Finding faith in the modern world

An upcoming mixed-media show by a group of young local artists explores the meaning of spirituality beyond religion

Four artists who will be showing their works: (Clockwise from back row) Noor Iskandar, Nhawfal Juma'at, Fajrina Razak and Shahila Baharom.
Four artists who will be showing their works: (Clockwise from back row) Noor Iskandar, Nhawfal Juma'at, Fajrina Razak and Shahila Baharom. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Artist Nhawfal Juma'at wants to make one thing clear about Pneuma: Of Spirituality In Contemporary Age.

"This is not an Islamic show," the 28-year-old says of the group exhibition, which opens at the Stamford Arts Centre on Jan 11 during Singapore Art Week. It showcases works by six Singaporean artists, including Chinese artist Huijun Lu.

"It's not a show talking about a particular religion, but about this quality that's dormant inside of us and not really talked about in the arts scene. Otherworldly issues," he adds.

Artist Shahila Baharom, 34, says: "Artists struggle with the fact that faith and religion are very closely knit together."

But the artists say it is possible to pursue the meaning of spirituality beyond a religious context.

Nhawfal says that when he floated this theme with the group, "there was this slight tension that things will be misinterpreted".

Artist Fajrina Razak, 30, who kickstarted the show when she approached Nhawfal in May - "during the month of Ramadan", the latter recalls - nods in agreement.

Fajrina, Nhawfal and Dzaki Safaruan are members of the Malay art collective Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (Apad, Association of Artists of Various Resources), which is supporting the show.

Fajrina, who is also Apad's honorary secretary, had been thinking of a project for younger artists: "I wanted to do something different - more inclusive."


  • WHERE: Stamford Arts Centre, 155 Waterloo Street

    WHEN: Jan 11 to Feb 6, 11am to 7pm daily



Her work, Verses Of Form, is a cube, referencing the sacred Kaaba in Mecca, made with batik cloth inscribed with her thoughts about love and death.

She says: "The medium of batik, using wax that resists the dye... that idea of resistance on the fabric is something personal to me."

Addressing questions of faith and spirituality is a tricky task, but Nhawfal observes: "You need to take a step to lay it on the table - how do you perceive faith in the contemporary age? Through art, through something abstract, it is a neutral platform for us to execute this discourse."

His installation of a rectangular structure, titled Before Breath: Pneuma In Euclidean's Space, draws inspiration from Greek ideas about the spirit and geometry.

Pneuma is the Greek word for the act of breathing or, in a religious context, the spirit or soul.

The structure is an abstract version of his own body, as its dimensions are based on his height.

Photographer and poet Noor Iskandar draws inspiration from Sufi mystic poet Rumi and uses Islamic iconography in his own work.

The show's theme appeals to the 30-year-old. "I really like the idea. It's something that's often overlooked. Islamic spirituality is not really talked about. But I don't want to talk about religion. I want to talk about existence."

His mixed-media installation, titled And When It Settles, It Dies, will layer found objects that hold profound personal meaning for him in layers of sediment - an entombment of memories.

Shahila's work, Bersama Tadah Air, Bersama Makan Tanah (which translates literally as "Together, we hold water, together we eat earth"), continues her exploration of fractured histories and how people relate to their land.

She uses film soaked in seawater to shoot images of reclaimed land to explore "this idea of kinship, our kinship to sea and land. I've always been interested in geographical landscape and how it forms our identity".

There are many aspects of faith the artists hope to address in this show. Says Shahila: "Anxiety is very necessary when you talk about faith. Faith is not monolithic."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2019, with the headline Finding faith in the modern world. Subscribe