Arts & Culture

Nur Khalisah: Making Order from Chaos in Art

Kaleidoscopic across all art mediums

Words by
b-side staff

Nur Khalisah Ahmad founded Kaleidoscope Studio in Brunei as a platform to promote local artists and creatives. But her association with Kaleidoscope goes beyond naming the studio. It also spills into many of the art pieces that she creates.

As a visual artist, she has worked across mediums, from digital drawing to acrylic to create mesmerising symmetrical patterns that draw you in, much like how a kaleidoscope does. Perhaps that is how the studio got its name.

Khalisah shares with B-Side how she draws inspiration from nature and spirituality and transforms them into elements of her art practice.

How would you describe your approach to art?

I’m pretty eclectic and many things feed into my pieces. I have a process, which involves a lot of reading and research, from sci-fi to mythology, poetry and other literary pieces. An interesting phrase, or an idea, will usually jump out at me and I’ll explore it.

Right now, in terms of subject matter, my interest lies with environmental issues, and exploring figure — figure is something I’ve rediscovered because I was previously producing more abstract works. What I try to achieve through my pieces is very much a reflection of my process, interests and influences: moody, ornate and organic with some trippy notes.

I like to create images that are evocative and speak of discovery and transformation.

What do you think shaped your approach over the years?

University was a big change for me, as that was when I started creating line-driven abstract work. But returning to Asia from London also changed how I approached art and what I was interested in. My work as a gallery assistant and graphic designer, and founding Kaleidoscope Studio also fed into my creative life. Right now, I am looking to explore curating more seriously.

While you also do figurative work, it seems like symmetrical kaleidoscopic patterns show up as a recurring motif quite a bit. Why are you drawn to creating such patterns?

My kaleidoscopic patterns started in university, where I explored spirituality and Islamic art. I was fascinated by the idea of a universal language and in creating meditative and mesmerising pieces. My first short series about this were large digital prints of dense organic patterns that I named Portals. It was meant to be contemplative, and also partly a Rorschach test. It was interesting to hear what people could see in my abstract creations; anything from animals to people!

Islamic art also has many symmetrical patterns and motifs. How does art and spirituality relate for you?

I’ve always been surrounded with Islamic art at home. My parents collect Islamic calligraphy and Persian carpets. I studied it at university and was interested in the symbolism behind it.

Islamic patterns have balance, connection and structure, but there are infinite possibilities in the basic geometry.

When I was creating more pattern works, what fascinated me was the idea of infinity and the idea of making order from chaos. I am not outwardly religious, but spirituality does interest me. I enjoy poetry, and Persian poet Farid Ud-din Attar, who wrote The Conference of the Birds, which is inspired by the Koran, is a great inspiration for me. I have a series that I am currently working on that explores ideas from that poem — the nature of knowledge, truth and self.

We realise you feature floral and fauna quite a bit as well. How does your environment or the surrounding natural life influence you?

I love nature and being outdoors, so my experiences definitely influence my work. Most of my figurative work right now is about raising awareness about environmental issues, which has led to my World Oceans Day illustrations and my ink works.

I’ve always enjoyed drawing natural and floral elements. The forms speak to me, and it’s a lot of fun to have that level of detail to work with. In university, there was more pressure to create conceptual pieces, but now that I am back in Brunei, floral and figurative works are more relatable, so I have adapted to my surroundings and I am exploring visual ideas that go back to my roots pre-uni.

Has your art evolved since the founding of Kaleidoscope Studios?

Being more active on social and environmental issues has led to my works being more relatable, emotive with the intention to communicate messages. Doing commissioned work and graphic design also affects me as some works are more specific.

Some of my earlier works could be seen as questions, while my current works are more like statements.

Running Kaleidoscope has also led to an interest in curating, so I am excited for future projects where I experiment with enhancing exhibits and creating experiences.

How would you like to see art influence culture in Brunei?

I advocate for positive change through art. My vision for Kaleidoscope Studio is to inspire creative communities that appreciate art — whether it is visual art, performance art or literary arts — and to be more socially and environmentally aware. I’m all about experimentation and exploration, and I think these are important qualities that people need: be brave enough to progress, be inquisitive and be creative in problem-solving.

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