The Chinese word “li” has several meanings, such as courtesy, etiquette and manners. And that is the word chosen by Dr Wong Kum Peng, one of the three featured calligraphers for Pos Malaysia’s Malaysian Calligraphy series.
“In Chinese culture, ‘li’ is very important; the message I want to convey is ‘yi li dai ren’ (treat others with courtesy). By treating others with respect, many misunderstandings can be avoided.
“It is very interesting to see all three calligraphy styles presented together to show the multicultural and multiracial aspect of Malaysia, which is something we Malaysians are proud of,” he said of the stamp series.
“The style I use on this stamp is in the semi-cursive or running script style known as xingshu.
“I chose it because it is beautiful, and not too structured like the regular script, and it is legible to everyone in comparison to the cursive script,” he explained.
“Art transcends race and culture, it is something everyone can appreciate despite language barriers,” he added.
A self-taught calligrapher who started dabbling in calligraphy when he was 10, Wong further honed his skills when he was studying at the National Taiwan University in Taiwan.
He founded the Calligraphy Society of Malaysia and is now a patron of the organisation after having been president from 2001 to 2007.
His calligraphy works are carved on stone tablets at the Dufu mausoleum in Henan, China, and can be found on the arch at the entrance of Melbourne’s Chinatown in Australia.
“Just having the knowledge and skills does not mean it’s calligraphy, it is merely a form of writing.
“One needs character or inner depth to produce calligraphy,” said Wong, who teaches the art at his studio.
During the interview, he received a call informing him that the stamp bearing the word li in the Pos Malaysia series had been sold out.
Much could be learned from practising calligraphy, he said.
“Calligraphy helps me concentrate and forget my worries.
“Whenever I’m facing a problem, I find that I can gain a different perspective after practising calligraphy,” he said.
“Calligraphy has to be done step by step, it teaches you to plan ahead. The same principles can be applied in life.”
You’d need a magnifying glass to inspect the khat artwork of Abdul Baki Abu Bakar, because his canvas is no bigger than a 30x30mm stamp.
His latest work for Pos Malaysia’s Malaysian Calligraphy series issued on June 28 is a rendition of the postal company’s “Nilai Murni” (Noble Values) theme in Jawi (Malay written in Arabic alphabet)..
He spent a month to come up with four patterns for the philately committee to approve.
“There are rules to khat. You cannot have running lines drawn joined together, nor can you have overlaps because they obscure the alphabet. You can’t join an alif to a ya or a nun to a ra either,” he explained.
The design in this stamp issue features the Thuluth style of Arabic calligraphy. Similar to Roman cursive writing, Thuluth is most commonly found in mosque decorations for its touch of grandeur.
“This is one of the most complicated styles of Arabic calligraphy I’ve come across,” said Abdul Baki, who took five years to master the strokes.
On the stylisation, he said the fascinating aspect lay in the ability to tuck entire sentences within a constrained space.
“I developed an interest in calligraphy when I was eight. When I was 24, I joined Mushaf Malaysia, an NGO, and was part of a team of writers responsible for copying the Al-Quran onto a master copy for mass printing. We had to do this by hand.
“It took me three years to finish 640 pages,” said Abdul Baki when asked how he honed his skills.
The artist eventually travelled to Istanbul, Turkey, to study Islamic calligraphy at the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture.
Upon his return, he worked with Yayasan Restu, a non-profit organisation for 15 years before taking up the entrepreneurial path as managing director of Diwani Kraf. Among the services it offers are Islamic interior design, seal art and calligraphy classes.
“I have been a calligrapher for 20 years. In the past decade, I see a rising demand for works that serve as spiritual reminders. Mine is not just a business that focuses on material returns.
“It is also a form of community service because by spreading the message of telling people to live right, I am constantly blessed with sustenance,” said Abdul Baki.
The third contributing artist to Pos Malaysia’s Noble Value Day calligraphy series is Velu Perumal, whose background in industrial design helped him come up with not one, but six different final samples using Tamil script for the “Nanneri Panbu” 70sen stamp.
“One design motif I wanted to include was the coconut leaf, as the plant and the leaf have multiple uses among Malaysians of all cultures,” he said.
Another leaf design that Velu incorporated in the final stamp design was the mango leaf, a common decorative motif in Indian culture.
“Naneri means good or benevolent, while panbu can be translated as values,” he said.
Instead of a brush for this design, Velu went with a knife-cut bamboo pen.
“Different thickness helps give the design a more three-dimensional perception, more depth.
“And once you start, you have to finish writing in one go, so that the design and the script are clean and constant,” he explained further.
In his free time, Velu helps promote Tamil calligraphy through talks and creativity workshops with students, while also sitting as president of the Malaysian Association of Creativity Innovation and Design.
“What Pos Malaysia has done is a good thing, by inviting us three to produce calligraphy, we can showcase different cultural artifacts in our diverse society,” said Velu.