In a recent exhibition in 2005, Ahmad Zakii Anwar was quoted as saying "I return to these images because they are so symbolic...The Christ figure then there is the Rose, which is so powerful and symbolic in Sufism...and of course the face of the Buddha...there are such long and deep roots for these imagesthe perfect image and one that we should return to. It is an attempt at cutting through the crap and getting back to the essence of existence...that inner Truth that connects all diversity in life." (Ahmad Zakii Anwar in 'Primordial Dream: The Return to the Perfect Image', Primordial Dream, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore, 2005, exhibition catalogue, p. 1) On a superficial impression, it seems a bit odd for a Muslim artist to study and paint works of other religious icons. To Zakii, that may be a very limiting perspective especially since he is surrounded by the myriad of cultural and religious influences that is Southeast Asian.
His study of the Buddhist image is in fact hence a visual articulation of the issue of identity. He recounted, "The Buddha series is about man's search for his true identity behind the various masks he wears throughout the course of his life. Unraveling the intricate layers of man's nature ultimately leads to metaphysical examinations. The relationship between creator and creation forms the basis for this series of works." (Email correspondence with the artist, 3rd April 2005). The iconoclastic image does not matter as much as it serves to be the metaphor in addressing the existential existence. It returns the basics of the matter to that all defining moment of creation which encompassed all identities and translated it into a beautiful instance.
Zakii's deliberation on this subject thus takes on a spiritual introspection, leaving his composition in rich but muted and quiet earthy brown tones accompanied by vast spaciousness in the work to allow for moments to pause and think. The Buddha's face is placed subtly by the right side of the work so as to not overwhelm the viewer but instead prod the viewer gently to question a little more. The shadow on the extreme right of the work veils part of the face, injecting an air of mystery into the work and cradling just enough tension to manage the dramatics of Mantra.
This work then inspires the person to pull away the daily 'masks' and recognise the spiritual embodiment of the soul. Zakii's Mantra resonates with an expressiveness that engages the viewer both on a peaceful and intellectual level. It is precisely this visual intelligence that has garnered the artist his following.