Who is left behind in our race for development? | Sunday Observer
Day dreamer you are:

Who is left behind in our race for development?

25 April, 2021

After many years of silence, Abdul Halik Azeez returned for his second solo exhibition with the Saskia Fernando Gallery and which concluded recently on a high note. Day dreamer you are is an outcome of a search of the erased histories and forgotten memories that hide under the paved surfaces of the built environment. Azeez highlighted in his exhibition the relevance of refusing to accept what is put before you, what towers in front of you and distracts you from the truth and instead choosing to investigate reality as you would search for patterns formed by clouds in the sky.

Day dreamer you are was composed of multimodal art pieces including photographs, moving images, drawings and handmade zines, promising an interactive and thought-provoking experience.

Abdul Halik Azeez’s art is inspired by his past as a citizen journalist and independent researcher especially in documenting the stories that go unwritten and unheard. Using social media to publish his work, Azeez ventured into photojournalism. In his first solo exhibition at the Saskia Fernando Gallery six years ago, Azeez explored the chaotic pace of change in contemporary Sri Lanka – drawing attention to the plight of minorities and the residents of overlooked and ignored slums.

‘Who is left behind in our race for development?’- this is the primary question that Azeez brought out in his latest exhibition titled Day dreamer you are, and this is an interview done with this talented young artist about his journey as an artist.

Abdul Halik Azeez

Q: The theme of Day dreamer you are was based on the erased histories and forgotten memories, as a result of uprising development. What is the story behind this theme? And how is this theme interrelated with your life?

A: In this work I am looking at the city and trying to understand the changes that have taken place within it after the terrorist conflict in the country. The dreams that people have for the future, the dream of a world class city, and all the new buildings and lifestyles that symbolise it. The visuals which are employed to build this dream saturate our environment while there is a fair bit of violence taking place in the background.

Q: You have been working as a photo-journalist for years and how has your professional career been influenced your artistic journey?

A; Yes. I worked as a journalist for a while and before that I was a very active blogger. I have always been interested in social issues and in ways in which I can contribute to them. And this has stayed with me as I began to explore photography and art. In fact, I think art gives me a lot more freedom to say the things I want to because it has the potential to speak beyond the boundaries of what we usually consider to be knowledge.

Q: Day dreamer you are is your second solo exhibition and you’ve had your debut solo in 2015- that was six years ago. What took you so long to come back to the gallery?

A: I think I needed to wait until I felt like I really wanted to say something through a solo exhibition. One reason that compelled me was to be able to display large prints in the expanded space the gallery has just opened. While my first show mostly had pictures from my phone, this show features pictures from a high res camera as well. While size doesn’t matter in most cases, the pictures I really wanted to show had lots of little details and textures that would only be visible in large format prints.

Q: The recent exhibition is composed of multi modal art pieces. What is/are your most comfortable mode/s of expression (material/s) and why?

A: I think photography is still my most comfortable medium because it is so instinctive and comes so naturally to me. Writing is also a medium I feel very comfortable with because I have been doing it for so long and it is often the only way for me to think. I like making publications that combine both writing and images as well as other material. You can see some of them in Day dreamer you are’. I have also been experimenting with video a lot lately and I am hoping that this will become an important medium for me in the future.

Q: Please describe your creative process

If I am interested in something I try to surround myself with it. Look at it, read about it and think about it. Then I will slowly start thinking about what it might look like if I were to make something about it. And then take it from there. Usually if there is enough time and interest something will happen. It all depends on how curious you are and how many burning questions you have about your subject.

Q: What is your muse?

The world around me, literally everything that catches my interest. Lately, I have been obsessed with woodworking videos on youtube and tik tok.

Q: Do you try to convey a message through every art piece you create?

A: Not necessarily. I don’t think art needs to have a message. It just needs to be interesting enough for a viewer to piece together a message from it.

Q: Is your artwork always based on contemporary themes?

A: I think all contemporary themes are also big questions that have been around for a long time. So, at the same time ‘yes’ and ‘no’ I guess.

Q: Which artists and genres do you admire the most and why?

I really like Hito Steyer’s work because of the sheer extent to which she is capable of playing with different mediums to produce cryptic, fascinating observations of the world we live in. I work with a collective called The Packet (@the_packet on instagram)_ and they, together with members of the larger community we work in, are an amazing group of artists and friends who inspire and motivate me every day.