Off Walls Off Pedestals

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.


Towards Gunung Daik: Pages from the Past (Part 1)

Posted in Gunung Daik by tsabri on April 1, 2010

I started to think about going back to live in Kuala Lumpur or some other places near the city after living and working for about a year and a half in Jerteh, Terengganu. That was sometime in the middle of 1988 and I’d just completed the Teleng series, comprising of 35 wooden sculptures of various sizes, and some 20 drawings, as well as assorted sketches and writings. I also made a relief and a column as my carving exercises.

Mastura completed some 10 works on paper and a few paintings on boards. She also constructed 3 ‘constructions’* of house models that she later painted over with her batiks and decorative patterns. I was the ‘house-builder’ who built the ‘constructions’. The models were no longer existed_ they were damaged beyond repair, eaten by termites, while we were living in Taman Sri Andalas, Klang, Selangor in the mid 1990s. I remembered Mastura submitted the ‘constructions’ to an exhibition at Balai Seni Lukis Negara, then at Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, the 1988 Young Contemporary Art Exhibition.

Mastura then was in her early pregnancy of Iskhandar. We got some money saved from various resources and I was thinking for a part-time art teaching job, and most important – we have the works and wanted to exhibit them. We talked over, took advises from my parents and headed for Kuala Lumpur_ stayed for about a week at my elder sister’s, and finally found a house to stay in Taman Sri Muda, Shah Alam, Selangor. I also secured a part-time job, teaching sculpture for 2nd year Fine Art students at the then Department of Fine Art, School of Art & Design, ITM.

The early months living in Shah Alam were filled with managing the new environment. Suhaimi Abd Wahab, or fondly known as, Mie Pak Lah, came to stay with us. The house was a three-story. I used the ground floor as my studio-workshop and kitchen, and lived on the second floor. It was quite a large room that a part of it was turned into Mastura’s small studio. Mie Pak Lah lived on the first floor of two rooms, a room for his painting studio and another for bedroom. And sometime in end March 1989, I brought Mastura back to her hometown in Johor Bharu to give birth to Iskhandar.

At the time I was also looking for an art gallery to exhibit Teleng. I was thinking about having a one-person exhibition. Yusof Ghani, now a well-known painter, used to frequent our house to talk and discuss things especially on American Abstract Expressionism and excitements of being an artist. Mie Pak Lah was painting expressively at the time and Yusof Ghani, if am not mistaken, was in the midst of his Siri Tari paintings. I asked his opinion and he said that its best to have a group exhibition first before doing a one-person, with the reason of simply I’m a new artist and not many people knew me yet!

Being somewhat ‘already a well-known artist’, Yusof Ghani introduced Wong Mei Wan, of the now defunct, GaleriWan, to Mie Pak Lah and me, and as well as our other friends. There were Ahmad Shukri Elias, Riaz Ahmad or Nagesh, Young Jeffery and Hanafiah Waiman. The six of us studied together at ITM and are bests of friends. After a few discussions, we agreed to stage a group exhibition at GaleriWan. The exhibition was titled as Maya and was quite successful. We were in the newspapers and a picture of us appeared in a magazine*.

I was not making any significant work at the time, except for some sketches of various themes. And on April 6, 1989, Tengku Iskhandar Dzulkarnain was born in Johor Bharu.

*The documents (photographs, newspapers and magazine cuttings) were no longer in my archive. I will trace back and update this post soon as I get hold of them.

Mak & Iskh

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