Malaysian artist Umibaizurah Mahir’s meticulously crafted ceramics are almost exclusively in the form of stylized, comical creatures, like three dimensional hand-made cartoons. The complex psychology of her collectible “toys for adults” places them at the intersection of man, society and nature, where nothing is what it seems. Like Collodi’s “Pinocchio”, these naughty objects are often on the run, trying to escape on hand-painted ceramic wheels and wings, climbing their pedestals or breaking out of their frames.
In an email to Hi-Fructose, Mahir explains: “To create my early works, I took a great deal of inspiration from British artist Grayson Perry; now I take my cues from daily life and ordinary objects. In my ceramics, everything conveys a wide range of symbols. Their meanings pertain to either the universal truths anyone could potentially relate to, or Malaysian history and culture.”
“The colors of my usual palette are also another example of my approach to the Malaysian history and culture, indeed they’re carefully chosen as to represent the colors of Malaysia’s cultural diversity. Here various ethnicities and cultures – Malay, Chinese and Indian – coexist in the same region,” she adds. In “Dinner with Someone,” for instance, body-less heads are “sitting” together in an absurd Parliament, the artist imagines, discussing classicism and social-political hierarchies and strategies. Her goal is to defy conventions, using clay as her primary medium.
“I am attracted to the physicality of clay, the challenge of facing three dimensions,” she says. “I use slip casting and hand-built techniques to abstract, distort, dissect and piece together various types of clay. Technically I use the normal process in the making and firing of ceramics, but I recast it in a modern and contemporary guise. All the pieces go through as many as five or six firings. I keep firing, experimenting, exploring, and trying different things. Layering the colors, layering images, subtracting them, reapplying: This process goes on until I am truly satisfied with what I see before me.”