"Dancers prancing about the Puras and demons screaming in the moonlight. An image so haunting, it obsesses me. Like the sound of distant gamelan in the dead of night. It beckons, making the heart beat faster. This fascination with the beautiful and the grotesque. From young Legong dancers, their bodies bound in gold brocade, gracefully dancing their tale of love, revenge and death; to Rangda, that mother of all witches, who in an orgy of unimaginable terror, casts a spell on the kris dancers, forcing them to stab themselves. Only to be saved by the Barong, a mystical creature representing the powers of good.
The eternal struggle of good against evil. The supreme epic of life, manifested in the form of dance. It is no irony that after their epic battle, the Barong and Rangda masks are placed side by side in the temple. Good and evil. Yin and Yang. Call it what you will, but one cannot exist without the other.
Underneath all that grace and violence is an intoxicating spiritual undercurrent that is irresistible. The unity of mind and body driven by a spiritual force that at times allow the artist to transcend himself. On such rare occasions when inspiration overwhelms, the performance is unearthly, mesmerising. Like a series of orchestrated brushstrokes that make a painting. The dance floor likened to a canvas and the artist like the dancer, totally immersed in the act of painting. The painting, during the course of its creation, takes on a life of its own. The artist becoming merely a tool, assisting with its delivery and has no other choice but to create." (Ahmad Zakii Anwar in 'Dancers and Demons', Distant Gamelan, Art Focus Gallery, Singapore, 1998, exhibition catalogue, p. 7).
The above quotation is a passionate and poetic summary of the artist's experience of the traditional dance form which inspired the present lot Legong #7. Zakii's trip to Bali was instrumental in developing his visual vocabulary as well as fine tuning his artistic concepts. The juxtaposition of polarities in the myths, e.g. good versus bad, interests him as he is stirred to invest introspection into the philosophy, often then taking a spiritual perspective to many levels, including literally incorporating it into his art or managing it within his psyche whilst conceptualising, as seen in this case.
He was intensely attracted to the movement of the legong dancers coupled by the music of the accompanying gamelan, mounting this movement in the work successfully by creating a graceful and ethereal atmosphere that is at the same time charged with a respectful energy of awe. The swishes of the paintbrush are pulled along in wispy but quick succession to recreate this energy both by the dancer and the gamelan player, through whom you can almost hear to the countering calming sounds of the gamelan. More importantly, the viewer is led to comprehend and relate to Zakii's explanation in the above quotation of how he became so enraptured in creating the art that it almost felt like a trance. Zakii's dressing of the dancer in the golden hue set against a simple almost monochromatic background brings to the fore the protagonists in the work and cuts out unnecessary details from the spatial composition, leaving little of the work to be concerned by other distractions. His attention to detail on the main subjects hence allows insight into his technical mastery on the play of light and movement. Overall, the work is bathed in a luxuriant shine, highlighting the nuances in the work with careful translation, making it comprehensive and intoxicating to the viewer.