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Thursday, 9 November 2017


Saturday, 28 October, 2017, Shah Alam, Selangor. 3 pm – 5.30 pm.

One of the key references for my current research is Sulaiman Esa, specifically his writings and his artworks.  I call him Pak Leman as a sign of respect and honour. I didn’t have the opportunity to be his student, formally. But I consider myself the student of his writings and artworks. I have written about his solo in my Jiwa Halus blog, where I touched a bit on my position in relation to Pak Leman. Those interested may google his name.

Few weeks ago, I went to see him at his house to ask him about eight quantum interpretations in key phrases. These interpretations can also be taken as a collection of descriptions and propositions on eight quantum phenomena. I was interested in acquiring how Pak Leman respond to these descriptions since I suspect they relate closely to how he had described and expressed his experience with Islamic visual tradition through his reading and practice.

It was supposed to be a partly structured partly open interview. Pak Leman responded with so much zest, energy and speed. He replied to my questions with his usual passionate responds. There were lots of body gestures too, and boundless energy.  I felt like talking to a thirty something guy. I saw few books on physics and art, perhaps indicating that Pak Leman was prepared for the interview. I recognized Capra’s “The Tao of Physics”.  Whilst trying to catch up and maintain the course of the topics discussed, I managed to take few notes. Please be informed that this is only a draft version. There might be few changes in this text later. 

Before I could start, Pak Leman mentioned Ismail Zain, my sifu and another key reference for my research. The research was inspired by Ismail Zain’s proposition on the use of Physics in reproaching tradition, instead of Anthropology and History. Ismail Zain uses the term ‘internal technology’ in describing what he refers to as ‘sacred primary experience’.

“Ismali Zain had already talked about metaphysic, on tradition and Divine Truth from heaven,” Pak Leman opened the session.

When I responded by suggesting that Ismail Zain was referring to a different notion of time and space, Pak Leman replied,

“Time-space concept is already there in the Quran. Refer to ayat Kursi for example, God never sleeps, never got tired, not bounded by time-space, the Creator of Time-space, what do these means in modern language?” he asked.

Pak Leman went on to several topics for a while before I could brief him about my research and the interview. I asked him about several descriptions of quantum phenomena, through key phrases and key quotes.

Here are several of Pak Leman’s key replies:

1. Witness-based or observer-centred reality.

“You look at arabesque for example. You can look at it individually from any point. That’s observer-dependent. Reality is based on you, the observer. In the Western concept of space and time, the observer is passive and subservient.”

Pak Leman then gave the following example:

“Now, there are many examples of contemporary works that involve observer participation, very participatory. You have to move from object to relationship, to touch and feel the space, to be a part of the space. You cannot be passive anymore. The observer becomes a part of meaning-making. Man is a meaning-making being.”

I was reminded of “Panopticon” (2011), Pak Leman’s installation that he created in collaboration with his son Fairuz Sulaiman. It was exhibited in his major solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery in 2011.

So how does observer-centered notion of reality relate to Islamic cosmology?

“In cosmology, you have to understand your relationship within yourself, with other creations, with the Universe and with God. You have to be aware of who and where you are in relation to others. You have to ask, what’s your essence. It is beyond physical, its metaphysical.”

I shared with Pak Leman a quote from Einstein and several quotes from other physicists on the illusive nature of what we have customarily assumed as physical reality. He replied,

“Take the idea of ‘maya’ for example, the Real is only One, the Giver of life, Nafas Ar-Rahman, the rest all maya, energy, vibration, sound. In Islam, reciting the Quran for example, sound is very central. In Hinduism, sound is also very central, the sound Omm for example. Its about vibration. Energy.“

Such paradigm may not be compatible with Classical-Newtonian paradigm. In this regards, Pak Leman offers the following,

“Modern philosophy is securalist, modernist, about enlightenment where God is out of the equation.”

Pak Leman then threw few mental jabs towards Fuad Arif, my friend, who was also presence to witness the interview. Pak Leman seemed to have few issues with Heidegger and phenomenology. Fuad managed to evade and swing back politely, with my support.

I went on to seek Pak Leman’s respond to two more quantum phrases.
   2. Multi-level and multi-dimensional Universes, &
3  3. Microcosm and macrocosm

I showed Pak Leman several quantum theories and diagrams related to the notions of multi-dimensional and multi-level universes. He responded,

“This has been explained by Ibnu Arabi, Nakula, the 7 levels, 7 stages of the soul, different ‘alam’, malakut,  and so on. There are higher and lower worlds, the inner and outer worlds, the seen and unseen, the manifested and the hidden. There are microcosm, macrocosm and metacosm. Metacosm is beyond microcosm and macrocosm. There are different levels of knowledge in articulating this.”

Fuad then asked whether the descriptions of such levels were literal, metaphorical or symbolical.

“This concept is difficult to articulate solely through language. Language may collapse to explain the higher dimension, language cannot reach it, and it is beyond logic too.”

“My work ‘Doa’ refers to this hierarchy where the central concept is the ontological relationship, direct connection with God, through ‘doa’ for example.”

I mentioned to Pak Leman another three key phrases related to Physicists’ description of quantum phenomena. The following are Pak Leman’s key replies that I managed to note.

4 4. Inter-connectivity and the Single Unified Field of Infinite Intelligence

“This is about the shift from object to relationship. We are not talking about object anymore, but how the object relates to other objects. Even in studio practice, we teach students not to just draw object, but to see the relationship, the dynamics, between one object with another.”

5. Complimentary pairing

“This is Ying and Yang, mystic spiral, centrifugal and centripetal, anti-clockwise, like the movement of pilgrimages around the Kaabah, the inward-outward motions, the wind as shown by the movement of dried leaves during windy days. You see it in Fibonacci sequence through natural objects like flowers, Daisy for example. It is the convergence of male and female principles. This is what we called ‘Khutbah tanpa kata’, (a sermon without words) signs.”
   6. Higher consciousness

“This relates to stages or ‘makam’, different levels of energy. This is what Ismail Zain refers to as ‘internal technology’. This is where art plays a role as a part of ‘pemulihan jiwa’ (healing of the soul).”  

I tried to squeeze two more key phrases, but by that time, Pak Leman’s was already way beyond the scope of my research. Knowing and respecting him, I let him flow in accordance to his own rhythm.  He went on talking about his friend Piyadasa, their friendship, about the role of academics with Phds in the midst of market-oriented contemporary art scene and his current archival project on his rare drawings.

After enjoying light refreshment, Dr Khatijah Sanusi (Pak Leman’s wife) took a group photo of Pak Leman, Fuad and I, in front of his house.  We represent three generations of seekers.  It was a short yet meaningful session for me. It was an honour too.

Fuad sent me back to Subang airport. At the airport, I saw few examples of what Pak Leman refers to as ‘Khutbah tanpa kata’. They were mappings or visualizations of quantum phenomena.  I inhaled  deeply and exhaled slowly, whilst  living and breathing the quantum of  Islamic visual tradition.

Thank you Pak Leman.

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