In conversation with: Zul Mahmod and how an MA gives him the time to think

Zul Mahmod kneels by an artwork

MA Fine Arts student Zulkifle Mahmod, or Zul, as he is better known, is no stranger to seeing his practice evolve. Originally specialising in sculpture when he was pursuing his Diploma in Visual Studies at LASALLE, Zul expanded his practice to encompass sculpted sound and live sound performances, becoming a leading Singaporean sound-media artist.

In the 25 years since graduating from his diploma studies, Zul has racked up an impressive list of accolades. He has represented Singapore all over the world, including at the Ogaki Biennale in Japan, as well as at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, where he presented a sound sculpture at the Singapore Pavilion. His work has crossed over to theatre, for which he won a Straits Time Life! Theatre Award in 2010 for Best Sound Design. In 2016, he also had the distinction of receiving the inaugural Soichiro Fukutake Prize by Benesse Holding Inc for his Singapore Biennale 2016 commissioned artwork. 

We spoke to Zul about his decision to pursue an MA Fine Arts after 25 years as a practising artist, how LASALLE has changed in the intervening years and why he loves research.

Why choose to do an MA Fine Arts at this point in your career?

Despite being acknowledged as an established artist in Singapore’s contemporary art scene, it’s always been one of my personal goals to further my studies in my field by pursuing an MA in Fine Arts.

I have contributed to the arts scene for over 20 years, so I was determined to take the time now to fulfil this goal. I wanted to deepen my knowledge and have better insight into contemporary art and also sound art through in depth research, and better convey my work to audiences, speaking to society and the world around us. I believe that setting aside time for research will open up possibilities beyond what I already know and give me more innovative ways to approach my practice.

Plus, pursuing an MA also carries credibility amongst arts institutions and academies – it gives opportunities to support my practice with a professional position.

Posing with a work-in-progress image of his work for Singapore Inside Out: Tokyo in 2017. Image credit: SG Magazine.
Posing with a work-in-progress image of his work for Singapore Inside Out: Tokyo in 2017. Image credit: SG Magazine.

Why did you choose to come back to LASALLE for your MA studies? How has LASALLE changed in the 25 years since you were a student?

I really enjoyed the togetherness and spirit amongst students during my time as a Diploma student. It was like a family back then, where everyone knows each other from different faculties. These friendships have even lasted till now. It’s that familiarity, and also the reputation LASALLE has amongst the arts community in Singapore and internationally that made me choose to do my MA in LASALLE.

I will say that the feeling of togetherness has faded somewhat due to the expansion of the College and the new campus. But the same spirit and determination still remains.

The MA at LASALLE is research-based. How has the research process been so far, and have there been any new discoveries in your practice or new experimentations that you are working on?

The research process has been great so far. The programme gives me the time to read, explore and develop my ideas, and the best thing is that I’m always discovering new things – and these can lead to endless possibilities. 

Working in studios with classmates also leads to impromptu meetings and discussions that has also led to new discoveries. I’m excited to streamline these explorations going forward into Semester 2.

Zul working on his No Substance (Trunk) series, 2014/2019.
Zul working on his No Substance (Trunk) series, 2014/2019.

What have you enjoyed so far on the programme? 

I really enjoyed my weekly tutorials with my studio supervisor, Dr Ian Woo. He opens up the possibilities of my research and developing my work which really gets me excited.

What advice would you give to other artists considering an MA?

My advice would be just go for it and enjoy the process. You would be surprised by the possibilities.

Zul at FOST Gallery with his Resonance in frames series, 2018.
Zul at FOST Gallery with his Resonance in frames series, 2018.

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