Art lecturer carves pandemic-inspired wood sculptures, proceeds to go to needy students


  • Arts
  • Friday, 12 Jun 2020

‘As artists, one advantage we have is that we are problem solvers. I like challenges because they help to spark my creativity,’ says Rosli. Photos: Rosli Zakaria

With the nation easing most of the coronavirus curbs and restrictive measures, Melaka-based artist and academic Dr Rosli Zakaria is looking forward to a little more freedom in the coming weeks.

He has drawn up a to do list, which he will run through carefully.

Rosli isn’t taking anything for granted, and recalls how he not only found solace in his art, but also a way to translate all the fears and uncertainties during and after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Rosli kept true to his art practise as a sculptor. There was only one way he wanted express himself... through wood sculptures.

His latest sculptures are part of his Projek Arca Corona Series, which art enthusiasts can view on his Facebook page. A gallery exhibition is being planned, too.

“I am optimistic that my sculptures can help document the history of the pandemic in Malaysia. It’s a reaction to the times. Amid all the darkness and confusion, it shows how art can bring hope and calm,” says Rosli, 55, in an email interview.

The Corona Series was handcrafted in Rosli’s "Tukang Arca" studio/home in Taman Makmur, Masjid Tanah in Melaka. It consists of 10 table sculptures, each of them measuring no more than 55cm in height.

'Corona #Lockdown 1' (wood sculpture, 2020).'Corona #Lockdown 1' (wood sculpture, 2020).

Each sculpture costs RM1,900. Rosli, who lectures art at UITM Melaka, is donating 60% of the proceeds of each work to help students from the university’s Art and Design Faculty, who have been economically affected by the pandemic.

Rosli says this series was crafted from various types of wood, including meranti, cengal and jambu. The work took over 40 days to finish, with Rosli sketching designs before referencing daily TV news updates on the pandemic.

Quite possibly, this is his most intense creative stint in the studio, working under a cloud of pandemic gloom.

According to him, the sculptures are inspired by the realities of life during the lockdown. To Rosli, it was overwhelming to suddenly comprehend things like red zones, barbed wire fencing, daily death tally, social distancing and face masks.

The new normal just felt like a nightmare that kept coming back for daily reruns.

As the weeks passed, he adjusted and relied on his art to keep him in a good place.

Rosli would catch press conferences from the Prime Minister and the Director General of the Ministry of Health on TV, and make notes of what he saw.

No gallery, no problem: Rosli's 'Corona Series' sculptures on temporary display at his Tukang Arca home studio in Melaka.No gallery, no problem: Rosli's 'Corona Series' sculptures on temporary display at his Tukang Arca home studio in Melaka.

“Words and phrases that we don’t hear often, like lockdown, stay home, and tabligh, suddenly became the norm.

While I was sketching my work, I was in front of the TV set 90% of the time. Every time I finished a sketch, I would choose the main words of the day, ” says Rosli.

The series contains works titled Corona #Lockdown, Corona #Tabligh, Corona #Day 4 Duduk Rumah, and Corona #Ramadhan.

“The recent Ramadan month and Hari Raya will be remembered for a long time. The pandemic brought on so many challenges for Muslims around the world, but the lessons here are to see how people coped and kept strong.”

The new works also feature Rosli dealing with extremely pensive moods.

In the sombre-looking work titled Corona #Mati (Death), Rosli recalls feeling downcast after watching TV reports on the high death toll in Italy.

Part of Rosli's wood-based sculpture series inspired by the pandemic project, which began in early April. Part of Rosli's wood-based sculpture series inspired by the pandemic project, which began in early April.

“The news in Italy was extremely saddening. Then we had news of the death toll in the United States also reaching such high numbers.

“I made a work called Mati after processing all the bad news. There was no other word more appropriate for such a desperate situation, ” says Rosli.

The recovery movement control order has lifted his mood, with Rosli looking forward to having an active academic life once again, spending time with his students.

He recommends that artists continue use this time to be productive in creating works, or in gathering knowledge.

“This pandemic will be a test for everyone, including artists, as long as a vaccine for this has not been found. Like it or not, we have to deal with it.

“Thinking positive is the best approach. As artists, one advantage we have is that we are problem solvers. I like challenges because they help to spark my creativity, ” concludes Rosli.

More info: roslizakariapengarca.blogspot.com.

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