Off Walls Off Pedestals

A Series of Sketches on Books: Continuing The Further Education of An Artist

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 17, 2010

As elsewhere mentioned, I was a graduate student in mid 1990s at the DMU/UiTM Postgraduate Center. I enrolled as a part-time student as I was then teaching Visual Studies at the LimKokWing Institute of Creative Technology, Kuala Lumpur. The family was then living in Taman Sri Andalas, Klang, and I have to commute to Kuala Lumpur almost every working day of the week by KTM Komuter or the Klang – KL Express. I attended the graduate classes on Saturdays.

Reading and finishing the assignments then became things of concern for me. I was also beginning to feel free from the burdens of ‘modern sculptural forms’, and as also mentioned, started to experiment with conceptual forms, drawing ideas from the Conceptual Art movement. A Recital, which I made for one of my graduate assignment encouraged me to explore on using used materials or other non-conventional art materials significant to my chosen themes or subjects.

Whilst researching on my assignments I discovered Peter Wuthrich, a Swiss artist who works with books. (ARTNEWS, June 1996 edition).

‘… creating readymade objects and installation that simultaneously mystify and deconstruct this unique invention of the human intellect… A book is a medium with a distinct message. As an object it is, of course, cold and dead. But it is also an active mediation between the world of the author and that of his readers. It somehow has a life and energy of its own.’ (Image of Peter Wuthrich & his work illustrated here is from

In one performance, Peter blindfolded himself and acted as reading the book which was held in his hands – ‘… All of my works can be read on different levels. I accept pretty much any explanation as long as it seems logical. As far as the blindfold is concerned, the contents of my books almost always remained a mystery. It is not about the contents of my books but rather about the essence of a book – about its general message not its specific narrative.’

‘… each book has its own story to tell, its own message it wants to get across. And although each message is different, who’s to say which is better or worst?’

Inspired by the idea, I made a series of sketches, using books as subject-matter. Published here are the sketches which I made in my notebook.

Book Sketch 1

Book Sketch 2

Book Sketch 3

Book Sketch 4

Book Sketch 5

Book Sketch 6

Book Sketch 7

Book Sketch 8 (photo)

Book Sketch 9

Book Sketch 10

Book Sketch 11

Book Sketch 12

Book Sketch 13

Book Sketch 14

Book Sketch 15

Book Sketch 16

Book Sketch 17

Book Sketch 18

Book Sketch 19

Book Sketch 20

Book Sketch 21

Book Sketch 22

Book Sketch 23

Book Sketch 24

Book Sketch 25


The Further Education of An Artist: Process Studies in Art & Design

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 15, 2010

Whilst pursuing my graduate studies in 1996, I made a series of sketches on books – books as subject-matter. It all started when I was doing an assignment for a subject called Process Studies in Art & Design. We were to produce a work of art or a design work: documenting the process and later analyzed it through some approaches as suggested in the methodologies of art examined or discussed during the lectures. A report was to be submitted at the end of about six months study semester, together with the finished work of art or design work.

As elsewhere mentioned in this blog, during the time I was also reading and experimenting with Conceptual Art. The assignment came almost naturally: I have been keeping diaries and documenting my working process since the ITM days in the 1980s. I thought I could further my experiments with Conceptual Art and decided to take the assignment by producing a ‘conceptual’ work of art. Here published a selection of my diary’s entries, notes, sketches and a rather ‘spoiled’ photograph of the work.

A Diary’s Entry: Saturday. 30/7/1996

Sitting in the living room_ thinking about the Process Studies’ assignment. How do I begin? Today was hazy. Looking at the wall: Beethoven was playing _ yes, I’m learning to appreciate classical music. On the wall, there was The Dream-weaver, the last sculpture of the Gunung Daik series.

A Note: Saturday. 30/7/1996

Dream-weaver / 1993 – 1996 / Wires, books, plastic bottles, tobacco and nipah leaves / dimension – variables

The Dream-weaver was the last of Gunung Daik. The making was started in 1993 whilst the family was living in Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam. I was, at the time, trying to abandon the idea of ‘sculptural forms’ – sculpting out and constructing things. It took me some three years to justify my decisions in putting or using actual objects like the books, plastic bottles and the tobacco, as well as exploring more ‘concrete’ ideas or themes, rather than just drawing on or from literature like the stories and the characters which I portrayed earlier in Teleng, and then, Gunung Daik.

The Dream-weaver was first exhibited in Malaysian Contemporary Sculpture: A Question of Tradition and Modernity, curated by Dr. Tamyes Bajuri, at the Balai Seni Lukis Negara, 1996. The books I included in the The Dream-weaver’s ‘container’ (the bottom part) were W.G Shellabear’s version of Sejarah Melayu or the Malay Annals, Misa Melayu by Sir Raja Chulan and a guide-book on the traditional Malay sexology – Permata yang Hilang. The plastic-bottles, once, contained the popular aphrodisiacs – Tongkat Ali capsules. And the rokok daun & tobacco…

FAN, LAURA. (1997). Weaving A Dream. Asia Pacific Sculpture News. Summer 1996, 35 – 36. Hong Kong: Asian Art News.

A listing on The Dream-weaver (what’s it all about or what I was trying to say):

… the work, the assignment for the Process Studies… may start from The Dream-weaver.

Note: web’s addresses of certain terms and names were recently added to facilitate further references.

Another Diary’s Entry: Thursday. 15/8/1996

A quiet night except for the Jimmy Page’s wailing solo, doing Black Dog on my old cassette player. The Work have already existed – virtually. It should be conceptual, 3D piece or perhaps a wall piece – using real objects. It should be related to education – in some ways. The dream jar has been broken.

An Old Photograph of Exercise Books

I chose ‘used school exercise books’ as my materials – the ones which usually came in brown colored covers with the RUKUN NEGARA (National Principles) ( at the back, sometimes also with a multiplication and conversion tables. The materials themselves, the exercise books, carried meanings related to education and ‘love the country.’  I remembered my primary schooldays in the early 1970s, where we have to recite RUKUN NEGARA during our weekly assemblies. There were competitions to look for the best reciter, who then would lead the recital at assemblies.

Another Note: 16/8/1996

Exercise Book: Back Cover

Exercise Book: Front Cover

I’m certain with using the used school exercise books. The idea, the best I can described is that I wanted to document an ‘educational-experience’. By this, it refers to the exercise books where they were actually where we, as students, exercised our understanding through writing or sometimes calculating and even drawings. These books were sometimes not fully used – there were blank pages, and usually they were discarded after a semester ends. We would buy another exercise book then to continue practicing our lessons. The RUKUN NEGARA printed on the back covers was for facilitating us to remember them_ hoping to instill patriotism or nationalism, in some ways or another, at a young age.

Another Diary’s Entry: Wednesday. 25/8/1996

Today I talked about Abstract Expressionism, the New York School, Minimalism and Andy Warhol with Nasir. I told about my yet-to-be-titled work, the assignment, stating that I’m framing an experience – an educational experience, that was.

A Spoiled Photograph of 'A Recital'


The work is now on the wall. It was made entirely with used exercise books, arranged and tied with wires.

I named the work, ‘A Recital’, referring to the Rukun Negara recitation at my primary school weekly assemblies back in the early 1970s.

(Note: The work is now lost).

Notes: Quotations Referred During the Process

1. Art is an intellectual and an emotional recording of an attitude or an experience presented in a personal manner. The visual arts – painting, sculpture, architecture and other related arts – are concerned with the creative handling of lines, textures, shapes, colors, and space in materials such as paints, stone, and wood. ‘Creative’ implies bringing into existence new constructions through a personal arrangement of existing or new elements. – A. SCHINNELLER, JAMES. (1961). Art: Search and Self Discovery. Scranton: International Textbook.

2. Art is a quality of doing and what is done… the product of art – temple, painting, statue, poem – is not the work of art. The work takes place when a human being cooperates with the product so that the outcome is an experience that is enjoyed because of its liberating and ordered properties. – DEWEY, JOHN. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Minton Balch.

3. Experience is the result, the sign, and the reward of the interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participation and communication.- DEWEY, JOHN. (1934). Art as Experience. New York: Minton Balch.

4. Creative Experience – the creative experience is dynamic. It is a purposeful transaction between a person, a whole being, and his environment, a whole context. the process of creation is like a field of magnetic action in which the creator’s entire being is stimulated by a new challenge to his present state of well-being (a simulation), his perceiving of ideas to meet the challenge (individuating possible solutions), his evaluation of possible solutions (interaction), his processes of decision-making (dialogue between self and solution) and his artwork (final visual solution).

Creative Expression – is the result of reflective action on a medium. It results from a process involving curiosity, questioning, inquiry, searching, manipulating, experimenting and formulating ideas into objects… – SAWYER. J. & FRANCESCO, I. (undated). Elementary School Art for Classroom Teachers.

Another Diary’s Entry: Friday. 13/9/1996

Today I worked on the report for ‘A Recital’.

– List of Diagrams / List of Illustrations

– Introduction: i) Impressions. ii) Objectives. iii) Methodology

– Part One: Thinking About The Work: i) Ideas – the retrospective experience, the social experience, the critical experience, design concepts. ii) Resources – readings, monologues, dialogues, talks and gallery visits.

– Part Two: Making of the Work: i) Materials and Techniques. ii) The Making Process. iii) Presentations.

– Part Three: Appreciation: i) Personal Evaluation. ii) Educational Implications.

– Conclusions.

– Bibliography.

The Diary's Page 1

The Diary's Page 2

The Bell: A Short Unexpected Tale

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 12, 2010

I wrote a few stories in the 1990s. The stories were usually related to my practices as an artist as well as to some of my sculptures. I published here, The Bell, which appeared in the September 1995 edition of the irregular Tanpa Tajuk.

The Bell

It was dusk when it started ringing. I had just finished working on ‘The Lamenter’ for the day. At first I thought it was just an ordinary ringing from whatever bell of the neighborhood, but when it didn’t stop for about nearly an hour I started cursing and swearing. It rang like a church bell though I’m not that familiar with the church bells’ ringing – I thought I heard a church bell rang somewhere a long time ago. And it rang and chimed and clanged and tolled…

I peeked through the studio’s window. There’s a commotion on the empty ground, about 50 yards from the studio. To my utter disbelief – people were surrounding a huge bell mounted on a strong wooden structure. I didn’t know when the structure was raised and when that blasted bell was mounted either. The people seemed to be looking… admiring the bell. They didn’t seemed to be disturbed at all. How strange… it was ringing like hell in my ears and the bell was not moving. Which bell was ringing then?

I closed my ears. But the ringing and chiming and clanging and rolling… kept penetrating, deep, deep into the ears.

I ran outside towards the commotion. There were about twenty-or so people, circling the bell, the mysterious bell – where it came from? I knew most people in the commotion; they were familiar faces of the neighborhood. But there were a few that I’d never seen before – they must be somehow related to the bell as there’s none in the neighborhood got anything to do with bells. There were no bell-makers there.

I grabbed a youth whom I knew. Some beside him turned, looked strangely at me as if I was interfering an important if not holy occasion. ‘What’s happening? Where did it came from?’ I asked loudly – my ears were ringing, banging. The youth pored over me with puzzled expressions. He answered, or seemed to be saying something. I couldn’t hear him. It kept tolling, clanging, chiming. I asked again. He answered but I couldn’t hear anything. What had happened? It kept tolling, clanging, chiming…

A few gathered around us. They were talking, and I couldn’t hear them too! The youth continued staring at me and said something. I tried to read his lips but to no avail. It was really hopeless. It kept tolling and clanging and chiming and clanking and banging… I began to loose concentration. I saw black. Total blackness. I closed my ears. My ears…

When I regained consciousness I heard no more of the bell. I was lying on the sofa in my little living room. My head was drowsy – there were distant chiming – but it slowly faded away. Everything was quiet – except for the usual sounds of the night. I sighed, wondering who brought me in… the bell… the bell. I jumped to the window. Yes, strays of lights from within the area silhouetted it – it looked like a big fat monster. No more people were surrounding it. It stood there on the wooden structure.

Found myself a torchlight and I was ready for it. I didn’t know what the time was but it must be past midnight. There were no human voices heard, no music and most of the lights in the neighborhood were out. I crept silently towards the bell. There was no moon in the sky.

I inspected the bell. It seemed to be finely made_ a bronze piece! Curiously, I re-inspected it again, hoping to find some clues that could be associated to the ringing and tolling and clanging in my ears. I also wanted to know what actually it was, who made it and why it was there.

Finally I found a small rectangular bronze plate, welded nicely and located just above the bottom part of the bell. I ran my fingers over and felt there were some kinds of engravings on the plate. I shined the torchlight over and read_

The Bell

Sculpted by Tsabri Ibrahim

April 10th 1994.

Hey… that’s my piece! I wondered what on earth have had happened that I forgot all about it. I embraced the cold bronze and started to compose a short poem… The Bell that tolled to be a bell.

September 1995 Tanpa Tajuk

The September 1995 edition of the irregular self-published Tanpa Tajuk, with a mono-print, entitled ‘Simbol Alam’ (Nature’s Symbol) by Riaz Ahmad as the front-cover illustration.

Three True & False Announcements in the Irregular Self–Published Tanpa Tajuk 1998: Experiments on the Approaches of Conceptual Art

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 8, 2010

In mid 1990s, I was very much into Conceptual Art. I supposed the interest developed mainly from my dissatisfactions with my so-called ‘modern sculptures’. I found no more excitements in ‘sculpting’ or ‘constructing’ forms; the forms were already expected – for I wanted them to be the way they were, I designed or composed them. I asked myself – what would happen if I disregard the usual way or approach to what I was doing? Would what I will be doing will be called ‘art’? What is ART?

Fountain, 1917

Bicycle Wheel, 1913

I started to look into what Marcel Duchamp was doing with his ‘Fountain’ or ‘Bicycle Wheel’, studied Conceptual Art – the Fluxus, Art & Language, Joseph Beuys etcetera, and more interestingly I have an artist-friend who shared the same interest, Mohd Nasir Baharuddin ( – we would discuss things related to all those abovementioned topics and works over and over. Image of Duchamp’s Fountain is from and Bicycle Wheel from

Lets begin with one of the many definitions of Conceptual Art.

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. –  Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt (September 9, 1928 – April 8, 2007) was an American artist, who rose to fame in kate 1960s for his wall drawing and ‘structures’. He was linked to various movements, including Conceptual Art and Minimalism. He worked with a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, and painting. His statement on the definition of Conceptual Art as above-quoted was published as Paragraphs on Conceptual Art in the June 1967 edition of Artforum. Image of Sol LeWitt is from

Next, I would like to quote what Joseph Beuys, a German conceptual artist, said: I know a lot before I start an action. I know a lot about the necessity of the general idea of sculpture, but I don’t know anything about the process in which the action will run. When the action runs, my preparation works, because I’m prepared to do a thing without knowing where it goes. You see, it would be a very uninteresting thing – it would have nothing to do with art – if it were not a new experiment for which I have no clear concept. If I have a clear concept of solving the problem, I would then speak about the concept and it wouldn’t be necessary to make an action. Every action, every art work for me, every physical sense, drawing on the blackboard, performance, brings a new element in the whole, an unknown area, an unknown world.

So, I never have a clear concept for a performance; I only make a decision about tools, for instance, but I don’t determine the run of the action, or the character of the action at all. I never make actions to make actions, as a kind of innovation in the art world, as a new style; but I must say that the nature of the actions as a possibility to arrive at an understanding of art, for the most part was translated into an official modern art style, and again became restricted to the enclosure of an ivory tower, reduced to a traditional view of art as a history of formal innovations without being seen as a possibility to innovate the whole social body. You see that is the dilemma in the art world – but I try to overcome that situation as much as I can; nevertheless, the problem always reappears, and I am always confronted with the temptation of the system to destroy such impulse.

Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) was a well-known German artist. Image of Joseph Beuys is from The Wikipedia page stated Joseph Beuys as a German performance artist, sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist and pedagogue of art. His extensive work is grounded in concepts of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy; it culminates in his “extended definition of art” and the idea of social sculpture as a gesamtkunstwerk, for which he claimed a creative, participatory role in shaping society and politics. His career was characterized by passionate, even acrimonious public debate, but he is now regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

Image on the right is a photograph from Beuys’s performance/action. The performance was titled as,
I Like America and America Likes Me, performed at Rene Block Galleri, New York in 1974. In the performance, Beuys stayed in a space at the gallery for about three days with a coyote. Image is from A note on the work from Wikipedia (as above mentioned page); “I Like America and America Likes Me” (performance, 1974). Art historian Uwe Schneede considers this performance pivotal for the reception of German avantgarde art in the U.S.A., it paved the way for the recognition of Beuys’ own work, but also that of contemporaries such as Lüpertz, Baselitz, Kiefer and many others in the 1980s.[15] In May 1974 Beuys flew to New York and was taken by ambulance to the site of the performance, a room in the René Block Gallery on East Broadway. Beuys lay on the ambulance stretcher swathed in felt. He shared this room with a wild coyote, for eight hours over three days. At times he stood, wrapped in a thick, grey blanket of felt, leaning on a large shepherd’s staff. At times he lay on the straw, at times he watched the coyote as the coyote watched him and cautiously circled the man, or shredded the blanket to pieces, and at times he engaged in symbolic gestures, such as striking a large triangle or tossing his leather gloves to the animal; the performance continuously shifted between elements that were required by the realities of the situation, and elements that had purely symbolic character. At the end of the three days, Beuys hugged the coyote that had grown quite tolerant of him, and was taken to the airport. Again he rode in a veiled ambulance, leaving America without having set foot on its ground. As Beuys later explained: ‘I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.’

What he said, as quoted, was an answer to an interview question, by Kate Horsfield (, How do you approach deciding to do a piece of art, or in certain cases, an action, what comes up to you before you start to do it? What do you know about it, and how do you proceed?

The interview is quoted from following publication;

FERGUSON, OLANDER, TUCJER & FISS (Eds.) (1990). Discourses: Conversations in Postmodern Art and Culture. New York, Cambridge & London: the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the MIT Press.

I started with Sol LeWitt and Joseph Beuys to note that they were artists whose works and statements became a favorite discussion topic between Nasir Baharuddin (Nasir) and myself in the mid 1990s.

I experimented with the approach – I know a lot before I start an action. I know a lot about the necessity of the general idea of sculpture, but I don’t know anything about the process in which the action will run. When the action runs, my preparation works, because I’m prepared to do a thing without knowing where it goes_

I published what I called True & False Announcements in the irregular Tanpa Tajuk which I published (see this blog’s post: Walking Down the Roads Where I Have Been & The Birth of ‘Tanpa Tajuk’: A Mind Installation) in mid 1990s. The announcements were published as back-covers on some of the irregular Tanpa Tajuk. I looked upon the self-published Tanpa Tajuk as ‘mind installations‘, some kind of an ‘action‘ or ‘performance‘ that supposedly happened in the minds of my readers and myself then.

The experiments were supplemented with an idea of ‘make-believe announcements‘ or ‘imaginary announcements‘, where I announced what I wanted to be true but they were actually false unless I make efforts to make them true. In a sense – I know a lot what I wanted but I know nothing what would happened to audiences who chose to believe what I announced, or perhaps chose not to believe; but then another phase, after-announcement, happened – where I started to think of ‘excuses’ or ‘explanations’ on why the announcements were published. Many who read the announcements later dismissed them as mere rubbish, like Nasir’s expression – Mengarut!

I published here three True & False Announcements that were originally published as back-covers of the 1998 irregular Tanpa Tajuk. Its best for me to first define or rather introduce the names mentioned in the announcements.

  • Kumpulan Artis Jambatan Baru or the New Bridge Artists: An imaginary artists group that I created to gather my artist-friends. I’ve tried to band them together – to stage exhibitions, participate in events etc, but the efforts were usually fruitless, except for two later projects which the name was used; 1. An installation work, A / The System, at Sculpture Square, Singapore in 2000, and 2. Natural Camp Site, in Akal diUlu, Hulu Langat, Selangor in 2002. Both projects (installations) were participated by Hanafiah Waiman, Ivan Lam and Yap Sau Bin.
  • Galeri Matahari Yang Bersinar or The Sparkling Solar Gallery: An imaginary art gallery that never existed unless somebody who opens an art gallery wanted to use the name.
  • The Dead Cyber Poets Society 0r Persatuan Penyair-penyair Siber yang Sudah Meninggal: An imaginary poets’ group that never existed unless some poets wanted to use it as their group’s name. inspired by the film, The Dead Poets Society, directed by Peter Wier in 1989.
  • Full Lunar Agency or Agensi Bulan Penuh: An imaginary production house that never existed unless somebody uses it for a company’s name.


Announcement 1


Sebuah tayangan video 32 mint / A 32 minutes video screening

Karya / By

Kumpulan Artis Jambatan Baru / New Bridge Artists

Di Galeri Matahari Yang Bersinar / At The Sparkling Solar Gallery

Sabtu / Saturday

12hb. Julai 1999 / 12th July 1999

3 ptg. 4 ptg. 5 ptg. 8 mlm. 9 mlm. 10 mlm. / 3 pm. 4 pm. 8 pm. 9 pm. 10 pm.

Terhad untuk 32 orang penonton sahaja setiap tayangan /

Each screening is limited to 32 persons

Tiket RM32.00 / Tickets RM32.00

Announcement 2


Performances, happenings and readings / Perfomen, jadi-jadian dan bacaan

By / Oleh The New Bridge Artists / Kumpulan Artis Jambatan Baru

And / Dan The Dead Cyber Poets Society / Persatuan Penyair-penyair Siber yang Sudah Meninggal Dunia

Unknown date / Tarikh Tidak Diketahui Unknown venue / Tempat Tidak Diketahui

Admission RM150.00 / Masuk RM150.00 (Inclusive of brochures and refreshments) / (Termasuk brosur dan jamuan ringan)

Produced by / Diterbitkan oleh Full Lunar Agency / Agensi Bulan Penuh

Announcement 3


Lectures, exhibitions, walks and demonstrations / Syarahan, pameran, jalan-jalan dan demonstrasi

By / Oleh The New Bridge Artists / Kumpulan Artis Jambatan Baru

Date – as you wish / Tarikh – ikut suka tuan dan puan

Wednesdays through Saturdays / Setiap Rabu hingga Sabtu

Admission / Masuk RM200.00 (Inclusive of notes, catalogues, whatever tickets, refreshments and postcards) / (Termasuk nota, katalog, tiket untuk apa saja, jamuan ringan dan poskad)

Jointly produced by / Diterbitkan bersama oleh

Sparkling Solar Gallery / Galeri Matahari Yang Bersinar And / Dan

Full Lunar Agency / Agensi Bulan Penuh

How Sir Stamford Raffles Gathered Data of All Sorts and Bought Some 340 Books, and Many More in Melaka (Developing Another Mind Installation)

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 8, 2010

What I’ll be writing is not new _ it has been discussed in numerous forums, particularly that of literature, culture or even politics. The matter, which concerns about attitudes of the Malays on education, culture and such, has been something of concern in Malaysia’s cultural, social, economics as well as political developments since decades ago. The Malays has been stereotyped as ‘lazy’, ‘stupid’ and ‘good for nothing’ people’ by the so-called ‘imperialists’ or ‘colonialists’ of the pasts… so were discussed.

Sometime in 2008, I accompanied Mastura to Melaka to setup The Curtain for the Srikandi: Sentuhan Seni Jiwa Wanita art exhibition (on this blog: The Curtain: From Mixed-Media to Multimedia). After putting up The Curtain and some paintings, she went for a meeting with the UiTM girls who were curating the exhibition. I excused myself and took a stroll down the historic Melaka_

Melaka's Google

Old Melaka (unknown)

Melaka 1630s

Melaka 1720s

Melaka 1750s


I went across the Jalan Laksamana, to a row of cendol stalls, ordered a bowl and sat slurping – overlooking the Sungai Melaka… a boat, an old fashioned one, glided lazily on the murky waters. A well-built mat salleh man came out from a cabin’s door, followed by a teenage kacukan perhaps of Arab and Tamil parentage. The young man wore a sort of tarbus on his head. I was excited to recognized them_ Sir Stamford Raffles and Munsyi Abdullah! Yes, it was them alright… The munsyi boy waved. Raffles gave a friendly smile, and then waved his hands. I waved them back.

At, I found them again;

Munsyi Abdullah and Stamford Raffles in Melaka. At age 15, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir watched as the British Forces marched into Melaka. The year was 1811. British troops were waiting for instructions to be sent off to Java. Stamford Raffles was appointed to be the Lieutenant Governor of Java(1811-1816). Before embarking on a sea voyage to Java, Raffles stationed his army in Malacca where he planned the initial operations for advancement into Java.

British Malacca (Melaka) 1850s

Munshi (a title meaning ‘tutor’) Abdullah’s encounter with Stamford Raffles was to have a very large impact on the boy’s future. Employed as a scribe in his moderate but significant team of employees, Munshi Abdullah was given the opportunity to learn from a man who had an insatiable appetite for learning. Raffles wanted to know everything about the locals…their culture, their history, their myths and legends, their language, their arts and their creativity. He also was a budding naturalist and had a team of hunters and gatherers who collected animals and plant specimens, which were later preserved in jars or pressed into pages (respectively). Illustrations were collated into huge volumes of books.

Raffles collections grew to include rare manuscripts, books, written verses, sha-er and pantun. The people of Melaka then did not understand the value of such books and manuscripts. They readily sold them to the collector for cash. Such manuscripts were written in longhand and were originals – no copies were ever recorded. Other books that could not be bought, were borrowed and copyists had the task of duplicating them. Several copyists were employed for this task, and Munshi Abdullah was one of them. The exposure led him to write his autobiography in later years, called Hikayat Abdullah (The Story of Abdullah). For an excerpt of his views as a journalist and an observer, check out his writings on at

Reading above texts made me to remember the day when Raffles and the munsyi-boy waved at me_ later that night in the library I found  Hikayat Abdullah, a 1963 edition from the Pustaka Antara, Kuala Lumpur and reread it – thinking of some ‘paragraphs of concern’ that I remembered reading some years ago, and later found them summarized as above quoted from the site. I found them on page 75 & 76. In the words of Abdullah himself;

Syahdan lagi adalah empat orang diberinya gaji, masing-masing dengan pekerjaannya. Seorang disuruhnya pergi ke hutan mencari jenis-jenis daun, dan bunga-bunga, dan cendawan, dan lumut-lumut, dan barang perkara yang berlain-lain rupanya. Dan lagi seorang disuruhnya mencari segala ulat-ulat, dan belalang, dan jenis-jenis lupu-kupu dan kumbang, dan berbagai-bagai jenis binatang, dan riang-riang, dan lipan dan kalajengking, dan sebagainya. Maka diberinya jarum peniti, disuruhnya cocokan binatang-binatang itu. Dan lagi seorang disuruhnya mencari karangan-karangan, seperti siput berjenis-jenis, dan kepah, dan lokan, tiram, remis dan sebagainya, dalam sebuah bakul. Dan lagi ikan berjenis-jenis. Dan lagi pula seorang pergi mencari binatang-binatang liar, seperti burung-burung, dan ayam hutan, dan rusa, kijang, pelanduk, dan napoh, bengkuang, dan kancil, dan sebagainya.

Dan lagi adalah ia menaruh sebuah kitab besar,maka kertasnya tebal-tebal; maka gunanya kitab itu dimasukkannya segala jenis daun-daun, dan bunga-bunga, dan sebagainya. Bermula maka barang perkara yang tiada boleh dimasukkannya, maka ada ia menaruh seorang Cina Makao. Terlalu pandai menulis gambar-gambar, atau buah atau bunga, ditulisnya seperti hidup, maka disuruhnya tulis akan segala perkara itu. Maka lain daripada ini lagi, adalah pula satu pipa, entah arak entah berandi, ada penuh. Maka barang binatang atau ular, lipan, kalajengking, dan sebagainya, maka hidup-hidup dimasukkannya ke dalamnya itu. Setelah dua hari lamanya, kemudian diambilnya, dimasukkannya le dalam botol. Rupanya, binatang itu seperti hidup juga. Maka menjadi heranlah orang-orang di Melaka melihatkan pekerjaan yang demikian.

Maka pada masa itu banyaklah orang-orang dalam Melaka mendapat faedah sebab mencarikan segala kejadian yang di udara, dan dari bumi, atau dari laut, dari darat, atau dari negeri, atau hutan rimba, baik yang terbang, baik yang merayap, baik yang bertumbuh, baik yang terbit dari tanah, sekalian perkara yang tersebut itu sekaliannya menjadi duit belaka.

Dan lagi pula orang membawa kitab-kitab dan hikayat Melalyupun, entah beberapa ratus jenis, tiadalah teringat. Hampir-hampir habis surat-surat Melayu daripada beberapa zaman, daripada harta nenek-moyang sekalian habus dijualkan, dibawa orang dari mana-mana, sebab mendapat harga baik. Habis dijualkan, tiadalah sadarkan orang-orang yang di belakang kelak menjadi bodoh. Satu suratpun tiada yang dibaca dalam bahasanya sendiri, karena kitab-kitab itu semuanya dalam tulisan tangan. Jikalau kitab dicap tiada mengapa, maka tiadalah tinggal lagi benihnya sampai sekarang. Maka adalah kitab-kitab itu sekelian kira-kira tiga ratus empat puluh, lain daripada jenis-jenis syair dan pantun dan ikat-ikatan dan sebagainya. Dan lagi lain pula dipinjamnya, disuruh salin, ada empat lima orang jurutulisnya yang menyalin sahaja….

Revisiting the paragraphs impelled me developing several ideas on Melaka as a venue or a subject for a ‘mind installation‘. I’m putting the ideas into a proposal and will get interested friends to sit on journeys meeting Sir Stamford Raffles and the Munsyi-boy, or the suspicious and fierce Benggali Putehs from Lisbon, or the Gujarati traders or even the day Parameswara saw a deer kicked his hunting dogs into the (Melaka) river…

Note (illustration credits)

  1. Old Melaka (unknown):
  2. Melaka 1630s:
  3. Melaka 1720s:
  4. Melaka 1750s:
  5. Undated:–malakka_17814.cfm
  6. British Malacca (Melaka) 1850s:
  7. Abdullah Munsyi’s Portrait: it a today painter’s imagination?)

Happy Birthdays

Posted in Uncategorized by tsabri on April 5, 2010

End March & Early April are celebration times in the family – birthdays. This year, 2010, its my 49th birthday, 47th for Mastura, 21st for Iskhandar and 17th for Intan. Mastura painted a painting, as illustrated on the left, for Iskhandar’s 11th birthday in 1999, in Taman Sri Andalas, Klang, Selangor. The painting now decorates one of our walls. It is one of the Mastura’s that we keep for our private collection.

Title: Gubahan Kecil Hijau untuk Iskhandar / Small Green Composition for Iskhandar

Dimension: 57 cm x 57 cm

Materials: Mixed Media on Canvas

We also wish our friends happy birthdays for those celebrating during these times of the year; especially to Shook, Hanafiah and Kasran – May God Bless You All

After All the Jacks Are in Their Boxes And the Clowns Have All Gone to Bed: The Dolls of Mastura A Rahman

Posted in Mastura's Works by tsabri on April 4, 2010

Delima, Buku-buku & Badut / A Fruit, Books & Clown, 91.5 x 91.5 cm, 1999

Mastura likes dolls. She played, made paper and cloth dolls, and asked her parents to buy dolls as a girl. She often bought our daughter, Intan, dolls from many places when Intan was a small girl that we now have a small collection of assorted dolls. Mastura had previously included dolls (and clowns) as objects in her previous 1999 paintings as illustrated. A Fruit, Books… now is in the collection of Bingley Sim of Kuala Lumpur & Three Dolls… was bought by an unknown collector during an exhibition at Valentine Willie Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur sometime in 1999. All paintings illustrated are made of mixed-media on canvas. Whilst working on the Wayang U-Wei project (See this blog’s categories of  Wayang U-Wei & Mastura’s Works), particularly after studying U-Wei’s My Beautiful Rambutan Tree in Tanjong Rambutan, Mastura started to use dolls as characters in her compositions.

Senja, Sepi dan Anak Patung / Twilight, Silence and Doll, 91.5 x 91.5 cm, 1999

Three Dolls in A Garden / Tiga Anak Patung Di Dalam Taman, 91.5 x 91.5 cm, 1999

Secawan Kopi dan Badut / A Cup of Coffee and Clown, 91.5 x 91.5 cm, 1999

My Beautiful Rambutan Tree…presented Mastura with the dolls (and other toys) of Kak Ina, the girl who was accidentally killed by her kid brother. The dolls, which usually are the imaginary friends of girls, started to ask for Kak Ina when Kak Ina didn’t turn up to play with them. Mastura illustrated these imaginary friends of Kak Ina playing under the Rambutan Tree where Kak Ina was actually buried.

Nina's Imaginary Friends Playing in Mastura's Studio

The imaginary friends of Kak Ina were drawn or painted after some of the Intan’s dolls. Mastura would place the selected dolls in several positions, photographed and transferred them onto the computer to be manipulated mainly using the Adobe PhotoShop. After satisfied with the manipulations, like on the colors and tones, Mastura then transferred them onto her canvases and started painting.

Experiences in encountering the imaginary friends of Kak Ina made Mastura to paint two more paintings (below illustrated) as some kind of offshoots from the one she was working for Wayang U-Wei. Both paintings, like most of the Mastura’s, were made of mixed media on canvas. She would scissors-out batiks from the kain batik, collaged them onto her desired places on the paintings’ surfaces within the dolls which she had earlier image-manipulated, added on some small beads and other stitches whatnots_ she had painted Kak Ina’s imaginary friends and transferred them into a ‘new world for dolls.’

From Kassel With Love came first before Lets Play. From Kassel With Love depicted a doll that Mastura brought back from our residency in Kassel, Germany sometime in 1997. The doll, which was European in origin, became an immediate favorite of Intan. In our house, then in Klang, the European doll met up with others and Intan would make it to always call, Lets Play! Lets Play!

Dari Kassel Dengan Cinta / From Kassel With Love, 120cm x 120 cm, 2009

Mari Bermain / Lets Play, 120cm x 120 cm, 2009

Akif Emir & Monkeys in His House: A Short Reading (As What We Can See) on His ‘Monkey Code’ Series of Paintings

Posted in My Artist-Friends by tsabri on April 3, 2010

Akif Emir studied with us in ITM. He took painting as his major and printmaking as a minor. He is of Arab-Turkish blood and was born some 49 years ago in Kuala Kangsar, Perak. During our ITM years, he was known as a talkative person and seemed to have answers or reasons for almost everything. He excelled in his studies, got the Fine Art Best Student Award – and most of us couldn’t surpassed him from the ways he did things; how he squeezed his acrylic tubes; how he did the undercoats; how he arranged his pencils and brushes; and bless everybody! How he swept floors!

Home Sweet Home

Akif was a talented artist – during our final year at ITM (1985/86), together with Mastura and Young Jeffery, they represented Malaysia at the 3rd ASEAN Youth Painting Workshop & Exhibition in Yogjakarta, Indonesia. He continued to make his marks by winning a Minor Award, for his mixed media painting, ‘Home Sweet Home’, at the 1987’s Young Contemporary Art Exhibition, organized by the Balai Seni Lukis Negara.

After ITM, we didn’t meet up much: he was busy into a business of manufacturing souvenir items and later I heard he lectured at the then LimKokWing Institute of Creative Technology (LICT), Kuala Lumpur. Some time in mid 1990s, we became teaching colleagues when a group of us joined LICT. There were Ahmad Shukri Elias (Shook), Mohd Nasir Baharuddin (Nasir), Nazaraddin A Jalil (Datuk Nazar), Riaz Ahmad, Suhaimi A Wahab, and myself.

Ahead of everybody, Akif was talking about computers and the Internet, and of course how the year 2000 or a new millennium would be. Everybody have the ‘issues of interests’ to put forward –Shook was putting the left and right sides of the students’ brains into perspectives; Nasir was commenting on Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Beuys; Datuk Nazar was asking the students to have their fundamental design understanding right; Riaz was called Jesus Christ; Suhaimi was teaching the line qualities; and I was reading, hoping to understand, Jacques Derrida. But the ‘computers, Internet and new millennium’ of Akif were always the loudest.

I didn’t know whether Akif was painting at the time. He didn’t talked about his works, though ‘Zionism and whatever Conspiracy Theory’ often surfaced during his many conversations with us. When I left LICT in 2000, Akif was still there until I heard a few years back that he joined another place, called Kolej Universiti Insaniah, in Alor Star, Kedah ( I stumbled upon the Monkey Code Series about last year. It is nice to know that Akif has been painting all this while.

Below published text is from

(The text here published is unedited. It is published as it appeared on the original page). It is a description of the Monkey Code paintings. Illustrations for Akif’s paintings are from the same mentioned site. His portrait is from

Monkey Code Series. Artist uses a monkey icon as a main subject matter in his ‘Monkey Code’ series. Monkey Code is about a conspiracy theory that happening in today world crisis. To artist, conspiracy theory is a reality, not a myth or a legend. It is a grand design and mastermind by the satanic worshiper and followers (ignorance). Monkey is a symbol of imitators, cunning, tricky and mischievous behavior..which is a main character of a conspirator.The world we live-in are in the stage of chaos and catastrophe.

Monkey Code - Monkeytopia,The Agent In Your Home

The illustrated painting on the left was titled as Monkey Code – Monkeytopia, The Agent in Your Home. We couldn’t know how big the painting was, as well as with the other paintings published on Akif’s mentioned page, as no dimensions were stated. Even, ‘Home Sweet Home’ was published without dimensions, but as I could remember – it was about 5 X 5 feet. What the paintings were made of was also not mentioned.

According to the brief description or statement given, we knew that Akif had been trying to establish an idea that we couldn’t easily escape the ‘conspiracy theory’. He was, obviously, referring to the Zionists or Zionism that had been terrorizing the Palestinian Arabs for ages… and perhaps Akif was/is thinking that the whole world has been terrorized: the Jews are conquering the world! …the Jews are ruining our youth! … the Jews are conspiring against us! Keep alert! … And Akif likened the Zionists’ agents to monkeys, which according to what was written as ‘imitative, cunning, tricky and mischievous’ and summed up all to the characters of a ‘conspirator’. Akif further theorized that these agents were/are in our homes – amongst the flowers and leaves that decorated our homes (Agent 6).

Monkey Code - Monkeytopia,Agent 6

Settings for the un-welcomed ‘monkey-agents’ were reminiscences of the mid-1980s ITM drawing studio (Refer on this blog: A Drawing Marathon in USM, Penang, 2009…) products: shallow spaces, flat spaces, arbitrary space… they became compositions of interiors and still-life. Akif then continued conjuring the ‘conspiracy theory’ by illustrating narratives of the ‘monkey-agents’ and perhaps the missions that they have to take. He painted events and portraits of the ‘monkey-agents’ in a combination of surrealistic and expressive styles, whilst enhancing his 1980’s ‘decorative’ through exciting layering of colors and tones. Akif was always good at compositions.

With Monkey Code and Monkeytopia online, I supposed the ‘conspiracy theory’ of Akif would get bigger… the world of intelligence was never easy; we heard about counter-intelligence, we saw James Bond, we heard about Osama bin Laden, and there are Arabs that conspire against Arabs. Safeguard our homes from these ‘monkey-agents’.

Monkey Code - The Betrayal

Monkey Code -The Apostate

Words & Sentences, and Sketches in My 1988 Notebook: Pekan Seni Ipoh III

Posted in Other Works by tsabri on April 3, 2010

In September 1998, Mastura and myself participated the third Pekan Seni Ipoh. I was appointed as a curator for the sculpture section of the major art exhibition. As a festival for the arts, Pekan Seni Ipoh presented many activities such as art exhibitions, stage-shows, crafts sales and seminars. Artists and cultural workers from Malaysia and abroad were invited to participate in the week long festival. ‘Tradisi, Kemodenan dan Jatidiri’ (Tradition, Modernity and Identity) was chosen to be the theme for the 1998 Pekan Seni Ipoh.

Below published the words & sentences, as well as sketches I scribbled during the festival’s seminar.

Words & Sentences in My 1998 Notebook: Pekan Seni Ipoh III


A traditionalist screams

at the cultural imperialists

that dance the people in a monotonous rhythm.

A modernist adjusts his colorful tie.

A postmodernist yawns his emotions away.

An idiot, he smiles.


… collisions between tradition and modernity.

… collisions between teachers and students.

… collisions between the old and the young.

… collisions between the realism and the abstract.


The green professor, he swallowed them all; the commas, colons and semi-colons.

Somebody then asked, ’Dear Sir, there’s no capital letters left for the bibliography!’

Without words, the green professor locked his abstract back into his folio.

A friend yawned_ the final alphabet flew away.

Sketches in My 1998 Notebook: Art & Cultural Seminar at Pekan Seni Ipoh III

Presenter 1

Presenter 2

Presenter 3

Presenter 4

Presenter 5

Chairperson 1

Presenter 6

Chairperson 2

Presenter 7

Presenter 8

Chairperson 3

Presenter 9

Presenter 10

Towards Gunung Daik: Pages from the Past (Part 2)

Posted in Gunung Daik by tsabri on April 2, 2010

Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, Selangor. End 1989. Living in a 3-story terrace house made me to work in a limited studio space. I have lost the luxury of a studio-workshop like in Jerteh. I made racks to store Teleng and my tools, and have to place the working table, which I specially brought from Jerteh, in the middle of the supposed ‘living room’. I used the outside front as the storage for some materials (wood) that I brought from Jerteh_ two columns, and other odds and pieces.

After the Maya exhibition at GaleriWan, then at City Square, Kuala Lumpur, I started to work on the columns, treating them as my carving exercises, whilst thinking of creating a new series of works. It was difficult for me_ I was caught up between the ideals of the ‘sculptural vitalism’ of the early 20th century modern sculptures such those in the works of Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Barbara Hepworth, and the esthetics of the traditional Malay visual arts (woodcarving) as in the Teleng Series. ‘Sculptural vitalism’ here referred to the ideas of vitality / organic growth / truth to materials, often in individual sense and contexts, that encompasses modern sculptures in general. What was I doing with the traditional Malay patterns on the modern forms? How else should I transform the traditional Malay forms, like the Hulu Anak Ayam Teleng, into? Vitalism – was it similar like the approaches or experiences that I have encountered during the making of Teleng? – These questions continued to haunt me.

Teleng was made through the technique of reduction. I first prepared the wooden blocks, made some guides on them, and started the sawing, axing and chiseling, until finally the forms slowly emerged from the blocks. Whilst the carving process was executed, I also considered my materials well, making uses of the grains, colors and the woods’ directional flow; thus echoing the ideas of ‘truth to materials’ as essentially found in the ‘sculptural vitalism’ of modern sculptures.

Eventually, I was out of materials. I have used most of the wood that I brought earlier from Jerteh. And where was I to search for wood? There was no forest around Taman Sri Muda but scattered bushes on the banks of Sungai Klang. I found some sturdy sticks or branches of unknown wood during my walks and thought they could be constructed to become sculptural forms. Thus began my shift from the techniques of reduction to construction. I carved, drilled, fitted and glued the branches together_ I then found a new approach in creating sculpture_ I started to look more into Alberto Giacometti’s as well as the Russian Constructivism… and started to collect sticks, branches and pieces of wood.

But – what was I to sculpt? What sort of forms? Teleng was a past already… though images of Teleng did occasionally appeared in the sketches and drawings of the time. I came across a well-known traditional Malay pantun whilst browsing a book on traditional Malay literature one day:

Pulau Pandan jauh ke tengah (Pulau Pandan far in midst)

Gunung Daik bercabang tiga (With the three peaked Gunung Daik)

Hancur badan di kandung tanah (All lost and will return to the earth, they be)

Budi yang baik dikenang jua (But the good deeds will always be remembered).

Gunung Daik

The pantun sparked an idea of places called Pulau Pandan and Gunung Daik. The island (Pulau Pandan) and mountain (Gunung Daik) are situated in today’s islands cluster of Riau-Lingga, in Indonesia. I somehow got interested with Gunung Daik and thought of it as an ‘unknown place’ that I could created stories about. I made some initial notes to begin the story. (Image of Gunung Daik is from

… A seafarer was returning home after months abroad. Approaching home (Gunung Daik), he witnessed disaster slowly ruining the place – dark clouds were hovering above the isle, thunders were deafening the ears, followed by piercing lightning and continuous tremors. He saw his childhood friends and memories floating and drowning in the wavy waters, writhing on the beaches… He saw everything went collapsing to wrecks_ ashes and dusts…  the once mighty kingdom, Gunung Daik, the prosperous and wealthy nation, was perishing to become history, perhaps like Atlantis…

Google's Gunung Daik

Beginning with the story (the complete version is now lost), I created characters, events and other objects to fit in. I began drawing, using mostly pen and ink, and managed to come with about 20 – 30 drawings (now most of the drawings are in the collection of Valentine Willie from VWFA, Kuala Lumpur). The constructed sticks and branches became more objective that they started to represent the characters and events that I drew.

Naga Cempaka 1990

Pawang Gunung Daik 1990

*Pawang Gunung Daik is in the Permanent Collection of Balai Seni Lukis Negara, Kuala Lumpur.

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