Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kembara Tanah Liat

I'm a huge fan of master potter Iskandar Jalil's works. I missed his other exhibition at the National Institute of Education, which focused on his recent works. Didn't want to miss this exhibition in town which is till February 2017 at the National Gallery. Plenty of time to catch it again and again.

The master potter has such an astonishing range that I'm surprised the curators at the National Gallery found coherent threads within the borrowed collections and notable individual pieces, and put them together into six themes in an exhibition titled 'Kembara Tanah Liat' or 'Clay Travels'. The six themes are 'Anchoring Home', 'From the Region', 'Beauty in Imperfection', 'Modelling Architecture', 'Communicating with Clay' and 'Travelling to Know Who I Am'.

Travelling the way I do leads to nowhere. I travel not to see the sights but to know who I am. 
Kembara yang saya lakukan tidak ke mana. Saya mengembara bukan untuk melihat pemandangan tetapi untuk mengenali siapa saya.  
~ The potter's quote at 'Travelling To Know Who I Am' ('Kembara Untuk Mengenali Diri').

Loads of breathtaking creations displayed. Some I have seen, many I haven't. Lingered over each piece to read about them. Spent a lovely time in this gallery. The tongkang familiar on the rivers in olden Singapore are fired in this beautiful blue hue that I love. I also liked the stylized untitled and undated mangkuk tingkat and 'Lesong' in stoneware. Hurhurhur. There were many beautiful belanga- round-bottomed vessels to cook and hold curries and sauces.

I was so tickled by 'Tuna for Sashimi "N"' (2007) in stoneware, part of Singapore Art Museum's collection. It's just very unconventional as a ceramic piece. It certainly looks like a piece of otoro sushi with eyes. This piece belongs to part of his experiences as a Colombo Plan scholar in Japan in 1972-1973. It captures the "delicate and soft textures of tuna sashimi in the coiled swirls on its surface, and is also shaped like a fish."

'Tuna for Sashimi "N"' (2007); part of Singapore Art Museum's collection.

In a piece of untitled stoneware, the master potter also took inspiration from our only dragon kiln at Thow Kwang at Jalan Bahar, part of W.H. Lee's collection. He has worked at the kiln intermittently  throughout his career. In this piece that takes the shape of a traditional dragon kiln with a chimney and a mound, alluded to the communal facility that is well loved and familiar within the community of potters in Singapore, indicating his interest to encourage the growth of this community.

If I have to pick a favorite piece in this exhibition, perhaps it'll be '3 Gundus' (2006) in stoneware, currently owned by Far East Organization. Hurhurhur. Look at those human figures seated atop giant-horse-like things. Love how whimsical it is. It's a tongue-in-cheek reference to his 'silly' students and his humor in how he sees his role as an art educator.

'3 Gundus' (2006); part of Far East Organisation's collection.
Gundu merupakan slanga Singapura yang bererti "bodoh"

As a counterpoint, the National Gallery also commissioned a contemporary installation by Gerald Leow- 'Some Of You Will Be Asked To Leave'. It's a wireframe. It houses some of the master potter's personal cooking pots, tables and even a hat stand. These items from the potter's home make up the second exhibition room. Visitors are allowed in 15 at a time. It's intimate and cosy. I didn't bother taking photos of the items in the room. For these personal pieces, seeing them in perspective is treasured. It's pretty fun to have a glimpse of what the artist's sense of aesthetics and identity is like at home, versus utility and practical applications.

In an interview with The Straits Times in August 2016, Iskandar Jalil says,

"My legacy is my house, where I have a lot of pieces that I don't show to the public, and my books, my writings."   
As for his public legacy, he says: "All the public wall murals and pieces in the MRT and airport, there is more than enough."


coboypb said...

Your post reminds me that I should make my first visit to the National Gallery on one of my day off!

imp said...

you haven't gone by? Must go! :) It's worth a whole morning or half an afternoon.

D said...

i can't say i'm a fan (cos i don't know much about him or his work), but he's the only Singaporean potter (or ceramist?) that I can name off hand. i have seen only a handful of his work, but i love them.

imp said...

D: Any of the pieces seem familiar in these tiny photos?