Carved out of wood and occasionally adorned with shells, animal bones and human hair, the strange and fantastical masks from Borneo are usually used by native tribes as ceremonial items or to fend off evil spirits from homes. They are also widely traded in the global artifact market. Browsing the multiple masks on Etsy and eBay, scrolling over Dayak, Iban and other tribal disguises, Haffendi Anuar noticed that these objects are being advertised from around the globe for sale. Either their authenticity is questionable as there are plenty of them available online or that these artifacts have traveled halfway around the world from their birth place to be put up again for sale; their abundance and their dissemination is almost like a natural process of selection, similar to the propagation of seeds by wind or birds in the jungle, they are scattered around the globe again and again.
What the artist finds so alluring is this ease of movement of the objects and the translation of native cultural artifacts into currency. Haffendi contemplates this movement of so-called cultural relics echoes the movement of people traversing geographical and through political barriers and highlights the basic human need for mobility and the constant search for a better life.
Haffendi’s present body of work examines how culture in the region where he is currently based has become commoditized in the forms of souvenirs, decorative objects, images and icons and the fluidity of these exchanges enhanced by the Internet. The wall-mounted pieces appear like flatten masks that have filtered through cyberspace, rendered in neon and metallic colors with gradations of vivid hues that echo the computer screen. The works are also an extension from the artist’s interest in developing a body of object-based paintings that borrow the aesthetics of geometric abstraction and native tribal art. The painted free-standing wooden sculptures also on display are composed of combined found and purchased decorative wooden sculptures, sold usually for the tourist trade and are mass-produced by local craftsmen in factories. Contrasting against the hard-edged geometric designs of the masks, the sculptures’ smooth and sinuous forms are created from excessive sanding. They exist between the realms of figuration and abstraction, displaying how meaning and values shift when physical modifications are made to existing objects.