Malaysian sculptor's quest to keep the mind sharp


Daud Rahim standing beside an artwork titled 'Red Pencil - No U-Turn' (acasia wood, cempedak wood and oil paint, 2023) at his exhibition 'Sharpening The Imagination' in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: HOM Art Trans

Contemporary artist Daud Rahim’s creativity knows no bounds, and his imagination takes centre stage at the HOM Art Trans gallery in Kuala Lumpur, which he has single-handedly transformed into the realm of oversized pencil sculptures.

His latest solo exhibition Sharpening The Imagination, featuring 26 oddly sculptured wooden creations, sees the artist- lecturer focusing only on sculptures, leaving his drawings and paintings for another day.

“Usually, I would exhibit drawings and sculptures together but this time I spent eight months making these sculptures. I spend, at least, over a year making drawings and sculptures but there wasn’t enough time for the drawings this time,” says Daud, 51, in an interview at the gallery.

There is, however, nothing amiss with Sharpening The Imagination. In fact, the “larger-than-life” wooden pencil sculptures which vary in height, width, colour and shape have a sense of unity and harmony about them.

There is a feeling of wonder, nostalgia and appreciation of craftmanship when one walks around the HOM Art Trans gallery, where these works are being exhibited until March 10.

Visitors taking a photograph at Daud’s exhibition, with the sculpture 'My Pencil' seen in the foreground. Photo: HandoutVisitors taking a photograph at Daud’s exhibition, with the sculpture 'My Pencil' seen in the foreground. Photo: Handout

It is easy to feel a connection with Daud’s pencil sculptures.

“The pencil is of course, synonymous with childhood,” he says with a broad smile.

To him, the pencil is one of the first, if not the first, instrument we use at a young age when we start to learn; be it writing, drawing and arithmetic. It transports one back to our early days of school.

Daud reached back to his own memories of his youth growing up in Lenggong, Perak for inspiration, but this new series is not only about a sense of nostalgia.

While there is an appreciation of the object which brought joy to the young artist, that young man has now reached his early 50s, with nearly 30 years of experience in the local art scene.

‘Like the act of sharpening a pencil. Having a positive imagination is important because it affects the way we think and how we make decisions in life,’ says Daud. Photo: The Star/William Gary ‘Like the act of sharpening a pencil. Having a positive imagination is important because it affects the way we think and how we make decisions in life,’ says Daud. Photo: The Star/William Gary

In 1996, he graduated with a Fine Art degree from UiTM Shah Alam (majoring in sculpture) and obtained a Master’s Degree in Drawing from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2002. He began teaching Fine Art at UiTM Seri Iskandar, Perak a year after he earned his degree in 1997 and he still teaches and lives there (Seri Iskandar) to this day.

The daily academic routine – teaching drawing and sculpture – has hardly slowed down his creative ambitions, with solo shows, four to date, and group show participation still an exciting prospect for the zestful artist.

Pencils are just like people

In Sharpening The Imagination, Daud explains the importance of how one should develop the mind.

“Imagination is important. Your imagination starts working once someone says something like, ‘Let’s take a hike in the jungle’, and almost immediately you get an image of a tiger in your mind. So the imagination or the visuals in your head can be either negative or positive. However, the visuals that move you come from the positive.

Daud took about eight months to create the wood sculptures for the 'Sharpening The Imagination' show. Photo: HandoutDaud took about eight months to create the wood sculptures for the 'Sharpening The Imagination' show. Photo: Handout

“So Sharpening The Imagination ideally, is to continually train ourselves and our children to have a positive imagination. Like the act of sharpening a pencil. Having a positive imagination is important because it affects the way we think and how we make decisions in life,” says Daud.

In his home studio in Perak, Daud, using tools such as a chainsaw, a small axe and a chisel, created his sculptures mainly from discarded mahogany trees, which he recovered after they were cut-down in the Seri Iskandar area.

“As raw material, the (mahogany) wood has form and substance,” he says.

Sharpening The Imagination, as a full series, offers a mixture of personal stories and Daud’s observations on life.

An artwork titled 'Saya Suka Pensil Dan Pensil Sukakan Saya' from Daud's new exhibition. Photo: The Star/William Gary An artwork titled 'Saya Suka Pensil Dan Pensil Sukakan Saya' from Daud's new exhibition. Photo: The Star/William Gary

At HOM Art Trans, viewers will discover some pieces are references to the artist, such as My Pencil and Saya Suka Pensil Dan Pensil Sukakan Saya (I Like Pencils And Pencils Like Me), while others are about the human condition.

As a poignant reflection, a pencil can age and turn into an old man like Daud’s piece Atok – Makin Tua Makin Banyak Cerita (Granddad – The Older He Gets The More Stories He Tells) which is just a short stub, having been sharpened over and over again. It now has a blunt lead tip.

And there is also the opposite: a young man or a new, long pencil sharpened at both ends titled There Is Still A Long Way To Go.

There are pieces which are dedications like Pensil Cikgu Lukisan (The Art Teacher’s Pencil), My English Teacher and Ayahku Seorang Tukang Yang Jitu (My Father Is The Real Craftsman), about Daud’s late father who was a carpenter.

A playful work titled 'Polka Dots' from Daud, which was finished this year. Photo: The Star/William Gary A playful work titled 'Polka Dots' from Daud, which was finished this year. Photo: The Star/William Gary

“I used to follow my dad and watch him work sometimes. He built our house in Lenggong. I never built anything like that. I have built things like a chicken coop,” says Daud, who continues with an interesting anecdote.

“Once in 2003, I was taking painting lessons from (acclaimed painter) Awang Damit and I told him my father was a carpenter and he said, ‘Oh! So your father is a carpenter. You have the potential to be a sculptor’.

“I was young, just fresh out of the kampung (village) and I didn’t know if that was the case but I followed Awang’s advice and started working with wood. I discovered that I really liked it.

“I went on to work with other material such as metal, aluminium and clay, but there was something about working with wood and the more I worked with it, the more I liked it. In the end, what Awang said turned out to be true,” he says

Slow life, slow art

Some of Daud’s sculptures also feature organic shapes that grow out of them. There are sculptures where the lead curls organically like spirals, such as Biomorphic Pencil and Girl’s Pencil, which cannot be achieved with a real pencil.

A wood sculpture titled 'Pensil Cikgu Lukisan' from Daud. Photo: The Star/William Gary A wood sculpture titled 'Pensil Cikgu Lukisan' from Daud. Photo: The Star/William Gary

On the gallery wall, there is a “banana” that seamlessly morphs into a 2B yellow and black octagonal pencil titled Belajar Jadi Orang (Learn To Be Human).

“Some people fail to see the value of sitting under a tree and watching the waves gently crashing on the beach or spending time with their children or loved ones. Some of them think like, ‘What do I get spending time with my family at the beach?’

“If society starts thinking more and more like this, then there is a danger of us ultimately losing our humanity,” says Daud.

In Melukis Sampai Pagi (Drawing Until Dawn), another sculpture with both ends sharpened and the middle taking a slight spiral curve, you will find the artist reflecting on the passage of time.

This is basically Daud in a nutshell, someone who is always drawing, always working.

A close-up of Daud’s 'Leopard – Jadi Budak Baik', one of the new works in the exhibition, featuring 26 wood pencil sculptures. Photo: The Star/William GaryA close-up of Daud’s 'Leopard – Jadi Budak Baik', one of the new works in the exhibition, featuring 26 wood pencil sculptures. Photo: The Star/William Gary

“There really is no break. I’ve never stopped working, really. I’ve got another show coming up in May. But even if there wasn’t another exhibition, I would still be drawing. After the night prayer, sometimes I go to the supermarket to get groceries or hang out with friends but after that, if there’s nothing else going on, I’ll just head into the studio and draw.

“But I can’t stay up all night now because I have to take my pressure medication ... I’m getting older and the doctor told me not to stay up so late,” he concludes with a laugh.

Sharpening The Imagination is showing at held at HOM Art Trans in Kuala Lumpur until March 10.

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