Off Walls Off Pedestals

A Drawing Marathon in USM, Penang, 2009

Posted in With Friends by tsabri on February 26, 2010

…the artist group from KL. Friends, we are

We four artist are friends. We first met as fine art students at the then School of Art & Design, MARA Institute of Technology (ITM), Shah Alam, in the 1980s. Shukri, Suhaimi and myself were of the same batch. Zainal was a senior of ours. When we enrolled ITM in 1982, Zainal was already in his final year. In ITM, Shukri and myself took sculpture as our majors, though Shukri was more into painting since graduated. Suhaimi was a painting major, whilst Zainal was a printmaking major. Zainal is painting these days.

The artist group from KL? Yes, that’s how the 1st Malaysian International Drawing Marathon’s master of ceremony introduced us to the other participants…

What is a Marathon? A Drawing Marathon?

Suhaimi brought the news. Then we were talking about marathon, the USM Drawing Marathon, Pulau Pinang, nasi kandar, pasembor, roti canai, murtabak, ikan bakar, the colonial architecture, the charcoals, pencils, drawing boards, Associate Professor Fauzan Omar (Fauzan), and many other things including the Marathon’s entrance fee! Then we were laughing at the English Pheidippides (Pheidippides was the Greek soldier-messenger who ran the Marathon), the Japanese Pheidippides, the Javanese Pheidippides and many others including our own Malaysian stars, running around Georgetown with drawing boards hung to their necks, drawing the city, the Pearl of Orient – Sir Francis Light re-lands today!

The poster sat on the table. The Marathon is about drawing Pulau Pinang, in particular, Georgetown – remnants of the treacherous colonialism that were hastily made into some kind of a world’s heritage. What else to refer to when one looks into Pulau Pinang’s pasts? The poster. It brought the event as ‘the 1st Malaysian International Drawing Marathon’_

Fauzan Omar, Associate Professor

He was our best teacher, I would say. Suhaimi, Shukri and Zainal agreed. Suhaimi, Shukri and myself knew Fauzan sometime in 1985. Zainal knew him earlier. Yes, Fauzan was (and still is, of course!) the ‘cowboy’ who knew his herds and his guns well! He didn’t teach us to draw. He taught us to see instead. He didn’t teach us to become ‘drawers’. He taught us to become ‘cowboys’ – to rid off the fears, to confront whatever obstacles with wisdom, to become artists.

Fauzan would be overseeing the Marathon. Zainal mentioned that Fauzan was excited knowing that the four of us would be joining the Marathon.

The Drawing Marathon: An Academic Exercise? (1)

The Dean’s officiating speech gave aspirations on art and academic research, and the university’s (USM) roles in developing studies on the arts and culture in general. It’s just appropriate for the fine art practices to be assessed or reviewed through and within academic approaches. I heard Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris in Tanjong Malim is offering art studio courses for graduate students. I am also currently participating in developing a ‘research-creation’ culture in FCM, MMU. The idea was simply to cultivate research attitudes in the creation of art and other media forms.

I read the Marathon’s program simply as: the participating artists would go around Georgetown (… or elsewhere on the island, hmmm…), looking for things and/or matters of his or her interests, to be later worked out into drawings; the organizer, USM, would be documenting the whole process to be later made into a publication.

The Drawing Marathon: An Academic Exercise? (2)

Starting the Marathon in the closed studio (Dewan Perhiban) reminded us of our own ITM’s Drawing Studio back in the 1980s. Shukri would be drawing in the corner. His motorbike was even one of the props! Suhaimi would came sneaking around from his painting class. Bob Marley would be singing in someone’s cassette player. Indeed! Fauzan even put up the drawings of this ITM’s Drawing Studio for his presentation that Marathon’s morning.

From My Position 1

From My Position 2

From My Position 3

The setting or environment set up was a big distraction if I were to consider my first reading of the Marathon – that was to draw Pulau Pinang. (Though the Secretariat allowed participating artists to draw their own ‘subject-matters’, ‘themes’ or in one’s own style.)

Fauzan talked about approaches to drawing; interpreting space thus making up compositions; the use of drawing elements such as lines to justify positions of objects through illusions onto flat drawing surfaces; etceteras – all the while showing examples produced from that 1980’s ITM Drawing Studio.

Live models, wearing traditional Malaysian costumes were posed wherever possible in the setting. There were a few participants interested in figure and portrait drawings. The Drawing Pheidippideses were drawing the setting from where they were – standing upon big plywood boxes onto where the drawing papers were stuck. The setting was a bit ‘centered’ – creating some kind of an island in the middle of the studio. I found no views of ‘deep space’ to start drawing ‘academically’ from my position. There were plenty of ‘shallow space’ views. And a model wearing a Chinese cheongsam was staring at me.

Am I to draw Pulau Pinang, Georgetown? Or the setting with the model wondering how she would look like? A wayang kulit suddenly popped out from one of the potted-plant in the setting (What a wayang kulit is doing in this isle of boria?). But Shukri was happily drawing images of ‘as his pleases’.

… Georgetown. A Wet Afternoon

Yes. On the first afternoon, the participating artists were brought to the heritage area of Georgetown. But the weather was not permitting us to roam around, sketching or taking photographs. It was raining. Many ended sipping coffee in one Wah Bin Coffee Shop in Lebuh Armenian, and drawing portraits amongst themselves.

Georgetown 1

Georgetown 2

Georgetown 3

Georgetown 4

Sir Francis Light

Georgetown 4

When the rain turned into a drizzle, I walked the Lebuh Acheh. There he was, Sir Francis Light himself! Puffing away some aromatic tobacco from Sumatra, What’s he’s doing here on this wet afternoon? Two jewelers, Haji Othman Pillai and S. Abdul Kassim, were seen hurriedly walking towards Lebuh Armenian. Sir Francis Light then get on the awaiting black Jaguar. I traced the way back to Wah Bin Coffee Shop. Two homeless Indians suddenly stirred in their afternoon nap on the pavement near the coffee shop. Some were sketching, and I joined Suhaimi for a plate of mee goreng at the Lebuh Armenian’s junction.

The Drawing Marathon: An Academic Exercise? (3)

Drawing the setting was tiring _ what more to draw it all day, all night. I thought the organizers would be very cruel if they wanted us to draw the setting all the twenty-four hours. It would completely drain the adrenaline away. Observation drawings demand attention – concentration on whatever we chose to draw and whatever to ignore. I turned my attention to the wet afternoon when I saw Sir Francis Light at Lebuh Acheh.

I surfed Google Maps for the map of Lebuh Armenian from the MacBook that I brought to the Marathon. I looked at my photographs of Lebuh Chulia and the surroundings, the jewel stores, the homeless, lorries and go-downs along the Fish Lane, etceteras. I brought Lebuh Armenian to the Marathon studio. Zainal finally drew the Cathay Hotel of Leith Street in the Marathon Studio. Suhaimi drew the wayang kulit whilst Shukri sketched away his surrealistic figures.

The Drawing Marathon: Where is the Ball (or Majlis Tari Menari)?

Fauzan introduced us as naughty boys to the participating artists when we were his students _ but we were also his best students (at least that what’s he said). We were always the latecomers to the class. He, once, woke us up one morning to start class! (We were sleeping in the studio…) He caught us smoking behind the studio. And he praised our drawings!

The Marathon promised no fun. Somebody played classical in the audio system. The participants were drawing seriously _ trying to capture the setting. Soon as the audio system went dead, I plugged on the iTunes – playing music of our youth! What else – let’s rock the Marathon!

I walked the Dewan Perhiban_ the Marathon’s studio, circling the ‘island’ – looking at the fresh new lines, new tonal values and new stories happened on the participants’ drawing surfaces. What a concentration the participants had! I remembered Fauzan’s asking us to rest a while; walk around and see your friends’ drawings – the ghosts of the 1980’s ITM Drawing Studio came to the Marathon! They were joining the Majlis Tari Menari in the Dewan Perhiban…

Off the Drawing Marathon…

Mr. Jalil is one of Suhaimi’s friends in Penang, residing on the Penang’s Twin Towers apartment, overlooking the Penang Bridge and Butterworth on the mainland. He started to like appreciating art and is beginning to collect art. He even took up ‘learning to paint’ during his leisure. He was the one who took us around the foods in Georgetown. One night, with another friend, Haji Masri, they took us to have nasi kandar sometime after midnight.

Cikgu Saidon Ahmad is a friend of ours since the ITM days. On his way back home in Sungai Petani from a meeting in K Lumpur, he found us at the Cathay Hotel and brought us some duku and rambutan. Cikgu Saidon teaches art and loves music. He played us the nostalgic sixties and seventies on his new Honda.

Mr. Budin, Suhaimi’s cousin and a long-time friend of Shukri, also came to find us at the hotel, with a Chinese friend who looks like Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, a social activist who was before a known politician. We talked the night away at the Jalan Penang and Lebuh Chulia junction.

… the Marathon’s Finishing Line. You Are, I Am

Dot to dot. Another dot to another dot. The line goes on and on.


  1. Zainal wrote about this event in his blog
  2. Shukri wrote about this event in his blog as well as his collection of sketches


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