Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Writer: Anna Sungkar
Translator : L Project
“My work rests on objective accuracy by relying on visual facts that combined with fantasy. This combination will be revealing expressive and imaginative symbols without limits. These symbols are built from past deposits that intersect with new experiences. So that the result is a painting that narrates the reality of humans and their environment. "
A mother figure is seen carrying groceries while wearing a blue shawl. She looked half-bent due to the massive loads she was carrying. An awkward circumstance is also portrayed in the painting as a figure of a man who, instead of helping her in carrying the groceries she had, gives her another additional load. The dog-headed man, on the other hand, who stands in the back and gives instructions while pointing his finger at her, doesn't help in anyway. The mother lives in Aceh, a conflict zone where the painter, Mahdi Abdullah, was born and raised. The groceries for her family's survival are amongst the items carried by the mother.
The army barricades were hard to penetrate in this complicated situation, finding it challenging to obtain food or request assistance from the outside region of the barricades. The painting "Beban Itu Tidak Hanya Buah" – The Burden is Not Only Fruit (80 X 80) represented a situation wherein the men dominated women, which also was combined with sloth and harassment. A physical form of crimes against women that we often experience in our daily life.
Mahdi Abdullah's intellectual skills in realist painting are improving. He gained it through his Master of Arts education at ISI Yogyakarta and daily practice with the other artists. The brown batik cloth worn by the mother is so precise that it seems to be a real batik cloth. The batik cloth details exist again in the painting "Yang Datang dan Yang Pergi" - Who Comes and Who Goes (100 X 80). Mahdi's intention with this painting is to convey the message that we are sent into the world to work and to create. At the bottom of the painting is a glass symbol that represents the Javanese philosophy of life, "Urip iku mung mampir ngombe"- life is just a stopover to eat and drink.
Mahdi shows his expertise in portraying the anatomy of irregular body gestures through his work "Insinuation # 2" (140 X 120). This painting depicts a village chief who was persecuted for protecting his people. The cord ties on the hands illustrate a person's lack of freedom in acting and having opinions.
Next is the "The Possible and Impossible Model" (100 X 80) painting. In this artwork, there is a boat placed on the floor at Mahdi's painting studio. By looking at the boat's condition, it seems the boat has come from the shore.
Through this painting, Mahdi wants to portray the model facing backward from the spectator while at the same time he is also facing toward them. In creating this atmosphere, the figures in the painting are depicted with blank faces. There is an indication to symbolize duality here, which is facing and backing away from the spectators. Another symbol is presented on the model's hand: the fingers on the left are filled with colours. On the contrary, the fingers on the right filled in monochrome. It also symbolizes duality, meaning that good and bad behavior exists. The hand holding a book with a flower tucked in it symbolizes the painter who expects love from the figure or cannot capture the love given by the figure?
This is how the Mahdi narrates the reality of humans and their environment, which he paints symbolically. The painting "Menghujam Nafsu" – Fighting Desires (40 X 40) depicts the figure of Muhammad Ali punching his horned opponent. The opponent is actually a demon who lured Muhammad Ali to pursue his desire to punch his enemy.
In "Kartini" (80 X 100), Kartini is seen standing on a step with a dark-tone background. This indicates she is not that important because the main spotlight is what she has been fought for, like the poster that dominates the image canvas, namely emancipation.
The use of similar symbols occurs again in "Loyal" (80 X 80), which reflects the obedient and loyal figure through the blanketed grey plastic. As well as in the painting "Buah Keseimbangan" - Fruit of Balance (100 X 80), Mahdi uses a globe as a symbol to depict nature which has a mutual attraction and influences, resembling a symbol of Ying and Yang. However, the interpretation of Mahdi's symbols is entirely left up to the viewers and appreciators of his works.