What I Did Before (Towards the Teleng Series)
I considered Teleng Series (Teleng) as my first major serial of works. It consisted of about thirty wooden sculptures, a body of drawings and working sketches. It was started in late 1987 when I chose to stay in my hometown in Jerteh, Terengganu, working in my father’s studio, and ended when I moved back to Klang Valley, staying in Shah Alam in 1989.
In 1987, I was living in Ulu Klang with a few artists-friends in a studio-workshop. There were Riaz Ahmad, whom we affectionately called Nagesh, Suhaimi A Wahab or else known as Pak Lah and Young Jefferey. All of us studied together as Fine Art students in 1980’s ITM. Mad Anuar Ismail (Mad), a sculptor who studied in ITM and was also a member of Anak Alam, an art and cultural group of the 1970s/80s, somehow managed the place. There were also Nasir, a woodcarver, and Chek Mat, Mad’s brother who came to help.
I’ve known Mad in the early 1980s before I enrolled ITM. He was working as a designer at Bengkel Seni Hias, a woodcarving workshop organized by the then Kementerian Kebudayaan, Belia & Sukan (Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sports) to which my father was attached as a woodcarver. The workshop was at Jalan Tun Razak (before Jalan Pekeliling), Kuala Lumpur. Wan Musa Jusoh, who is versed in traditional Malay arts and who is also my uncle, supervised the workshop. The workshop was to provide woodcarving panels and objects for government buildings and as such. There were some twenty Indonesian woodcarvers working at the workshop. As a temporary and contractual establishment, the workshop eventually came to a close. Wan Musa Jusoh then left the ministry to set up business in making woodcarving and craft related projects. He named his company as CiptaKraft. My father took the family back to Jerteh. Mad followed Wan Musa Jusoh, making designs as well as his sculptures.
After my ITM studies, I joined them as an apprentice. At the time, they were operating in Taman Permata, Kuala Lumpur. It was during this time, I carved the ‘Triptych: Birth of Shapes’, which is now in the Balai Seni Lukis Negara Permanent Collection. Then Mad quitted CiptaKraft and decided to concentrate on his sculptures. With some arrangements he managed to get the studio-workshop in Ulu Klang and got me to get some interested friends to come and make art.
It was difficult. Nagesh, Pak Lah, Young Jeffery and myself were struggling to become artists. We took German Expressionism and American Abstract Expressionism as major reference; more or less, and never bother about selling our works. We felt that collectors just didn’t like our works and what more we were not of those artists who go into competitions and whatnots for recognitions. We just worked on what we preferred to.
I believed Mad was trying to motivate us to look into some kind of craft or souvenir products for our livelihood. He even coined a name for our group, Kumpulan Reka, to venture into such enterprise. But, alas, all the talks, discussions and dreams to have some kind of a craft production enterprise fell on stubborn artists ears. Mad himself happily chiseling away his wooden blocks, He was working on his calligraphy series then.
Soon we were left with no definite income. I just married Mastura and I couldn’t secure the part-time teaching job at ITM for the year. Nagesh just turned down an offer from the Balai Seni Lukis Negara to go abroad to study art conservation. He was determined to be an artist. He brought all his print blocks and started putting up his print workshop. Pak Lah was wondering to travel to Europe. Young Jeffery was busy sketching and drawing things. I was looking for my subject matter or theme to work on. I felt that working beside an established sculptor somehow made me anxious, what more Mad and myself have almost similar training that was in the traditional Malay arts and both of us were using wood as our main materials. I felt the urges to work in my own studio – without having to encounter Mad’s sculptures every morning whilst I was still struggling with my forms. I was trying to establish my own style. And Mastura… She was also determined to be an artist.
I came to the fact that I will be facing unnecessary hardships if I continue living in Ulu Klang at that time. I have a house back in Jerteh and I can make sculptures in my father’s studio. There were resources of wood and other materials at hands. And most important, I wanted to learn the finer points of Malay arts from my father, beside of course in Jerteh I need not to worry much about the living costs. I talked to Mastura, packed our things, settled other things with friends, and headed for Jerteh – to study and worked on a series of sculptures and drawings that was later to be known as the Teleng Series.