Live Animals Inside!
Azril Ismail

LIVE ANIMALS INSIDE! is how the photographer, Azril Ismail feels about and describes, his precious photographs. Similar to the signage one sees plastered on cargo/cages carrying live animals from one place to another, Azril sees his photographs as being very much ‘alive’ as they are so much a part of his life that they ‘co-exist’ within his life, and thus have to be handled/treated with care and love.

The works for this exhibition,reveal a side of Azril which reflects his morbid fascination with life, and is a photographic diary of Pudu Jail. The 50 photographs capture a side of Pudu jail that not many have seen. After spending two and a half months observing the (by then) vacated Pudu Jail, Azril noticed that the prisoners who had occupied the cells had left their mark in more ways than one. He realized that the more time he spent there,the more he could ‘feel’ the presence of the occupants of the cells, and connect to and understand them through their scratchings messages, writings and drawings on the walls of the prison cells. This series of photographs allows us an intimate glimpse into the minds of the prisoners and what they went through during their days spent in the prison .

Azril’s journey as a photographer has exposed him to all sorts of circumstances, from the spiritual and mystical, to the downright shocking aspects of life that we choose to ignore . Through his photographs he reveals to us his ‘research’ into the dark side of life, the helpless, the hopeless, the remorseful, the guilty, the shunned, the unseen. Azril Ismail’s photographs capture lives and places that once were, but will soon be forgotten, unless they are documented. What shines through in his poignant works is his ability to share with us the empathy which he felt towards the ‘creators’ of the artworks on the walls in Pudu Jail, their last ‘wills and testaments’ so to speak and to give them a ‘voice’ that would never have been heard otherwise.

A researcher at heart, Azril Ismail is a Malaysian photographer to watch for his inquisitive, layered works which probe, question, and document moments and lives, which we have all chosen to overlook or ignore. It is through photographers like Azril, who keep exploring ‘unseen’ areas of life, that allow us to carry on our lives knowing that whatever we are missing out on , or not seeing, is being ‘safely stored away’ in his photographs.

Azril Ismail, graduated in Photography and Media Studies from the Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio in 2001. On returning to Malaysia in 2002 he attained his Masters in Photography from Uitm.
He has held numerous group exhibitions in the United States and Malaysia.This will be his first solo exhibition.

Artist’s Statement
This series of photographs, “Live Animals Inside!” was initiated in line with a study that I had accomplished for my MA studies at UITM.
The Pudu Jail’s Graffiti, I hope, will become an avenue for further studies (both academically and artistically) in order for us to understand why these ‘artworks’ were created, as they reflect today’s calling for us to address the morale and social implications on society-however undesirable the subject matter may seem. During my exploration, I noticed on the walls of the cells, messages and markings which had been left behind by previous occupants. These were kept, so to speak, in the dark, in a world where their personal memories could only serve the occupants’ projected desires. I long-awaited the idea of documenting and analyzing this intense subject matter, as it gave me a sense of direction into my struggle to find the visual voice for my works. Not surprisingly, the whole project had a very powerful impact upon me from both an emotional and sympathetic point of view. Many of these images were sorted into numerous boxes of archival storage and stowed as unprinted negatives for many years. At that point in my life, I did not know the direction that I was headed, as my prints in the early stages, were far too scrambled and confusing for me to be able to make any sense out of them. I was constantly battling with the arrangements of my themes and subject matter, in trying to figure out whether to prioritize them autobiographically or chronologically. Over time these images began to “mature” for me, much like wine or a family album, and I am now able to re-understand them again, where time tells its worth. This has somehow created an avenue that reflects the process of observing images, where the illustrated texts began to take precedence, with the placement of the readers in place of the occupants of the prison. Though there was some urging caution that these images may somehow skewer the claim that they merely documented other people’s “artworks”, it is not without a doubt, that by looking at these images, that the feeling of intense eidetic pleasure derived from them would not be able to be felt, had they not been given their proper frame-of-reference. Most prisons, like the Pudu Jail, have always been looked down upon by society as places of violent men. Through my intervention of such a space, exploring and documenting the very real existence of these cellular spaces with my camera, the Pudu Jail almost seems like a sacred space. The graffiti in this ‘sacred’ space in the prison are rich, complex, and open for ‘spatial dialogues’ between the readers and the prison’s former occupants, as it is shared within a physically confined, enclosed space, which are dimensional and homogenous. The prison facility is designed to be a dead end, a place to house the ‘problems’ of society – a “soiled mirror” that reflects back onto itself. One could be nowhere; yet paradoxically anywhere in such confinement. As it functions as a temporary and transitional space, it lies between the point of departure and destination of the occupants’ memories. At the very heart of this portfolio, lies my hope for creative and cultural expression that should affect the deep and lasting yearn for social changes and understanding. Laws may be updated or revamped, capital punishment may be judged by selected few, but what is left at the end of the day are the markings of individuals, who believed in the possibility of their redemption.

LIVE ANIMALS INSIDE! features at Wei-ling Gallery 8 Jalan Scott, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, 50470, Malaysia from May 13th- June 2nd 2008.
The artist will be conducting a walking tour through his exhibition on Saturday17th May 2008. Seating is limited so please call 03-22601106 to reserve a place. Admission is free.