Teacher training undergraduate Muhammad Hanif Aris has never met Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj but the teenager certainly knows about Malaysia’s first prime minister and his role in the nation's independence from British rule.
As a tribute to him, the Kedah-born, Miri-based student has completed an oil painting of Tunku on a kain pelikat (sarong worn by men) in conjunction with Malaysia’s 65th Merdeka celebrations on Aug 31.
Themed "Bapa Kemerdekaan" (Father of Independence), Muhammad Hanif took 10 days to complete the artwork, which measures 35 inches (89cm) by 23.6 inches (60cm).
“I was inspired to create Tunku’s portrait on cloth because Tunku wore the Malay traditional costume, namely the baju melayu with the kain pelikat and songkok, very often. This was during the 1940s and during his reign as prime minister.
“Tunku was proud of his Malay identity and he donned the kain pelikat with pride,” said Muhammad Hanif, 19, during a chat over the phone from Miri recently.
The soft-spoken lad is currently pursuing his degree in visual arts education at Institut Pendidikan Guru (Kampus Sarawak) in Miri.
Bapa Kemerdekaan is Muhammad Hanif’s first attempt at painting a portrait on cloth.
“As a visual arts student, I am exposed to various techniques in drawing, photography and computer graphic applications.
Therefore, I am interested in exploring art materials to achieve different results. I chose kain pelikat because it represents my identity as a Kedahan Malay, just like Tunku,” shared Muhammad Hanif, a former student of SMK Labu Besar in Kulim.
Like painting on canvas, he first creates an outline of the portrait on the material. He then completes the artwork using oil paint, varnish and linseed oil.
“The most difficult part was mixing the colours and using the right amount of linseed oil to blend the colours onto the textile. Unlike canvas, cotton material tends to absorb more paint, so I used seven tubes of oil paint to complete the project,” explained Muhammad Hanif, who forked out RM250 for the materials used for the portrait.
On his Facebook page (Nipxz Arts), he described Bapa Kemerdekaan as such: “Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah was the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya in 1955 and the first Prime Minister of Malaysia since independence in 1957 until 1970. The formation of Malaysia in 1963 was one of his greatest achievements when Tunku voiced the idea of forming Malaysia, joining Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.”
Muhammad Hanif has received positive remarks for his unique creation.
@Nur Izatul Hanim wrote, "Tahniah sepupu Muhammad Hanif Aris. Mula2 tak percaya dia lukis atas kain pelikat. Dia seorang yang detail orangnya. (“Congratulations, my cousin. At first, I couldn’t believe he drew on kain pelikat. He’s a detailed person.”)
His former school teacher @Nooraini Hassan commented: "Sangat halus seninya. Dari dulu lagi dan semakin tajam bakatnya. Tahniah Hanif. Teruskan martabat kesenian. (“His artwork is very delicate. It has always been and his talent has been improving. Congratulations Hanif. Keep up the dignity of art.”)
Muhammad Hanif also recently completed a portrait of 1950s nationalist and Kaum Ibu UMNO leader Khadijah Sidek. The piece is painted over a floral batik sarong from Kelantan.
In addition, he is working on a portrait of Malaysian silver screen legend Tan Sri P. Ramlee and his wife, pop legend Saloma, painted on Indonesian batik.
“Many people have forgotten many icons from the past. By painting their portraits on cloth, hopefully people will remember their contributions to our country,” said Muhammad Hanif, the youngest of four siblings.
The son of a rubber tapper, Muhammad Hanif developed an interest in art in primary school.
He has completed nearly 50 still-life drawings, charcoal sketching and paintings. Many of his works are commissioned by his friends, and his earnings are saved as pocket money.
“I’ve been accepting commissioned work since I was 16. The money earned has been used to help my father put food on the table. Now, I’m using the extra income to pay for my living expenses on campus, and for my art material,” he said.