Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Elephant 13
Elephant 13

This geometric painting is one of seventy-eight painted panels that were arranged on the walls of Haffendi Anuar’s 2015 installation, Elephant Utopia. It comprises a series of geometrical shapes in blue, pink, crimson, and green tones which are combined and repeated onto a square grid. This grid consists of four distinct patterns that are each repeated four times horizontally across the composition. The painting appears to have been constructed from a base layer of stippled blue paint, which was then concealed in areas with strips of tape. The blank spaces were painted over to form the triangular shapes in each square, after which the tape was removed to reveal the base layer underneath, hence forming the painting’s blue intersecting grid lines. 

Anuar’s exploration of standard proportions and geometry first appeared in his first solo exhibition in 2013, entitled M13 at Richard Koh Fine Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur. In this prior series, a combination of paintings inspired by the Constructivist abstraction and object-based works were employed as indirect representations of Kuala Lumpur’s urban structures. His goal was to create an environment in which the visitor could simulate an alternative experience of the flâneur, who wanders a city without a predetermined goal or destination. The Elephant Utopia (2015) series was a continuation of this theme, this time organised along the gallery walls as modular panels in the shape of an abstract city skyline. Elephant Utopia built on the ideas of M13 by exploring not just the experience of walking through the city itself, but more specifically the forms that populate the city’s more deprived urban areas. The formal language of modernism (flatness and repetition), in combination with the geometries of Islamic art, were the artist’s principal entries into this landscape. Anuar believed they could verbalise the grill works veiling most doors and windows in the poorer neighbourhoods of Kuala Lumpur in which his studio was situated. Elephant 13 and its counterparts were the artist’s attempts to bridge the idea of modern progress with its reality of inequality, alluding to the facade of progress in the developing city through flashy symbols that are ultimately empty in meaning.

Oil and enamel paint on MDF board
80 x 80 x 3 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Haffendi Anuar
About Haffendi Anuar

Haffendi Anuar (b. 1985) initially studied at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, USA before completing his BFA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, UK. He also obtained an MFA at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. His current work focuses on ‘kain pelikat’, a plaid tubular ‘maleskirt’ sometimes worn domestically as an informal labour uniform in parts of the global South. Contextualised within his childhood memories, his research into the iconography of the garment encompasses family photos, archival photographs, Internet images and texts on Malaysia written by colonial writers researching the fabric’s origin, social utilisation, visual patterns and formal structure. From the materials gathered, he reimagines the fabric as ‘constructions’, drawing inspiration from man-made and animal-made architecture. His process combines collage, dyeing, painting, image transfer and sewing. 

Further Readings

  • Haffendi Anuar, “Info”, . Artist CV.

  • Haffendi Anuar: Elephant Utopia (Kuala Lumpur: Richard Koh Fine Art, 2015). Exhibition catalogue.

  • Haffendi Anuar: M13 (Kuala Lumpur: Richard Koh Fine Art, 2013). Exhibition catalogue.

Learning Section

  • How many squares can you see in the painting? How many triangles can you see in the painting? How do you think the artist created this design? Did he start with the squares or the triangles? Why not try to make a copy of this artwork to allow you to better understand the artist's process?

  • Why has the artist called this artwork Elephant 13? Does the title make you look at the artwork in a different way?

  • Maths and art are often seen as polar opposites but many artists and mathematicians explore the overlap between the two disciplines. Both art and maths explore patterns and look for connections. What patterns do you notice in this artwork? Expand this artwork by adding an extra column on the right and left side. Now add another row above and below. 

  • How has the artist used colour in this artwork? What colours has he chosen and why? How important is colour to the creation of patterns? Could you create a new pattern by adding colour in a different way?