Artisan finds digital footing


Hand-crafted: Tong with one of his works at his studio in Ceylon Road. — ZAINUDIN AHAD/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: An artisan skilled in the fast-fading traditional art of woodcarving, Tong Wing Cheong, has found refuge in the online shopping world to help keep his art alive during the Covid-19 pandemic.

And he hopes someone can help old masters learn the digital way too.

With hardly any tourist visiting the heritage enclave, Tong, 35, went online and realised he could reach out to those who love his art.

“I took pictures of my carvings and set up a store in Shopee.

“This is how I receive my orders and sell my works now.

“Unfortunately, for the elderly practitioners of other handicrafts, they face difficulty in such matters.

“If someone were to assist them, it would help preserve our heritage works, ” he added.

Tong said compared with the past when he waited for tourists to buy his works in souvenir shops and bookstores, being online has helped him reach a wider market.

He said his works could appeal to Malaysians, especially for artistic paper prints done with printing blocks he carved.

The online platform, he said, allowed him to connect with interested buyers directly.

“Digitally printed art is perfect. But art printed from wooden blocks is never perfect and no two prints are ever alike.

“That adds to the artistic quality of the prints, ” Tong said.

Tong, who has been practising the traditional art of woodcarving for eight years, carves everything from wooden and ancestral tablets to trinkets and traditional Hokkien glove puppets.

He realised he is one of the few craftsmen in the heritage enclave who are not too badly affected by the pandemic and the movement control order.

“Many handmade arts and crafts here are practised by the elderly.

“This makes it hard for them to find customers during the MCO.

“As they are not adept in technology or digital marketing, it is hard for them to appeal to customers even when the demand is there, ” he said at his studio in Lorong Ceylon.

During the Chinese New Year festive period, Tong noted an increase in sales of paper decorations printed with wooden blocks he carved.

“Many people who like the traditional aspect bought them to be framed as decorations at home, ” he said.

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