The Mask We Wear is One

Solo Exhibition By Yusof Ghani

5 April - 5 May 2013

Internationally acclaimed Malaysian artist, Yusof Ghani presents a new body of work for his first exhibition in Singapore in over a deacde. Inspired by his exhaustive travels and investigations into ancient cultures, The Mask We Wear Is One is both documentation and social commentary. He constructs and deconstructs the masks using his own visual language of movement and colour, manipulating and distorting the image to the extreme. The masks are at once reminiscent of the past, allude to analogous iconographies, and reflect a contemporary world charged with emotion.

"...embedded in his visual language is a grammar that he abides to, which ensures meaning and sense are maintained. This, he does by using colour, lines and shapes in a balanced and center oriented composition... All grammar, however [tends] to limit, confine, [restrain] and inhibit. He resolves this dilemma by blurring the details and emphasising the essentials: eyes, nose, mouth and ears." (Dr Zakaria Ali, USM Penang)


Commentaries on Yusof’s pictorial world and thoughts point to an overwhelming consensus that he is an artist who is impelled by expressionist and, more dominantly, abstract expressionist aesthetic values and fervour. There appears… an undeviating insistence on attributes such as spontaneity, directness, immediacy, and even a disposition towards violence bordering on barbarity, as being formative in shaping the material and conceptual basis of his practice. The origins of these attributes are invariably traced to strategies employed by American Abstract Expressionist painters whose works were canonised as the new art, and marked the advent of the new tradition in New York in the years immediately after the Second World War.

In 1983 he became involved with a radical group of artists in Washington DC, who protested against American interference in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries. Civil war and intervention by America in Nicaragua and El Salvador triggered reactions in cities in the USA. Yusof was appalled by these overt political manoeuvres, and signalled his reactions by producing pictures for an exhibition with a number of artists registering their protest against American involvement.

Yusof returned home in 1984. Much had happened during his absence of five years. In 1982, the Malaysian government introduced its Islamization programme – the purpose was to inculcate Islamic values in various facets of life of the Malaysian Muslim / Malay… Although mindful of the profound consequences of these moves, Yusof did not find them conducive to or fertile for furthering his practice. He commenced his activity on his return by developing the conception of dance; it was to preoccupy him for eight years (1984-1992), leading to a sustained period of production of pictures which were collectively and serially titled Tari (Dance).

In 1992, Yusof began to develop the second of his pictorial themes, namely: Topeng (Mask). His interest in it was spurred by a visit to Sarawak in connection with an international art festival and workshop, which convened in 1991. Initial studies of the theme show literal translations of masks into images on the painted surfaces… Masks appear in conjunction with categorical change; they occur in a wide range of events, aspirations, ceremonies and rites, dealing with life and death. Masks have to do with appearances, the ambiguities and paradoxes of appearances. Of course Yusof is interested in the iconography of masks in so far as it pertains to the symbolic worlds of particular communities (the Kenyah and Keyan peoples of Serawak). He invests these masks with vivacity and dynamism, pointing to their power and potency. Yusof is also interested in masks as devices with which to deal with uncertainties and vagaries in human behaviour. We have, all of us, ambivalent forces working within each of us, which have to be tested out in social and ritualistic contexts. Appearances convey these transitions, and masks make appearances concrete and manifest. These are among some of the insights gained in viewing and reading Yusof’s pictures which thematise masks.

Both dance and masks are cultural conceptions, possessing histories as old as human beings and their civilisation. In dealing with them, Yusof has sought to contextualise them in contemporary spheres, and in relation to contemporary situations. By developing his interests, he has produced a body of work which is both consistent and distinctive.


  • Yusof Ghani