gallery of selected works 2000 - present


what goes on in the background...

TWIST: solo exhibition at weiling gallery, malaysia 25/6 - 10/7/2008

my fifteen minutes of people wanting me to autograph stuff

opening night pictures on 25th june, 2008 (photography by bobpop)

linear twist, wall series, corten steel 4x4 feet

linear twist series (detail)

twist, free standing series, mild steel 2x1x1 feet

published in the exhibition catalogue for Multhalib Musa’s second solo exhibition after three years, ‘Twist’ features at Wei-Ling Gallery, 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, 50470, Malaysia from 23rd June -10th July 2008.


catalogue text by Gina Fairley

Long have Abdul Multhalib Musa’s sculptures been described as having a correlation with contemporary architecture: Frank Gehry’s sculptural buildings, Santiago Calatrava’s aperture technology or deconstructivist designs of Zaha Hadid, for example, are separated only by their scale not form. Similarly, Musa’s work fits within a lineage of sculptors who pursue that point between balance and flight, where the precise distribution of weight spatially activates a sculpture. One only has to picture the elegant needle works of American George Rickey and Richard Serra’s standing steel curtains to understand that a mathematical equation can articulate a form and imbue it with an energy that is undeniably felt by its audience. While this list of luminaries sits as good company for Musa’s work it does little, however, in describing his cohesive evolution of forms that arrives at his latest body of work titled “Twist”.

Constructed from flat propeller-like units made up of 2, 3 and 4 fins, Musa’s “Twist” sculptures stand totem-like up to 600mm tall animating the gallery space. The relationship of the individual elements is deeply gestural; each set slightly ajar and stacked along a vertical axis in a random rotary action. What has increasing emerged is a sense of hand in the sculptures of Multhalib Musa, that is, evidence of the artistic process moving beyond the machine-cut and computer specifications.

While the physicality of these sculptures is not complicated, it is deeply considered. They are acutely aware of international abstraction, the phenomenology of geometry, computer design pedagogy and mathematical equations found within nature, such as a shell’s spiral or physics of a wave. The resulting “Twist” sculptures are a composite of differing frames of thought – scientific, ethereal, organic - moving from an analytical investigation to one that calls upon artistic intervention.

Overcoming the steel’s density, the viewer doesn’t feel weighted by their scale of “Twist”, allowing a greater connection with the work. It is an intimate spatial engagement, a human response that perhaps connects with the aforementioned semangat (spirit) that Musa describes as “existing between imagination and reality”. One could argue this has always existed at the core of his work simply through process - lifting a computer-designed form into 3-dimensional or real space. It is best illustrated in his “Involute” series (2005) where a laser-cut pattern is scored into sheet metal and, when lifted out of its 2-dimensional plane, pops into suspended animation. With “Twist” it is more intuitive.

Apart from this inherent ‘action’, what links Musa’s “Involutes” and “Twist” sculptures is the same drawn line. The “Involutes” are held together by a spinal axis, an s-shaped line locked within their circular form. It reoccurs as the double-sided fin, first used in a group of works titled “Biring” (2007) in a joint exhibition with Yusof Ghani. While both series use the foundation of a linear axis, the “Involutes” maintain a clean, continuous edge to define its exterior form. A “Twist” acts in the reverse. Its edge is jagged as a toothed-saw or sea urchin, at once compelling in its beauty yet toned with danger. It is this dichotomy - Yin Yang - that creates their tension and their strength. The simple flat fin suddenly becomes charged on repetition and, like Ghani’s paintings, its gesture is evocative.

It is another move away from the computer, which anchored the past work, towards compositional improvisation. This spontaneous placement of the “Twist” units could be said to parallel the arrangements of minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich where repetition is used to create a hypnotic or transcendental state. Similarly, the avant-guard compositions of John Cage, who came to the idea of ‘chance-controlled music’ in the 1950s, uses the I Ching, an ancient text on change, as the standard tool for cutting up and rearranging recordings. Musa’s new twisted derivatives use the same construct of the re/assembled standard unit, imbuing a non-precious metal with lyrical energy.

Several works in this exhibition push this dynamic to its extreme, encroaching unbalance. By locating the axis asymmetrically, Musa forces the fins to find a new equilibrium within the form. They become resolved within their own space and motion. This control is visually traced along the sculpture through its welds, emphasising its corkscrew musicality as an aesthetic element. The play, or lightness of the “Twist” is captured in their convex and concave rhythms, scooping up and refracting the light along the length of the form. One wants to move around these sculptures. They are solid without being bulky, bursting with flight spiraling vertically, countering gravity and entering the metaphysical.

While Multhalib Musa’s “Twist” sculptures may use the perfection of machine-fabrication and sameness, he liberates the object with the vibrancy of weathered patinas and organic placement. Their finished compilations mine new depths in Musa’s oeuvre and push his intervention with the sculptural form into an exciting future.


‘Twist’ by Multhalib Musa, features new pieces which are an extension of a series he created in response to a suite of paintings by Yusof Ghani entitled, ‘Biring’. Just as Yusof Ghani has drawn reference to the swirl of energy, drama and dynamism present during a cockfight, Multhalib’s ‘Twist’ works similarly echo this mood.

read some reviews in the Malaysian media:


the star

Beijing Olympic Park City, China.

the bird's nest main olympic stadium in the rear. July 2008. Photography by Gracely Luyan, Beijing Olympic Council Committee.
the aquatic center a.k.a. bubble building in the rear. July 2008. Photography by Gracely Luyan, Beijing Olympic Council Committee.
the bird's nest main olympic stadium in the rear. July 2008. Photography by Gracely Luyan, Beijing Olympic Council Committee.

newly installed, may 2008. Photography by Michael Suh, Beijing Olympic Council Committee.

newly installed on site, may 2008. Photography by Michael Suh, Beijing Olympic Council Committee.

Fabrication done at Yi Dong Yuan Sculpture Manufacture Center, Beijing, China in 2007

Fabrication done at Yi Dong Yuan Sculpture Manufacture Center, Beijing, China in 2007 - sculpture progress inspection

Fabrication done at Yi Dong Yuan Sculpture Manufacture Center, Beijing, China in 2007 - paintjob complete
process in making the maquette 2005

process in making the maquette 2005

process in making the maquette 2005

process in making the maquette 2005

finished maquette 2005 - set-up for photography submission

finished maquette 2005 - set-up for photography submission - lighting study

finished maquette 2005 - set-up for photography submission - lighting study

finished maquette 2005 - set-up for photography submission - top view

maquette exhibition 2006, over 200 maquettes being judged to be selected for full scale reproduction

standing nervously next to my maquette in the exhibition 2006, over 200 maquettes from all over the world being judged to be selected for full scale reproduction. in the back, american artist Bernard Hosey.

in a public art conference in Beijing, 2006.

2007 second trip to supervise sculpture fabrication and discuss location of the sculpture in the interpretation center next to the bird nest stadium.

“Technology is bringing the world closer together, and yet our understanding and acceptance towards each other are far greater than ever before. We need to diminish these invisible barriers, in order to assimilate two opposing views, and bring unity to the world.”
- artist statement for Two Sides, 2005 -

Project Summary
Year: 2005 - 2008
Medium: Painted Corten Steel
Dimension: 1.8 (w) x 2.5 (h) x 5 (l) meters
Location: Beijing Olympic Park City, Beijing, China

This sculpture was constructed in Beijing for the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympic. The sculpture entitled ‘Two Sides’ illustrates the need for everyone to break barriers, in order to unite our opposing views. The first round of selection was open to the international public which started in the end of 2005, where the competition received over 2700 valid entries from 41 countries and regions. 700 sculptures were later selected to go through the second round of selection in 2006.

The maquette (above) was selected through to the second round, and one of a hundred or so sculptures selected for full scale reproduction to be placed around the new Beijing Olympic City. At this stage, the sculpture was awarded the ‘Merit Award’ by the China Beijing Olympic Park City Sculpture Design Competition & Exhibition Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. Fabrication was done at Yi Dong Yuan Sculpture Manufacture Center, Beijing, China in 2007. Upon completion in early November 2007, the final built sculptures will be in the final round to be judged. The sculpture was fully installed on-site in May 2008.

This international competition was organized by The China and International Olympic committee, to select and install sculptures throughout the 2008 Beijing Olympic Park. As the selection was on an individual basis and not on a quota basis according to countries, nor has it been filtered or recommended by any governing local bodies, I feel even more honoured to be selected for such a prestigious event.

The following are details about my participation in the Olympic sculpture contest:

Beijing Olympic Art Dream - 2008 Beijing International City Sculpture Exhibition is a comprehensive art activity sponsored by Beijing Municipal Government. It aims at promoting the development of public art in accordance with the idea of “Green Olympics, Technology-empowered Olympics and Culture-enriched Olympics” and the 2008 Olympic theme of “One World, One Dream”. The major events include Beijing International Sculpture Invitation Exhibition, Beijing City Space Sculpture Exhibition, and Seminar on “Beijing Olympic Art Dream.”


related links in the Sunday Star newspaper.

world sculpture news magazine interview by gina fairley, 2005

Published in World Sculpture News (Hong Kong), Vol. 11, Number 3 – Summer Issue, September 2005, pp. 34-37.


In a culture that turns away from an identification with the object, Malaysian sculptor Abdul Multhalib Musa draws on architectural models, Islamic decoration and international abstraction, in defining a personal style that oscillates between an eastern and western aesthetic.
By Gina Fairley

Large-scale contemporary sculpture, by its nature, is universal. Its fabrication, materiality, relationship to human scale, and physicality in the environment, place it more within the vernacular of architecture. Malaysia presents an interesting case for discussion. An Islamic state, it is almost entirely void of public sculpture, or a history, by ‘western understanding’, of sculpture within its culture. The city today is a skyline of cement and glass cathedrals to the wonders of architecture. One could propose architecture equals contemporary Malaysian sculpture.

It is not unusual then that Malaysia’s most interesting young sculptor trained as an architect. Abdul Multhalib Musa (b. 1976) emerges from this complex cultural environment with a visual language that speaks to the international abstraction of George Rickey, Naum Gabo and Harry Bertoia, and pays homage to the sculptural forms of Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava and the deconstructivist designs of Zaha Hadid. Yet it is also acutely aware of Islamic geometry, calligraphic form and the mathematical equations of nature. The slick forms of Musa’s sculptures - from analytical, to skeletal, to centrifugal - celebrate the precision of geometry and technology.

Metal, a material synonymous with industrial development and ‘the new world’, is used by sculptors everywhere and allows contemporary expression through new techniques such as laser, plasma and water cutting. Musa finds in metal the precision of architectural design and a direct transition from his computer to the 3-dimensional object. Yet, his metal sculptures also embrace the randomness of an organic form; the chance play of surface and the anomalies that arise in fabrication – like clay thrown on a potters wheel – the random is accountable physics. What has developed is a personal style that is a classic marriage of Art + Architecture. The two cannot be divided in Musa’s work.

Architecture + Art

Studying architecture in Australia in the mid 1990s, Musa returned to Kuala Lumpur in 1998, a city rapidly shaped during the 1980s and 1990s by a tsunami of development and the fervour for nationalism. (1.) His is a deeply conscious oscillation between these two places; an aesthetic emerging from a zone benign of borders.

Architecture writer, Sabiha Foster comments, “Architecture addresses our metaphysical, philosophical and cultural identities within a material context ... An evaluation of architecture must essentially be an evaluation of ourselves. And an evaluation of ourselves demands that we situate ourselves within the evolving meanings of our histories and traditions.” (2.)

Musa has taken the self-referential verbiage that is the tenant of contemporary architecture and translated it into a sculptural dialogue. His sculptural forms give a physical presence to the phenomenology of geometry, neutralising cultural associations and placing them somewhere between eastern and western art and architecture. He has taken design pedagogy and instilled back into it a sense of the hand - the artistic process - converging Musa the architect and Muse the sculptor. The resulting sculptures take on the vernacular of international abstraction.

International Abstraction Parallels Islamic Geometry

This brings me to the conundrum that is the contemporary sculpture of Abdul Multhalib Musa. Technology has allowed us to embrace a ‘global’ style. Yet considerations such as feng shui in Asian culture; religious constraints in the Islamic world; the eroding nature of consumerism in the developing world, and a retro-modernism sweeping across contemporary design, are mindful cultural markers that an artist must overlay - an extra set of parameters that define the work. Musa is astutely aware of such cultural codes living in the tri-cultural nation Malaysia, where ‘protocols’ are so entrenched in the fabric of thought that a non-offensive neutrality permeates everything.

“The demands of globalisation have formalised my work. It lacks identity, but only because it is developed extensively through technology … and technology is universal.” (3.) “… For me ideas, especially ideas that have no direct reference to culture or history, are universal and lack a sense of place.” (4.)

Musa challenges these ideas in his sculptures, attempting to draw a parallel equation of International = Modern = Islamic = Asian, rendering them neutral - existing in none, and each, simultaneously. If we look at Musa’s sculptures from 2001 through 2003, and his commission for the Westin Hotel “The Better Half”, 2003, he presents a bold confrontation of these cultural protocols through their sharp linear points and open skeletal forms. In a society where the practice of feng shui is a keen player in the commercial gallery arena it was a decisive move by a young artist. Sadly, the Westin piece was eventually removed for ‘feng shui reasons’, and Musa’s recent series “Swirls” leaves little room for such irreverent considerations. However, I must say these early works have a definition to them that is exciting.

The early forms are constructed through the repetition of ‘fabricated’ individual lines. Each line permitted to float in space; the shadows binary to completing the work. “Faltered Wings”, 2003, is a delightful piece that captures Musa’s sensitivities to form, caught between something organic, skeletal, machine fabricated, sci-fi, or even living – its shadows breathing life into the work as you move around it. His ability to animate technology, to transform a static weighty material such as steel into an object full of light and movement demonstrates an intuitive understanding of the material and his adroit skills as a designer and artist. Just as a child is overwhelmed by imposing dinosaur skeletons in the natural history museum, Musa’s metal sculptures have a presence that invites us to unleash fantasy.

Similarly, animation can be approached from a spiritual consideration. A correlation can be drawn between Islamic teachings, geometry expressed as decoration, and simple mathematical equations that explain natural forms. Musa’s work moves coherently across both vernaculars, on a sub-conscious and conscious level, as he explains, “… a simple formula is able to explain the orbit of planets, the arrangement of sunflower seeds, the formation of seashells, the ordering of colors in the rainbow … all of these events can be considered as random, but there is an ordering, a system that gives an explanation how they came about, and how they can be ‘reproduced’. In a way I am looking into a ‘formula’ to produce a certain type of work.” (5.)

Take Musa’s series, “Khat Islamic Calligraphy”, 2003, as a case in point. How dissimilar really are these works to his “Swirls” and “Faltered Wings”, 2003? Calligraphy replaced by line? Each line in Islamic calligraphy is a careful mathematic calculation, just as the centrifugal spiral of Musa’s “Swirls” follow a formula. These sculptures have many layers informing them, and it is this depth that gives them an inherent presence, a ‘sublime’ quality.

Bridget Riley was quoted as saying, in reference to her ‘optical’ paintings, that she draws from nature in her work … that nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of natural forces. (6.) There is a connection between Musa’s sculptures and Riley’s dizzying pictures. The vibration or shimmer in such works, just as the rarking in Australian Aboriginal barks, points to a spirituality or a closeness to the fundamentals of our biology. Riley refers to it as the forces of nature or the ‘sublime’. Now, what happens when the realistic representation of nature is replaced by an abstraction that embraces natural forces – in Riley’s case shimmer and in Musa’s repetition and the purity of formula? Does this allow art to transcend the abstract to embody a deeper sublime force? Could then international abstraction parallel Islamic decoration at this level? Are the two so different?

And for the atheists amongst us, maybe the consideration remains. Could not the shimmer in Musa’s optical sculptures be a celebration of technology at its apparent pinnacle? The computer allows infinite repetition, drawn lines, and laser-cut elements that create visual aberrations through perfection. Disorder through order?

Organic Order: Technological Entropy?

Musa positions entropy within the work: “While computer aided designs [are] good for repetition … the form is only virtual and lacks the inherent property of the finished material to create a spatial-temporal relationship between viewer and the work … I see them as a schematic trapped in the midst of their production”. (7.)

Identity enters back into the sculpture through the hand. Musa’s most recent series, “Swirls”, 2005, embraces a marriage of controlled fabrication and spontaneity in the finishing process. These works resonate with the polish and weight of technology. Their concentric compositions embody the perfection of a machine aesthetic. Yet the seemingly random placement of the layers and variegated rusting surfaces, have the vibrancy of an organic object. They are random. They are ordered. Viewing them, one is sent eddying off in an unbalanced spiral. Is Musa trying to animate physics or expose, through variation and repetition, a mathematical process?

Musa explains, “It’s a controlled animation of the intellectual process that appears random due to the infinite variants … like the formation of clouds. Some computers today can anticipate cloud forms … this intrigues me how someone can program this sort of complex algorithm … and ‘recreate’ such a seemingly random event. Perhaps I want my work, like nature, to look random but you can almost tell that there is a certain ordering to it.” (8.)

In the end it is intuition and nature that has the upper hand in determining the final work. A spiral may be repositioned, a hard curve softened, a line sharpened, or a work left an extra day to oxidise. It is the spontaneous that is controlled, the accidental that is harnessed and the mistakes that bring life and lead the work in new directions.

Musa’s “Involute” series is a direct result how chance has increasingly shaped order within his sculptures. Developed from the centrifugal series, Musa picked up a freshly cut marquette to move it and the form split, sending it in to an animated dance within space. Order becomes disorder and a new direction is taken.

The computer is a 2-dimensional tool, like drawing on paper, it can ‘appear’ 3-dimensional, but remains in flat space. In the “Involute” series, Musa animates the formula by twisting it: the 2-dimensional moves into the 3-dimensional spatial realm. Using his understanding of architectural construction properties, Musa is able to visualize the suspended sculptures from the flat formula. The “Involute” pieces, in fabrication, become alive through their suspended movement. The works take on a random spatial dialogue.

Palpability and Spatial dialogue

Musa’s sculptures activate the neutral space of the gallery. Their sharp spines, such as those of “Faltered Wings”, 2003, intrude aggressively into the viewer’s space, yet remain resolved within their own form, in their own space. Similarly, Musa’s wall pieces from the “Entwined” series, 2004, engage the environment by using the voids of the sculpture to speak with the gallery wall – the physical palpability of their shadows as weighty as the steel structures themselves.

“Intertwined”, 2004, playfully engages the viewer. As you move along the piece and across the pregnant swell of its belly, the positive and negative lines create a rhythmic play of light. There is a kind of metronomic insistence to move back and forward along the piece in a tempo of engagement, curiosity and visual stimulation. The repetitious steel lines are aggregates that, like notes on a sheet of music, are a careful calculation of balance, rhythm, light, movement. This same form - a kind of tectonic swell that causes this steel armature to rise up and out of the gallery wall - Musa has constructed as large-scale public works in Oita, Japan, 2002 and at ‘Sculpture by the Sea’, Sydney, Australia, 2003. Interestingly, as this form comes off the wall and into the environment, the voids work in a different way; the wind moving through them and along the piece create a spontaneous sound element.

Just as sound is considered, but random, so too is the way Musa addresses surface in his sculptures. It is not the primary consideration for him, which is surprising given their tactile quality. Material and surface are intrinsically linked. Musa feels, “…for me the finishing is just superficial – it doesn’t effect the form of the work … there’s a lot room for me to tolerate if the surface is altered, whether it’s affected by the weather and surrounding atmosphere … for me the form is more important … the strength is in the actual design … It’s like whether you paint a building you’ve designed blue or yellow - it is just a paint job – it is not the actual building …” (9.)

These elements – rhythm, spatial engagement and surface – are sculptural considerations. They illustrate the move in Musa’s work from design to the object.

Return of the Object: A Balanced Equation

So in the end the architect returns to the object. His sculptures are domestic scaled architectural modules. “The primary consideration in the work is design, form and composition. The other considerations are its scale, proportion, structural stability, relationship to the viewer, especially for works that have an optical illusion, and opportunity for shadow effect.” (10.)

Is this the voice of an architect or a sculptor? Musa’s working process is one of an architect. His creative process, and the resulting work, is one emerging from a sculptural consideration. These works are from the studio of a sensitive and intuitive artist. They are more than just considered calculations or architectural folly.

When asked whether he saw his sculptures sitting within a language of architecture or within contemporary Malaysian art, Musa answered with a laugh: “I shall consider myself as an unemployed visionary doing sculptural work in an architectural manner,” but on a more serious note, “It is my intention to highlight in my work some of the issues related to space and temporality, the integration of technology and inspiration, truth and illusion affecting everything that we perceive as tangible or implied, in a complex relationship between art and architecture.” (11.)

Abdul Multhalib Musa’s work successfully moves between design, art, complex cultural environments and international style. His work has been exhibited in Japan, Sweden, Singapore, Spain, Indonesia, China and Australia. It exists within an international framework. This framework allows his sculptures to float without being tethered to rigid ‘definitions’. The sculptures become a balanced equation. As Musa concludes, “… sometimes the mathematical is too accurate”. (12.)


1. Abdul Multhalib Musa was awarded a Bachelor Degree in Design Studies, University of Adelaide, Australia (1996-1998) and a Bachelor of Architecture (Honours), MARA University of Technology, Shah Alam, Malaysia (1999-2000)
2. Sabiha Foster; “Multiplicity in Unity”, in Islam + Architecture Issue of Architectural Design, Vol. 74 No. 6, (London), Nov/Dec 2004, pg 5.
3. Interview with Yvonne Tan, Asian Art Newspaper, Issue: 0404, 2004
4. Interview with Gina Fairley and Tony Twigg recorded at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia, 13 June 2005. Multhalib’s exhibition “Swirls” was on show at the Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur, at the time of recording.
5. ibid.
6. Bridget Riley quoted in Art Monthly Australia, # 178, April 2005 from “Working with Nature”, Robert Kudielka’s (ed.), published 1973, “The Mind’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writing 1965 – 1999”, pg 116.
7. Interview with Gina Fairley recorded at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia, 13 June 2005.
8. ibid.
9. ibid.
10. ibid.
11. Abdul Multahlib Musa; exhibition catalogue, Rimbun Dahan, Kuala Lumpur, (Malaysia), March 2002
12. Interview with Gina Fairley recorded at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia, 13 June 2005.


about swirls

Published in the ‘swirls’ exhibition pamphlet, held at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. May 2005.

This series of works entitled 'swirls' underscores the basic notion of geometry by generating complex configuration and spatial derivations from the mere circle. Furthermore, the tenets of Euclidean geometry are examined by looking at the relationship of plane (two-dimensional) and solid (three-dimensional) geometry. This fundamental geometrical shape, which exists both in the natural and built environment, is highlighted and the more complex geometrical hierarchy originating from circles such as curves, spirals and spheres are brought to the viewer's attention.

Although intuition was a fundamental approach at the inception stage, the outcome of the finished work evokes a certain abstinence from the spontaneous expression more commonly associated with conventional artistic works. Perhaps this series of work have a clearer correlation to creating unusual visual effects, and its intrusion to the normal physiology and psychology of human sight.

Nevertheless, the overall creative process was based on an amalgamation of intuitive and scientific related stratagems, whereby a systematic approach of how certain shapes and forms can be further developed from an existing body of work. This is parallel to conventional mathematical principle whereby for something to be true it must be possible to prove it from other known existing or accepted truths. As a result, chains of geometric theorems or proofs were constructed, beginning with a few assumptions, hypothesis and/or axioms. This methodology is apparent where mathematics is an integral component in areas such as physics, economics, biology, and to a certain extent, art. Hence, the idea of developing an artwork, from an existing body of work, is analogous to this creative process.

Another aspect of formalizing the current body of work is to incorporate the manner in which these works are described. As evident, each field of knowledge has a certain language which is structured to cater towards conveying specific subject-matter. This is in order to be better understood and thus forming a certain kind of standard framework.

Hence, it is intriguing to develop a personal structural language to describe these works in mathematical terms. The paradox of the implied spiral that is presented in this series can be narrated in the following problem posed: what is the path of an object starting off from any point on a circle when it is dragged along by a string of shortened length being pulled in a constant velocity? This mathematical paradox conveys the work in a certain 'language', informing the shape for which they dictate. Therefore, it is another medium of how a work can be conceived and thus created.

In retrospect, it is crucial to relate the creative process to a certain mathematical doctrine because the works are scientifically oriented. Such a need was even more compelling after the end result was produced, when the composition gave rise to some obscure geometrical form. It is this illusionary quality that eventually became the driving force, pushing these works beyond the seemingly limited nature of the circles.

In conclusion, Octavio Paz's comment on Duchamp's work will reflect on the salient aspect of this exhibition: Since a three-dimensional object casts a two-dimensional shadow, we should be able to imagine the unknown four-dimensional object whose shadow we are. I for my part am fascinated by the search for a one-dimensional object that casts no shadow at all.

SUBTEXT 1, with images of 2D wall sculpture - centrifugal series (above)

This series of work denotes the physical limitation of a single plane mode of thinking in creating a three-dimensional spatial quality. Hence, the third dimension only exists as an intangible form, while the physical construct was accomplished on a two-dimensional, single plane geometry. In reality, the works are all comprised of exactly the same concentric circles or rings with varying radius. The only single determining factor that resulted in the three-dimensional optical illusion was how these ‘rings’ were arranged.

SUBTEXT 2, with images of 3D mobile sculptures - involute series (above)

Mathematical theorems, building upon an established and accepted ‘assumptions’ reflect how these series of works were conceived. As a result, physical intervention on the plane geometry has a direct effect on the solid geometry, or multi-plane geometry. Thus, another spatial quality is formed as it is being literally pushed into the third dimension and hence, the formation of a swirling effect. These works are also comprised of the same circles or rings, but the determining factor here is the axis of rotation.

SUBTEXT 3, refer 3D computer rendering images - involute study series (above)

It is intriguing to note that this series of virtual studies for the involute series of works were only able to be developed after studying how the physical sculpture is constructed. Without the physical model, it is almost impossible for the mind to envisage this spatial configuration even with the aid of a 3D computer program. Therefore, the involute series must first exist in the real world before the mind can comprehend, and thus re-interpret its composition or coordinates in the virtual space. The virtual realm provides another fascinating counterpoint in that this space functions on a system of three-dimensional axis, and yet its output is commonly represented in a two-dimensional space (monitors, screen and prints).


from the off the edge magazine: 2005
art: review: cosmic

Vortexes of steel whirl in and out of square frames; reminders of the hurricane, shell formations, tunnels, striped doughnuts, gently reverberating ripples, yin-yang forms.
Draw closer, and you realise that all the above are as flat as the square frames within which they dwell (each no more than 10cm thick), and that the deceptive spirals are shaped from thin sheets of steel, precisely cut and layered one on top of the other. These sculptures, placed at floor level along the walls and columns of the Australian High Commission’s gallery, form part of Abdul Multhalib Musa’s solo exhibition, Swirls, which is in turn part of his centrifugal series.

Multhalib was the recipient of the Australian High Commission Visual Arts Resident Award last year, and Swirls, which considers the geometrical and spatial configuration of the circle from both an artistic and architectural viewpoint, was developed during the artist’s four-month residency at Gunnery Studios in Sydney.

Best known for his fine finishing and sleek forms in laser-cut steel, Multhalib’s architectural training informs his synthesis of art and science. It begins with an idea, an instinctive urge, which is then distilled using logic and calculation. In person, Multhalib will tell you that he is not a conventional sculptor, in that he does not “toil and sweat blood over his sculpture”. His works are designed on computer, and their construction is done with a team of builders.

“I assume the role of the supervisor, give them instructions with ongoing consultation from engineers,” he tells us. Planning the construction of each form is key. The artist, again: “The planning process is important in the realisation of an idea as practical approaches are required. Just like in architecture which stresses the importance of ease of construction, and that means using the right materials, minimal wastage and using the right tools for the job.”
While the treatment of the visible surface has been repeated in previous bodies of work, the contrast between that rusty weathered look and fresh sheets of steel in this instance, as dark versus light, enhances the illusion of depth in the centrifugal series. This optical tricksy recalls Bridget Riley’s work while the attention to geometrical progression points in the general direction of Sol Le Witt.

Inevitably, the sleek finishing, the silence, the abstinence from expression and emotion in Multhalib’s work will conjure references of Sixties Minimalism. But it should also be allowed to stand on it’s own. Multhalib admits that his work lacks any sense of identity, the result of the artist’s reliance on technology in developing his work – the same technology employed around the world.
But while technology can flatten a sense of identity, the associative access in Swirls that is normally withheld in Minimalist vocabulary transports us to wherever the eye and mind dictate. Symbolically, the circle represents fertility, eternity and harmony. Cherished as the cosmic shape of perfection during the Renaissance, it is perhaps the most natural and common geometric form in the universe. It is the shape of the earth we inhabit, our sun and moon. Just as we see them so imaginatively manifested in nature (on ammonites and shells, as water ripples and droplets, and microscopic units of life), these images all come to life as we look at Multhalib’s spirals.

A series of mobiles, Involute, made out of concentric bands of steel are particularly engaging to the eye. The ribbons of steel spin out from their individual axes at different angles; they appear so light, seemingly suspended in mid-air, belying their actual weight. The work moves as the eye moves, producing new associations at every turn. You could be looking at a shell-like form at first, then a scientific illustration of sorts, next, describing the flow of magnetic waves perhaps, or the earth’s orbit.
Those acquainted with Multhalib’s earlier works may think Swirls lacks the intensity or dramatic impact of his earlier works from his Rimbun Dahan debut, or first solo at Gallerie Taksu, but this show nonetheless set out to fulfil its aim. As Multhalib’s artist statement goes: “[It] is this illusionary [sic] quality that eventually became the driving force, pushing these works beyond the seemingly limited nature of the circles.” The reward is in the looking, and allowing different images to linger and take you places.

Menacing Forms

kakiseni interview by Adeline Ooi

Walking into the side entrance of the new Westin Hotel down at Jalan Bukit Bintang, you will find yourself intimidated – and attracted – by what appears to be a large and ancient torture device perched onto the wall. Black, mettalic, and organic, with a centre that spreads out in slinky waves and mutant millipede legs ready to embrace you in your death throes, it is likely to make you confess to everything in no time. Such is the product of Abdul Multhalib Musa’s imagination.

For an artist who has been practising professionally for only three years, Abdul Multhalib Musa’s track record is impressive if a little incredible. Notwithstanding a flourishing career that has been swiftly burgeoning since his debut at Rimbun Dahan Resident Artist Exhibition in 2002, Multhalib stands as one of Malaysia’s most promising young artists.

Besides Kuala Lumpur, Multhalib has also been invited to international shows in Australia, Japan, Singapore, Spain and Sweden among others. The 28-year-old artist had received the 2nd Prize Award of Excellence at '6th Oita Asian Sculpture Exhibition & Open Competition in Japan. Then, in 2002, our own National Art Gallery presented him with the Juror’s Award at the Young Contemporaries Awards Exhibition. And come the middle of June this year, Abdul Multhalib Musa will be traveling to Sydney – the Australian High Commission Residency Award 2004 has selected him as Resident Artist at Gunnery Studios, Sydney.

What sets this architect-turned-sculptor apart from other sculptors is his predilection for precision, contrasts and technological advances. His works reveal the artist’s combined architectural training, innate artistic sensibilities and style. The physical qualities of his choice materials – usually steel and wood – are stretched and challenged through unusual finishing, sleek laser-cut shapes, impeccable joints and striking designs synthesised from nature (for instance palm fronds, anatomical structures and cells) and conceptual drawings. Besides The Westin, you can also see his sculpture at the Putrajaya Convention Centre; both were commissioned works.

While his works are dramatic, sophisticated and at times, menacing, the sculptor himself is in person one of the most introverted (yet endearing) artists I’ve come across – he confesses to have problems “articulating my thoughts verbally and coherently” although the interview below will reveal the contrary. Only after many persuasive rounds of emails, begging and phone calls, did I manage to convince our “bashful” and extremely busy artist – currently engaged with a solo exhibition preview in Taksu Singapore and preparations for Sydney – to come out for a quick chat. This is what he had to say:

Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Yes, I’ve been drawing since I was in kindergarten – that’s when I took part in my first art competition in Penang. Still have the winning work actually…

How has your architectural training informed your practice as a sculptor and tell us more about your process?
Most of the time I would say I am an idea-driven person – rarely medium driven; more for process…

My training in architecture has allowed me to approach the sculptural process slightly differently than that of a conventional sculptor who would toil and put his/her blood and sweat into building the actual sculpture. I give priority to how I construct my work in shaping its final form. Ease of construction is important from an architectural point of view since this means better use of materials, minimisation of waste, structural soundness, faster construction period.

In that sense, it is important to keep up with technology – something which I think many sculptors tend to overlook. New tools and advances are constantly invented and updated to realise better results. Why waste time and effort if they are affordable and available to do the job better?

Given my architectural approach, there is the question of my identity as a “real sculptor” since I do not make the works myself, except for woodworks. Planning is a key aspect in my approach.

I design and plan my work in advance and assume the role of supervisor. I provide instructions to my team of builders – using laser or water to shape and cut the steel – and have ongoing consultations with engineers to come up with proper and practical solutions to various design/construction problems. This is particularly important when it comes to big outdoor works. The actual fabrication process will be more feasible and practical while maintaining the desired result.

Nothing is more fulfilling than to have a work that comes out as you planned. Eventually, what’s important throughout the fabrication process is that the integrity and essence of the original idea is sustained and followed through till the end.

Do you tend to get involved with one material with a tendency to exclude others?
Yes, now that I think I’ve found my niche. ie. Steel, but wood, I love working with wood and its finishing more than steel, but it takes too damn long to do, and I can’t sustain the momentum nor do I have the patience. Manja gileee… lagi susah dari nak jaga hati perempuan.

Why do you think there are so few young Malaysian sculptors today?
I’m not really sure but perhaps it has to do with cost being a major deterrent – but again, this depends on what kind of sculptures you are making though… In general, prices of materials and machinery are high and young artists may not have the financial resources to make their art, let alone to experiment on new ideas and medium. For instance if you are working with metal, wood or marble, you will need a decent machinery, tools, space, manpower and transport to help you move things around as you can’t do everything alone. Of course, you can always downsize, make sketch models instead of the real thing, but that would be like telling a painter to make studies all the time.

From Rimbun Dahan and now to Gunnery Studios, this coming June, tell us more about your views and experiences of artist residencies. Do you think they have helped tremendously in your ‘formative’ years?
Rimbun Dahan Residency Program was a timely and fortunate event. It allowed the opportunity for me to further develop an interest, and new possibilities – to find that common ground in bridging the highly technical aspect prevalent in architectural works and the seemingly abstract representation of form more commonly associated to art.

Believe it or not, making art is much more challenging than designing a high rise building. The difficulty of art-making lies in the highly personal nature of the project and it is therefore more difficult to realise. There’s no limit to what you can do and there’s no one around to report to or check up on your progress or tell you what to do. You are left to your own devices.

What do you hope to achieve in Gunnery Studios?
I hope to have a break from my current norm/routine. Break the monotony, in daily life and in my work. Not to have any anticipation is the best way to go, no expectation. And the Gunnery residency has no outline of what you have to do – which sounds good to me.

Do you think there should be more programmes as such for our local artists?
Of course I do! I believe that non-conventional/non-institutionalised approach in creating art and design can work for everyone – even established artists – just to be in a different mode of thinking and mind set for a certain period of time. With financial constraints in mind, young artists are always in search of space and resources. More residency programmes – and they may not necessarily fund the artists’ expenses entirely – part funding will also be a huge relief. Not only will you have less to worry about and more time to make works, the interaction with other artists within the same building or ground is always conducive.


Multhalib can be regarded as one of Malaysia's younger leading contemporary sculptors. He has become known for his 'fluid metal sculptures' which seem to have been effortlessly carved out of metal. The contradiction of transforming a hard material into a supple, pliable form, demonstrates his interest in the manipulation of the medium. This in part stems from his educational background - an architect by training. He pursued his Bachelor's Degree in Design Studies from the University of Adelaide in Australia, thereafter obtaining his Bachelor of Architecture from MARA University of Technology in 2000. He has been granted numerous international awards and residencies in recognition of the work that he has done. In 2001 he was selected for the Rimbun Dahan Residency in Malaysia, and the following year was presented with the Award of Excellence at the 6th Oita Asian Sculpture Open Competition in Japan. He was the recipient of the Australian High Commission Residency in 2004, and was commissioned through an international competition by the Beijing Olympic Park City Sculpture Project 2008 to create a major outdoor sculpture for the Beijing Olympics, China. In 2008 he was selected for the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit held in Tokyo, Japan. Recently his work was selected for the Ordos 11th Asia Arts Festival, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, and another outdoor work for the Urumqi International Urban Sculpture Symposium held in Xinjiang, China.

Here you can find stuff about his works, thought process, and what goes on in the background...

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what goes on in the background...


gallery of selected works 2000 - present
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