possibilities of calligraphy and text derived from Arabic script in new ways, and how they engage with Islamic ideas and cultural traditions that have developed for centuries in Southeast Asia. 

ARAHMAIANI. Crossing Point, 2011, 14 flags, video: 5 min 36 sec. Collection of Singapore Art Museum. 

AHMAD SADALI, Lukisan (Painting), 1966, Oil on canvas. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Together, their works highlight how they interacted with global conventions in modern art, evolving ideas around Islamic spirituality, feminist activism, and the experiences of being Muslim in Indonesia. Visitors can look forward to a range of artistic expressions, from abstract paintings to explorations with prints, glass paintings, installations, and performance art. 

The exhibition’s title, “The Neglected Dimension,” is borrowed from a 1987 essay by the Indonesian art critic Sanento Yuliman, which offers a tribute to the life and work of Ahmad Sadali, one of the artists featured in the exhibition. In his essay, Sanento rearticulated Sadali’s idea to reconsider the position of spirituality in the development and practice of modern painting in Indonesia.

The title also reflects the position of Southeast Asia which is often “neglected” or marginalized in the writing of Islamic art history that focuses mainly on regions considered as the Islamic heartland, including the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of South Asia. Regions such as Southeast Asia, central and southern parts of Africa, and China are considered to be in the peripheries of Islam, and therefore, rarely highlighted in the writing of Islamic art history until recently. 

(left) A.D. PIROUS, Sura Ikhlas, 1970, color etching on paper; (right) Subuh / Doa VIII (Dawn / Prayer VIII), 1980, silkscreen print on paper. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. 

(left) HARYADI SUADI, Buroq (The Buraq), 1986, enamel paint on reverse glass painting. (right) A.D. PIROUS, Surat Isra II: Penghormatan kepada Bunda (Sura Isra II: Homage to My Mother), 1983, silkscreen print on paper, artist’s proof. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. 

“The Neglected Dimension” runs till 25 February 2024 at National Gallery Singapore’s Dalam Southeast Asia, which is located within the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery in the Former Supreme Court Wing. General Admission (free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents) applies to Dalam Southeast Asia.

For more information, visit https://www.nationalgallery.sg/TheNeglectedDimension and follow National Gallery Singapore on Instagram

*presented by National Gallery Singapore

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