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Digital drawings of Malay proverbs: an interview

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His art has been featured in BBC News, Thought Catalog, and Hitz.FM. This project isn't even a year old.

From its beginnings as a small experiment in July 2015, the project shot to fame quickly with its uncommon marriage of visual art with the Malay language - especially unique from such a young artist. His drawings not only catch the eye with their vibrant hues, they're also a cultural point of interest.

This is "The Visual Series of Malay Proverbs", by artist Hyrul Anuar.

In the spirit of National Language Month, we reached out to Hyrul to find out more about his work, the story behind his art, and his views on Malay art and language. Interview after the jump below.

"Memukul kucing di dapur". ("Beating the cat in the kitchen"; to betray someone close to you.) Hyrul's use of such a bright shade of purple disables us from tearing our eyes away from the act of betrayal, yet masks the dark act with an innocuous colour palette of purples, pinks, indigo and yellow - resulting in a disguise that embodies the betrayal being depicted.The mechanics of colour are just one of the most interesting aspects of "The Visual Series of Malay Proverbs".

Not afraid of a little experimentation, Hyrul finds the time to playfully mix a little of the new into his celebration of the old: some of his more recent works include references to social media, and he even makes GIFs! This particular piece carries a silent comment on how the meaning of one particular proverb reflects the use of social media.

What inspired you to start producing visual representations of proverbs?

It all began when I was working in Italy. I felt lonely, and there was a lot going on that brought me down. That was what turned me to start drawing on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The situations that I was going through, a lot of them reminded me of old Malay proverbs I knew.

So I used that platform to express the feelings in my head. It was then that I realised drawing was a fantastic escape for me to turn to whenever I was feeling blue.

Can you tell us the story of yourself as an artist? How did you realise your passion, and what did you do to nurture it?

I knew I liked to draw, but I'd never fully appreciated the value of this interest before, as I never realised I was creating anything special. But when my friends saw them, and told me they loved them, this encouraged me to continue pursuing it. 

We've noticed that there's an interesting cultural element in these drawings. Is there a story behind the style that you've been using here?

To tell you the truth, when I draw, I tend to draw by instinct. Only by the time I was done with the drawings did I realise that they have that interesting cultural aspect to them. I could attribute this to my love for textiles; maybe that's had an influence on the visual style that I produce.

What challenges have you faced since the start of this project?

The biggest setback is to keep producing drawings while staying honest about my message. I do this as a form of self-expression: if I try to do something that doesn't represent how I truly feel and think, it's never gonna work.

What's the most interesting feedback that's been directed at "The Visual Series of Malay Proverbs"?

I honestly never thought anything huge would come of it. When so many people started writing about it and liking it, I felt amazed by the fact that so many could feel what I feel in my drawings.

What do you think of Malay art these days? What forms of it do you like the best?

I have a special interest in literature. There are many things in literature that I can express visually - because there isn't much of that word-to-image adaptation at all of Malay literature. I think I took that opportunity to create something new.

On the question of Malay art these days, I don't think I have the adequate knowledge of current artistic developments to provide commentary. But I have certainty that there are other artists like me who are creating fantastic works we have yet to hear about.

What's your favourite medium?

Film and digital art.

In your experience, what's the main difference between digital and non-digital art?

The distinction is strongest in terms of the production process. I've found that digital art takes me less time, whereas non-digital takes much longer. Other aspects, like the ability to convey ideas and meaning in them, I would say have an equal strength.

Any favourite proverbs?

"Hendak memeluk gunung, apakan daya tangan tak sampai." ("Wanting to hug a mountain with arms that are too short.")

This proverb resonates with some of the struggles that I've been through. But I always manage to find a solution.

Which of these drawings is your favourite?

"Mengikat perut." ("Binding one's stomach.")

Both the illustration and this proverb have very special meaning to me and my family.

Our favourite is this one:

Quite frankly, the level of detail in this one is incredible. How long did it take you to finish this?

This one took me an entire 2 days. It's normally much less time, but I spent two days on this one to get the colour combinations and composition just right. I suck at colour choices! So it was quite tricky for me to choose just the right shades.

Any advice for budding artists?

Have endless faith in yourself and don't let anyone change that for you. And if a work of art is very personal to you, don't ever start out with the wrong intentions - if you are going to create art create honest art. This is the only way to make people understand what you are trying to say. :)

Want to see more of Hyrul's work? Follow "The Visual Series of Malay Proverbs" on Instagram and Tumblr!

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