Delight at the end of an intense session with my dear friends and fellow travellers Khatijah Sanusi, Sulaiman Esa and Azizan Paiman who caught this moment so well. Sulaiman and I picked up and continued an important conversation that we had put on hold a decade and a half ago, when I curated his solo Insyrah at the Galeri PETRONAS . Our discussion brought together, the great aesthetician and metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy, his devoted biographer, editor and bibliographer Durai Raja Singam and visionary artist, theorist and administrator Ismail Zain. We traversed the topics of traditional art and contemporary practice in terms of our common interest – the Sophia Perennis.
According to Frithjof Schuon, the Sophia Perennis is knowledge of the total Truth defined in terms of the will to Good and the love of Beauty. The Sophia Perennis addresses, in the language of symbols, questions of the Divine Principle and of its universal Manifestation as the Good and as Beauty. It concerns itself with what one might call God and the way in which he presents himself in the ‘limited degrees and modes’ that constitute ‘the mystery of the Divine Mâyâ… ‘
As I shift my attention from the now aborted PETRONAS investment on Lelu Island to the underlying and ongoing PETRONAS engagement with British Columbia’s LNG sector, I feel it necessary to reiterate my own history with Malaysia’s exemplary crown corporation. Indeed, while I have my doubts about the benefit of LNG extraction in the long duree, I also have a history with PETRONAS that I feel it is necessary to declare. I have worked for PETRONAS in the capacity of a guest curator in 2001-2002. Then director of the Galeri PETRONAS, Zainol Abidin Sharif (ZABAS) , kindly gave me a great opportunity to curate the first retrospective of the important Malaysian artist Sulaiman Esa. This project gave me the ability to develop my interpretative frame for the contemporary art of Southeast Asia. I had previously argued that to do justice to contemporary artistic practice and meaning, we must combine the study of Sacred Forms as developed by the likes of Nasr, Burkhardt and Coomaraswamy, this with the study of social history, and that, ultimately, we should look ‘Beyond Art History” for our interpretative approaches. Mainstream art history with its chronologies and detailed stylistic differentiation is not so relevant to us. Indeed it seems almost uninteresting given the depth of the alternative traditional aesthetic imperatives at play.
The exhibition I curated and wrote for at the Galeri Petronas was titled Insyirah: lukisan Sulaiman Esa dari 1980 hingga 2000. I am proud of this work, and am grateful to PETRONAS for supporting it and for all their contributions to Malaysian art. PETRONAS is a government corporation, so unlike Shell or Exxon, it has a natural obligation owed towards the nation as well as a natural loyalty owed in return by Malaysians. I feel that debt and I am proud of PETRONAS’ achievements in the corporate world. Generally, as a Malaysian I want to see them succeeded in all their ventures. However, as a person who makes his home and is bringing his children up in British Columbia, my concerns are more complex. This blog will continue to explore this particular nexus of interests, in the face of the events that are unfolding around me.
Image – Sulaiman Esa, “Doa / Supplication” (1999), Mixed-media, 114x66cm (Collection of Petronas Art Gallery) http://hasnulsaidon.blogspot.ca/2016/01/inter-connectivity-and-single-unified.html