Hafiiz Karim a.k.a. @thenextmostfamousartist on Instagram fame and mashing old with the new
Often enough, local art hardly hits a viral spiral. It's often understated and only rife amongst industry players and collectors. But for Hafiiz Karim, things got a little out of hand — from the moment he debuted his series titled 'Visitors of Singapore' on his Instagram @thenextmostfamousartist. The name's a cheeky riff off The Most Famous Artist, and also birthed as a reaction to the growing attention granted to the virality and popularity in the social media landscape.
"I wanted to create a persona that pokes fun at this drive for fame and success," quips the digital art director who works at an advertising agency. "My Instagram account has always been for my art. Ever since 2013, I've been posting my experimentations and my journey from sketches, watercolour paintings, glitch art mixed, mixed media, and now digital collages. Even though the mediums vary a lot, the essence of the work has always come from my own experiences. They just take on different forms at different stages of my life."
'Visitors of Singapore' marks a total of 100 works featuring classical figures imposed on the modern-day landscapes, more specifically in a Singapore context. Often, the juxtaposition is alarming and humourous. Like Karim's favourite piece — 'Monday Blues' — which features an exhausted woman of history knocked out on the backseat of our local bus. Truth be told, we can all relate.
"This style of of remixing art history with contemporary elements is nothing new. But when I was taking my master's degree, the thought of appropriating these classical figures into familiar situations that I've experienced so far in life, intrigued me. The series represents more than creating interesting and relatable art. It is the democratisation of creativity where the original works that used to hang on the grand and sacred walls of the gallery space for the elites are now breathing and taking on new life in the social media realm for the masses."
He also hopes to use this framework to explore multiple social issues like gender, sexual identity, consumerism, and national identity. Below, we chat more with the artist.
Tell us your journey and how you ended up doing what you're doing.
I did my Bachelor's degree in Communications and New Media. Then I started my internship in an advertising agency as a creative. After my internship, I decided to enrol on a Masters course in Asian Arts Histories while working as a Digital Art Director to pay my school fees. I graduated in August 2019 and continued working. And here we are now.
How has Instagram helped you with your craft?
Instagram has not only helped in the reach and visibility of my work. It has made me aware of the power of social media. In the age of social media, art has really changed the way people experience and share art. It influences the creation of my art. But I wouldn't say that I actively make art to make it relevant to the mainstream audience.
Most of our generation have been exposed to the language of social media, memes, and remix culture. TikTok, for example has contributed to the appreciation of creative spins on existing content. This is evident of my current body of work where I appropriate classical works and super-impose them into modern settings. However, as much as I am aware of the power of social media, my art-making process is very much about reflecting the times. And how it is received by the audience is quite unpredictable. Social media allows viewers to share and comment on the work and put their own perspective in it. This puts the power of narrativity into the hands of viewers, which breathes new life into the artwork.
Between your full-time job and this, are there any similarities or differences?
Even though the technique of photo manipulation is quite similar to some of the tasks I have to do in my full-time job, art and advertising are two very different worlds for me. I believe that art is about reflecting the times. It is created with the intention of conveying thoughts and ideas. Art has the power to unearth the truth in ourselves, the community we live in, as well as the world at large. While some advertising campaigns are works of art, their core intention is to mainly improve sales or any other KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) assigned to measure the success of a campaign.
Who are your favourite artists and why?
Tracey Emin was the first artist who really got me inspired to make art. I discovered confessional art from her works and it became an outlet for me to express myself. The way Tracey Emin is so unapologetic of her desires, fears, weaknesses, and traumas inspired me to be more honest with myself when I make my work.
I also really look up to artists that embrace new technologies to question cultural and social norms and the way we navigate in this digital era. For example, I really admire the way the House of Natural Fiber, a new media art collective based in Indonesia, utilises open source tools to erase the divide between technology and communities as an art form. Their collaborations with these communities raise awareness on how science and technology is applied to our everyday lives. Another artist whose work I find extremely interesting and current is Andhika Muksin. His art centers around reimagining and recreating Disney princesses, often in a humourous light, as regular girls living in modern times.
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