Enrolling at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) initiated Ahmad Fuad Osman into the city of Kuala Lumpur and the burgeoning debates of the time within Malaysia, when rapid modernisation and economic growth led to structural transformations of Malaysian society. The artist reflected upon this fundamental shift from the perspective of his own childhood. Having grown up in the rural areas of Baling, Kedah in the 1970s, he was able to recognise how feudal mores continued to resurface in nebulous ways within a cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur. Baling was a site for regular communist incursions from 1948–1989; it was also at his primary school that the communist Malayan National Liberation Army, the newly formed Malayan Government led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, and the British met in 1955 bring an end to the Malayan Emergency.
Challenging the public to consider their own relationships with general questions of belonging, foreignness and citizenship, the artist turned to Mat Jenin, the folk figure found across Malaysia, known for his distinct mix of high and low registers, mysticism and absurdity. In some sense the Malay world’s response to La Fontaine’s fables, Mat Jenin is often portrayed as a lazy farmer who daydreams himself to death. For Ahmad Fuad Osman, Mat Jenin’s work ethic is a form of philosophy and resistance: he sees in Mat Jenin a poet and a fool, a model of anti-modernism and anti-materialism, and the unfinished process of art and life itself.
Progress is merely a ruse for indenture. The artist speaks, “as Muslims we are not in this world for its worldly attachments, we are born only to find a way back. But sometimes we find ourselves caught in ideological flux. My move to urban Kuala Lumpur only heightened my awareness of these issues. Mat Jenin represents this conflict.”