Artist Hamir Soib’s Art Is All About Painting Big Things In Small Frames – The Star

Hamir Soib is putting his large paintings aside and embarking on his first small works exhibit.

By Revathi Murugappan (
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Visual artist Hamir Soib, renowned for his super-sized art, ‘scales down’ for his latest exhibition.

THE name Hamir Soib is well known in the art circle for the sheer scale of his paintings.

It may overwhelm, fill a whole wall and more.

“My paintings have been large because that’s what museums and corporate institutions want but these don’t interest the private collectors. I didn’t mind because it brought in money but now I want to tap into another crowd,” says Hamir in a recent interview at his modest art studio in Kuang, Selangor.

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A flashback shot of Hamir at work at his studio (Gudang) in Kuang, Selangor in 2010. In comparison to his previous massive works, the art featured in Small Works is modest in scale.

It’s a peaceful setting with no electricity or water. For his work schedule, Hamir, 48, disciplines himself to work between sunrise and sunset, so that he can see colours in its original form.

“I’ve always been painting for others and that’s not fair to me. I’ve decided to liberate myself without needing to seek permission from others. This way I hope to gain more friends and new collectors. Now people cannot say my paintings are only for the elitists!” he adds.

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The Berapa Cukup Kah Cukup? mixed media work is Hamir stating that nothing is ever enough for humans, including himself.

The intellectualism behind his creative practice, coupled with the rarity of his monolithic works, has often resulted in a portfolio of ground-breaking paintings that are a firm favourite with critics and collectors of contemporary Malaysian art.

Last year, his massive painting, Al-Fatihah, was sold for a whopping half a million ringgit to a local collector, making it one of the most expensive works sold locally. Measuring 4.8m x 2.13m, it took him a year to complete.

“When I painted that, something stirred in me and it was as if I found myself. I wanted to start anew. Whenever I have something to say, I have to express it in my medium of choice,” he explains.

Hamir’s observation of people and situations is quickly put on canvas, most of the time, humorously or with a touch of sarcasm and cynicism. He has a penchant for visual commentaries on social and political issues, which he feels, must be conveyed to the masses.

The former UiTM graduate began his career making abstract paintings but turned to the figurative as he enjoys the narrative aspects it offered.

In a career spanning almost 25 years, Hamir is currently presenting his fourth solo exhibit, but the first “small works” show.

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Hamir’s Lalat – When It (f)lies, People Listen (mixed media).

Using different mediums and comprising over 100 pieces produced between 2005 and 2017, it is possibly the most number of small paintings by a single artist to be exhibited in the country.

The show, aptly called Small Works, is on at Segaris Art Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“Some of these works are on loan from close friends and colleagues while the rest are a mix of new works and early pieces which I’ve never shown before,” he says.

Although the paintings were mostly random thoughts, observations, feelings and private jokes, a handful were earlier ideas that were later developed for his large seminal works.

He has categorised his works according to series. The cheapest and smallest in the series (it measures 5cm by 5cm) is a collection entitled Klinik Dr Hamir, where he has drawn a concoction of seven pills frequently used by society.

“We have become a pill-popping nation for various illnesses including headaches, mental ailments, joint ache, etc. The pill may be small but the issue is big and can be blown out of proportion. This is also my unrealised dream of becoming a doctor!” he says.

Each work is neatly “dispensed” in a plastic medicine package.

Another in his series is the .MyCollection, which comprises a series of luxury bags.


Hamir’s .MyCollection series (from Small Works) is a commentary on modern society’s obsession with class and status.

“Whenever I hold exhibitions, it is always the men who ask questions but their wives keep quiet although they carry a branded bag in their hands. I wanted to break this ice so I researched about these bags and started having conversations with these women. I also painted luxury bags so women would take a keener interest in the work and converse with me,” shares Hamir.

Aha, but, due to society’s obsession with class and status, he is showing both the original and counterfeit goods. He has painted the “original” bags while his assistants have painted the “fakes”, which of course, sell for half the price!

Hamir’s amusing takes on things permeate through his works.

His Ikan collection features a series of fish because “I find them such expressive creatures”.

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Hamir is fascinated with fish because he finds them expressive.

Probably the most personal of the exhibits is the Siri Hospital (2017).

He recently spent a few months back in his Muar, Johor, hometown nursing his late mother.

His seven siblings would take turns to watch over their mother in hospital and when it came to Hamir’s turn, he would cart his art materials along. To pass the time, he drew random things that came to mind as well as objects inside the hospital room.

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Siri Hospital is a result of Hamir’s time spent in the hospital watching his mother’s health deteriorate.

“Perhaps the suffering and impending passing of someone dear made me think of my own mortality and suddenly, I felt an urgent but long overdue need to address a number of pressing issues that continue to plague the local art scene,” he says pensively.

“After my mother’s passing, I’m feeding off her energy and want to reflect that I’m not untouchable. I look at myself as a misfit among the elitists. That’s another reason why I’m starting from zero and putting large paintings aside. My parents always came to see all my shows and now there will be a big void.”

In Lain-Lain, the viewers get to see a lot of different stories, a number of which are political satire.

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The jeep, which transports Hamir’s works, is part of the Lain-Lain series.

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For Hamir, a painful episode at the dentist led to these paintings.

For all his contemporary looking, sardonic subject matters, one can be sure that there is always a simple but profound Malay adage with a moral behind his visual metaphors.

“We’ve all got issues daily and I want my works to challenge people to think,” he mentions with a knowing grin.

Isn’t he worried that by scaling down, he may not generate enough revenue?

“Not at all, I’m doing this for personal satisfaction. No one can dictate the choice of my subject matters. Money is not everything, though it is true that we always want more. Kecil ke, besar ke, itu aku punya pasal lah (big or small, it’s my own concern)!” concludes an animated Hamir.