Malaysian master of fine arts student wins Oxford prize for ‘kain pelikat’ art

“Family archive (noon) II & III” now sits alongside Michelangelo, Georg Baselitz and Jenny Saville at the Ashmolean Museum, the museum of art and archeology at the University of Oxford. The artwork – oil and archival ink on photographic paper – by Master of Fine Art student Haffendi Anuar is the winner of the 2020 Vivien Leigh Prize. The subject? The humble “kain pelikat”, a traditional sarong worn by men from the Sultanate of Melaka, and its connection to issues of national, cultural and personal identity while living in Oxford.

It reflects Anuar’s motivations to move from the tropical shores of Malaysia to the UK, and a professional artistic career in academia. “I also wanted to develop a new body of work that is urgent for me and to realign in a certain way my values ​​as a practitioner of the art,” explains Anuar. We caught up with the multi-award winning student to learn more about his Master of Fine Art, his most memorable classes so far, and his plans for the future:

Why did you choose to pursue an MA in Fine Arts at Ruskin School of Art in UK?

I chose the Master of Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford because of the course which is known to be experimental and contextual. In addition, it values ​​research in artistic practice.

Slow Tropical Snails, 2017 – a mixed media sculpture by Haffendi Anuar in Singapore / Kuala Lumpur and AI Gallery London. Source: Haffendi Anuar

I was also drawn to the other departments of the university, such as social sciences and anthropology, as well as the incredible museums they have. I did my undergraduate studies in London at Saint-Martin Center, so I am familiar with the education system here in UK.

Do you think it would have made a difference if you had studied your Master of Fine Art at a local institution? If yes, why?

I guess it certainly would have been very different because the resources available in Oxford and in the libraries have helped me a lot in researching and shaping my thoughts around my work. The Oxford tutors are well known active practitioners so it was great to get their perspective on contemporary practice and art.

What has been your most memorable class so far and why?

The seminar sessions were great. The format of my Master of Fine Arts at Ruskin School of Art is that we have to share and present to the cohort a text, video, or whatever we will then discuss as a group. The discussions are interesting and fun. There were many tangent ideas that emerged during the discussions that required different perspectives to be considered.

View of the living installation ‘Machines for Modern’ at Battersea Power Station, by Haffendi Anuar, Battersea Power Station and Cass Sculpture Foundation. Source: Thierry Bal

How have your teachers supported you in your studies so far?

You are assigned a studio tutor who stays with you throughout the course. I had a great tutor. She was extremely attentive and critical with what I did, always pushing me to the best. I was encouraged a lot, but I was also told to slow down to seriously think about what I was doing. You also get guest tutors who are usually well-known artists in the field, who you can ask to see your work and ask them to give their feedback. It’s great that the program focuses less on average specificity and more on diverse perspectives looking at your work to help direct it.

Can you apply the theories you learned in lecture halls and classrooms to the real world?

The practical aspects of learning come from the various workshops available, from woodworking to engraving and taking photos of works of art. The application of the theories to our physical work was done in the studio.

The works created a “Project Space” (already installed) in which we discussed them during the critical sessions. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we never had a final exposure and therefore were unable to invite other people outside of the school to view the works.

View of the installation ‘head heap heat’, by Haffendi Anuar and the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Source: Weizhong Deng

What are your academic goals while doing your Master of Fine Art?

My main goal in pursuing the Master of Fine Art is to further develop my practice. In terms of research, I’m looking at the relationship between Malaysia and the UK, from colonial times to post-colonial times. IAdditionally, I wanted to engage in a critical art scene and open up new conversations with art practitioners here.

Do you plan to continue your education after completing your Masters of Fine Arts?

I have been considering getting a PhD in visual arts practice, but won’t be submitting applications until next year. During this time I am currently based in Oxford for another year and have recently opened a small art studio. I plan to work for an exhibition at the University of Oxford in May of next year.

Here is the winning entry from Anuar:



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Kayleen C. Rice

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