Kuching-based artist Amey Sheikh Ali has a style that’s unique to him, which comes coined with the epithet ‘the art of imperfection’ by Amey himself; a style inspired by the sci-fi/fantasy movies that are rife with glitches and repetition. Amey along with seven other popular artists (Datuk Lat, Cheeming Boey, Sabek) have been selected to be a part of Shell Malaysia’s Celebrating 125 Years – an art project that comprises celebratory murals at specific Shell stations around the country. Considering that Amey is a Sarawak native, he has been tasked with the murals representing East Malaysia. Among the chosen artists, his works have the most urban youth appeal with its bright slurry of colours and an inkling of edge that can be sensed even in the moral messages of unity, diversity, and tolerance. JUICE speaks to Amey about his commissioned murals for Shell and got to know him a bit better as an artist as well as a small insight into the Kuching graffiti scene.
Images Shell Malaysia
What were the challenges you faced when you were creating three murals for Shell’s Celebrating 125 Years – which the most among the many artists involved?
I had great fun working on this project. I was on a road trip with my best buddies, Dean.R and Dzulfiqkhar Ali, who assisted me in my first two murals. Travelling and painting, what more could I ask for? Shell is a renowned company, so I was a bit nervous when I took up that assignment. I wanted to give this my very best. A challenge that I faced was the unpredictable weather whilst I was creating the murals in Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, and Miri – it was sometimes sunny, sometimes gloomy.
Could you tell us how you were involved with the art project and the inspirations of each piece?
I was shortlisted by Shell based on my portfolio and style, which suited the theme they had in mind of inspiring Malaysians to continuously improve. Previously, I had produced few artworks that are related to Malaysia, which is why I think it was one of the reasons that I was selected. Honestly, I am not a storyteller and most of my works are straightforward. I included the positive messages and elements of unity, progress, moving forward, and togetherness in my work so that everyone can understand it.
“Honestly, I am not a storyteller and
most of my works are straightforward.”
“I am particularly fascinated by the
different facial expressions of women.”
How does it feel to have your murals up with a brand like Shell when your family has told you that you can’t ‘make it’ with art?
My parents have given me 200% of their support! Being able to work for a brand like Shell is something that I am really proud of.
How did it feel to see your sketches available at Shell stations, which are public spaces available for all walks of life to see?
I felt happy, very happy. I hope the positive messages of the murals can reach the public and that they can spread those messages to others. I also hope that my sketches can inspire the young ones to go out and do the things they love.
Your signature is colourful portraiture, why are you fascinated with faces?
I draw everything and anything that I can think of, from portraits to animals to shoes. I don’t limit myself to drawing only portraits; I love to learn and constantly challenge myself to try and do new things. I love to learn and challenge myself to doing something new. However, I am particularly fascinated by the different facial expressions of women. Facial expressions represent what they feel on the inside, unveiling thousands of hidden meanings behind their expressions.
You once said you incorporate your fear of sharp objects into your art. Why did you want to confront your fear in that way?
Incorporating my fear of sharp objects into my art is the process of finding my own identity. I’m not gonna go to a wall and simply tell myself that, “Okay, I’m gonna draw sharp shapes today.” Things around me can always be my inspiration. However, the reason that I’m confronting my fear of sharp objects is because I can actually play around with the various shapes and patterns without literally touching or putting my hands onto them.
A lot of your art has this look of glitches to it, and you’ve named Back to the Future and Tron as your inspirations. Does fantasy or sci-fi have a connection with your art?
I grew up with them and until now, these are still my favourite. I established that connection between these science fiction films and my works. My work is inspired by sci-fi elements, which I call ‘The Art of Imperfection’, which includes data glitches and data repetition.
Are you still based in Kuching? Have you considered moving to KL to pursue your art career?
I’m still based in Kuching. I have thought about moving to KL, however, I still want to remain focussed in the art scene in Kuching. I don’t mind commuting back and forth between Kuching and KL for work. Kuching is a great place to live in, so for now I want to stick here for the time being.
“… there is greater acceptance
of street art in Kuching.”
You’ve moved around Sarawak a lot – from Miri to Sibu and to Kuching – did it affect your art?
To be honest, it doesn’t affect my art. However, moving around has affected me in viewing the local art scene. I believe more young talents should go out and paint. There are a lot of talented people here in Sarawak, but they keep their talents hidden to themselves.
People seem to be more open with graffiti or street art as a form of beautifying urban spaces rather than seeing it as vandalism. Do you think this is different in East Malaysia than it is in Kuala Lumpur?
In Kuching, the public has started to accept graffiti, which to me, it’s a great thing. In my view, it’s much easier to paint graffiti in Kuching compared than to in KL. In KL, there are more rules and regulations to adhere by as compared to Kuching. The passers-by in Kuching have displayed positive signs of feedback to my work whilst I’m painting, most of them would give me thumbs up, which I take as a good sign.
What’s the best and worst part of being a street artist in Kuching?
Like I had mentioned just now, there is greater acceptance of street art in Kuching. However, the worst part is that the older generation still finds it difficult to accept that street art is a form of art as it doesn’t have value to them.
Amey Sheikh Ali’s murals for Shell’s Celebrating 125 Years are located at selected Shell stations in Sabah and Sarawak.
More information on the locations and the other murals can be found here.