Muhammad Iqbal with some of his ceramic products Foto Bernama
By Sakini Mohd Said
BANTING (Bernama) -- Muhammad Iqbal Awang Damit knows how to get the younger generation excited about ceramic art.
"You have to let them see the process for themselves and try their hand at it. That will help build their interest, raise their appreciation and desire to own a piece themselves.
"You will not get the same appreciation when you just display a finished product for them to see. In fact, they would even question the uniqueness of the product," said the 26-year-old ceramist.
In fact, majority of people assume that ceramic crafts are only products like clay pots, flower pots, 'labu sayong' (gourd-shaped clay pitcher) and earthenware.
This is despite the fact that the aesthetical value of ceramic craft has improved with time, with designs reflecting current trends, making it attractive to more people.
LACK OF EXPOSURE
"After nearly nine years in the field, I can conclude that Malaysians are less appreciative of ceramic craft compared with other products in the market.
"This is probably due to the lack of knowledge on the craft despite it being a heritage craft. The situation is made worse by the deluge of new products based on materials like glass," he told Bernama.
Muhammad Iqbal was met at the Bangkita Studio Seramik gallery during a media coverage programme in conjunction with the 2017 Kuala Lumpur International Craft Festival (KLICF 2017) organised by Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia (Kraftangan) recently.
He said that poor exposure of the uniqueness of the craft was the reason for the lack of appreciation for the art.
In comparison, in countries that are known for their ceramic products such as South Korea and Turkey their people still use clay-based items in their daily lives.
"While I was undergoing three months of training in Incheon, South Korea, I saw for myself how the people would also buy ceramic products for daily use. They have been taught from young to appreciate their culture and arts, and this includes being taught to mould clay into ceramic products.
Nature provides the inspiration for many of Muhammad Iqbal's creation Foto Bernama
"That is why their production (for ceramic products) is high. A craft manufacturer in South Korea can produce 1,000 ceramic products a day because there is always demand," he said.
Cognisant for the need of early exposure of the craft among Malaysians, the young ceramist has made it a mission to utilise his studio as a platform for the purpose.
Born into a family with deep appreciation for arts, Muhammad Iqbal and his five siblings have been taught to value heritage crafts and products, including ceramics.
With encouragement from his father, renowned artist Awang Damit, 61, Muhammad Iqbal furthered his studies in the field of ceramics at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Seri Iskandar in 2009.
"I believe that my upbringing has helped immensely in inculcating my appreciation for heritage arts. In fact, my family has been using ceramic tableware and earthenware until today.
"Heritage value aside, there are a lot of advantages to using ceramic products. It lasts a long time and food tend to taste better (when cooked and served in it)," said Muhammad Iqbal, the fifth of six siblings.
Since its opening in 2013, Bangkita Studio has conducted various programmes to help familiarise the public with ceramic crafts. Visitors, whether local or from overseas, have been taught how to make ceramic products, identify the materials needed for the purpose and how to care for the products.
The studio, located in his village in Sijangkang, also provides accommodation as Muhammad Iqbal intends for it to serve as a tourist attraction as well in the area.
"We would usually invite schools to come to Bangkita for a chance at informal learning in traditional ceramic making, including the clay firing process.
"I charge a small fee for this as I would need to get my staff to assist with the process. I also accept university students who wish to do their practical studies here.
"My intention is to actually turn the place into a kind of homestay. However, for the time being, there is only enough lodging space for the students doing their practical as the chalet is still in construction," he explained.
Muhammad Iqbal said such an approach would help with the socio-economic development of his village by creating job opportunities for its youth, in addition to promoting his craft to outsiders.
Muhammad Iqbal, who works mostly with contemporary ceramic crafts, said that the uniqueness of his product laid in the design and colours used as it differed from market offerings.
Modern designs inspired by nature such as wood surface textures and coconut frond shapes is the signature style of the ceramist, who also makes decorative items, souvenirs and daily use items.
"When people talk about ceramic craft, in their heads they are already imagining the typical colours used such as brown or black.
"I want to create a distinction with my work so colour selection is as important as design. I have been learning about colours with ceramic makers in Kuala Kangsar as well as when training in South Korea," he said.
To improve colour and design, Muhammad Iqbal said Kraftangan had also helped him in material preparations and promoting his work locally and overseas.
Muhammad Iqbal will be showcasing his work at the KLICF 2017, to be held between 23 and 26 Nov at Dataran Putrajaya in Precinct 3. This year's collection will feature blue and white ceramic products.