Zulkarnain Ismail. Augmented Reality
11 October 2019 — 16 February 2020
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Surrealistic photographic visions by the Malaysia-based digital artist who conquered the whole world with the power of his imagination


The first Russian show by the Malaysian artist Zulkarnain Ismail whose surrealistic photo manipulations earned him worldwide fame offers the viewers a glimpse into the contemporary art of Malaysia. Despite the rapid-fire pace at which the Asian art is advancing — so much so as to call forth speculations about the imminent relocation of the global cultural hubs eastwards — for the Russian viewer it still largely remains a terra incognita.

Strict regulations determining the development of art along the described lines, coupled with the peaceful coexistence of different religions, languages and cultures, created a unique environment in which Zulkarnain Ismail began his artistic journey. Although a casual viewer might fail to notice anything specifically Malaysian about his works, the artist’s incredible knack for creating unexpected juxtapositions probably stems from this highly heterogeneous and variegated national culture. The term ‘photo manipulations’ is used to describe the dreamlike collages melding apparently incongruous images. It is precisely their combination that tells the story: using graphic editors to stitch together various fragments of realistic photographs, the artist creates illusionary worlds. In this hypnagogic space a zebra’s body turns into a Slinky, while a surfer is pulled across the waves by a harnessed team of playful huskies.

The world imagined by Zulkarnain Ismail is full of magic lurking in ordinary things: the crisp white bed sheet carelessly tossed away in the morning becomes a coral reef swarming with fairy-tale fish sure to grant any wishes; a drawer barely accommodates a mountain range with its peaks piercing the clouds; and the icing on the cake is actually a rocky seashore.

Zulkarnain Ismail’s works may be described as collages, but his method is in fact exactly the opposite of this technique. While collage emphasises the unlikeness and discordance of its elements, here the artist tries to smooth out any ‘seams.’ Surprisingly enough, it is this seamless and impeccable quality of images that startles the viewers: not expecting to see anything unusual in a seemingly realistic picture, they fall into a mesmerising trap. The artist’s magnificent surreal fantasies enter our reality, augmenting it with true to life miracles.

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