Multidisciplinary multimedia artist, Abdul Shakir Abu Samah goes candid about creativity in motion with BASKL in this special interview. Read to learn about his ever-evolving role in curating dynamic canvases as well as creating meaningful experiences through art!
By NABILA AZLAN
When asked about his beginnings in art – his reason to create and artistic presence – Abdul Shakir (32) flashes me a question: “Are you asking me to answer as Grasshopper or as [a part of] Filamen?”
Shakir, born Abdul Shakir Abdul Samah, says he exists between multiple worlds. Also, wanting to be an artist is a given – watching the artists in Pasar Seni going about their creative pursuits has become one of the earliest prompters to his present profession. With an incredible 15-year mark in the creative industry, Shakir is a self-taught graphic design maven who, “Finds art as the coolest thing [to do].” The Creative Multimedia grad from Limkokwing University picks up graphic design at about 15 years old, toying around with Adobe Photoshop not long after he receives his first PC. This indirectly launches him towards making art in a more commercial setting, which he still does now as a freelancer.
With the new media art collective called Filamen, it’s a different story altogether, even though the two are always in sync. Filamen is founded by him and his former boss, Fariz Hanapiah in 2016, with the mission to serve an interactive art platform that bridges audio visual artists with each other, as well as the public audience. A passion project with no intentions to fuel ‘commercial-based’ products, Shakir tells BASKL how the collective’s explorations are for developing and sharing the digital art scene. You may have heard of the collective’s annual art show Immersio – which has gone through five editions now (since its first edition in 2017, initially as an injunction of local arts fest Urbanscapes).
No yellow streaks down his back
While it’s normal to hear stories about individual artists coming together to form a collective after some time in their creative practice, “I actually branch off as a solo artist after working for Filamen,” he says. “That’s after being asked multiple times by different people to see ‘my work as an individual artist’.”
As a solo artist, Shakir warms up to the name Grasshopper (Belalang in Malay). Seamlessly yet tirelessly blending the modern and traditional, the old and new; this name runs true to his sensibilities. “My previous employer [when I worked in a boutique agency during semester break] called me Grasshopper in reference to the TV series Kung Fu (1972) where the master would go about calling his young students ‘grasshoppers’,” he tells, but that’s not all – the artist also grows up with P. Ramlee movies and resonates well with the character Belalang in Nujum Pak Belalang (1959). “He’s always working behind the scenes,” he notes, seeing the character in his own way of working.
“I don’t have a favourite colour, I like them all!”
Growing up, his parents are huge advocates of him pursuing art. “I have joined various drawing and colouring competitions thanks to them,” he says, “They have even enrolled me into art classes like Chinese ink painting.”
Dabbling into the likes of projection mapping, light installations, motion graphics, alternate and virtual realities, either as Grasshopper or as a part of Filamen, the multimedia artist continues to blur the borders of different art disciplines with his work. Even though his practice involves creating via a digital setting, Shakir’s artistic roots come from his upbringing. His mom, a baker and dowry decorator showed and taught him the beauty of colours and culture coming together. “She would explain to me the meanings behind local motifs like Awan Larat (geometrical carving pattern associated with the Islamic culture) and Itik Pulang Petang (pattern in relation to Malay and Minangkabau cultures),” Shakir elaborates, “Making me wonder the intention of using repeated patterns instead of creating new ones. This exploration on motifs and recurring themes are reflected in what I do in my practice.”
To the uninitiated, digital art pieces may come off as futuristic or modern, devoid of values like heritage, histories and cultural identities but with the right intentions and processes, they could be the total opposite. Case in point: his August-September 2023 installation at the National Art Gallery titled ATMA KIRANA (Beautiful Soul) which is inspired by the National Principles (Rukun Negara).
Grazing greener pastures
As both an observer and practitioner in the creative (aka pure) and commercial arts setting, Shakir is adamant on one thing: “I feel like both sides can and should learn more from each other. The commercial arena is heading towards the soulless mode of creation (with the advent of artificial intelligence and such) and could adapt deeper, more insightful modes from the creative arts arena. The creatives on the topic of sustainability or survival, I feel, can learn how to sustain their businesses from the commercial side,” he shares.
“At the end of the day, it dawns on each side’s openness to work together to create something more impactful, as it is all about the creative industry. Moving forward, I think the line between the commercial and the creative would be more blurred as the next coming generations realize that both of the scene are interchangeable.”
Shakir is all about the technological shifts in the creative and commercial industry. “At Filamen, we attempt to democratize the new media scene. With sustainability in frame, he says, “We are looking to catalogue and document artworks from our IMMERSIO projects and rent them out for events and such,” which sounds like a dashing new venture. As Grasshopper, the artist hopes to continue pushing boundaries – putting no limit to what could come up as his next canvas. It would be an amazing trip, seeing which chapter he chooses to embark on in the name of expressing heritage and culture in his own, vibrant ways.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BASKL COVER STAR
BASKL Cover Star: Abdul Shakir
Co-ordinator & Stylist: Shah Shamshiri
English Text: Nabila Azlan
Hair & Make-up: Chandra Shegar
Wardrobe: Mashup Asia & Vinice Chia
Photographer & Art Director: Bustamam Mokhtar, White Studio
Location: White Studio, Sungai Lui, Hulu Langat
Digital Cover Designer: Daniel Halim
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