A few years ago, Burhan Ashari was labelled as a "destroyer" of heritage art when he introduced colouring techniques for traditional wood carving.
However, that didn’t stop the owner of Seni Kayu Warisan in Kuala Terengganu from doing what he believed was right and he remains optimistic that someday the technique would be elevated as a fine art in wood carving in this country, especially in Terengganu.
Burhan recalls how he was amazed to see rustic coloured wood carving pieces, which were created hundreds of years ago, when he was in Pattani, Thailand back in 2016.
"When I returned to Terengganu, I started wood carving painting and uploaded the final products on Facebook. Little did I know, it would trigger quite a debate among local woodcarvers. I received many harsh comments as well as praise for my artworks," says Burhan at his workshop in Kampung Pulau Rusa.
"However, people began to accept this technique after I explained it in talks and craft workshops because it is a heritage from our ancestors which has long been forgotten, ” he adds.
Burhan, a father of five, elaborates that the previous generation would use fruit essence and herbs such as ‘pinang’ (areca nuts) and turmeric to create yellow colour, ‘bunga senduduk’ (melastoma) (purple) and mangosteen peel (red) when doing the artworks.
"However, Malaysian woodcarvers rarely colour their artworks. The technique was hardly put to practice perhaps because they think it is not our heritage, though it had been there for so long.
"Therefore, when I reintroduced this technique, my hope was to expand the wood carving market and offer more choices to buyers and collectors," he says.
According to Terengganu branch Kraftangan Malaysia, currently Seni Kayu Warisan is the only company producing wood carvings with coloured surfaces.
Burhan says he has six workers to assist him in preparing orders for customers who include resort operators and home owners throughout the country.
While admitting that the number of orders had reduced since the pandemic, the 66-year-old craftsman adds he has managed to survive. His interest and love for wood art remains strong.
"Since I started this business in 2005, my aim is not solely to gain profit. I also want to bring our wood craftsmanship ideas to the world stage.
"Who else would be proud of our ancestor’s identity and heritage (if not us)? That’s why I always welcome tourists to this workshop to see for themselves the uniqueness of Malaysia’s wood carvings,” says Burhan, who only uses cengal wood to make his products due to its durability and high quality.
When asked on the future of wood carving in Terengganu, he says it could be gone in 20 to 30 years time if no proactive action is taken by the state government to conserve the art.
"I really hope that there will be a regulation to make it compulsory for all commercial premises owners such as hotels, business or government buildings, to have traditional elements or heritage arts of wood carving, batik or songket, incorporated at their premises.
"This will help industry players to survive in the post-Covid 19 economy,” he concludes. - Bernama
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