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FEATURES

Shaq Koyok’s Artworks Capture The Orang Asli’s Struggle

26/09/2022 11:33 AM

By Soon Li Wei

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) –  A portrait of an Orang Asli woman of Temuan tribe greeted this writer at the studio of award-winning contemporary artist  and activist Shahar Koyok, whose raison d’etre is his artworks which capture the struggle of the indigenous people.

The Temuan beauty, modestly dressed in her traditional costume with a selempang (sash) worn over the shoulder, is among the prized collections for Shahar, who is a Temuan himself.

The studio apartment which became operational since 2015 houses his artworks that were previously showcased to the public as well as his personal collections and is exclusive for his close friends.

“I am not alone in this studio as ‘they’ keep me company as I immerse myself in my paintings...at times my creativity was sparked by ‘their’ presence,” Shahar told Bernama in an interview at his studio apartment at Jalan Pahang here, opposite Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL).

‘They’ are the ‘characters’ that are immortalised in his paintings and are mostly from the Orang Asli community, such as the Temuan Orang Asli woman.

Shahar, 37, fondly known as Shaq, holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Art from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), Shah Alam. He hails from Kampung Orang Asli Pulau Kempas, Banting, Selangor.

Shaq bagged the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment (2017), Indigenous People Icon Award and the indigenous People Excellence Award by Tourism Selangor in 2015.

 

ORANG ASLI PORTRAIT


According to Shahar Koyok, the portrait of the Temuan woman from Hulu Selangor took about two weeks to complete and is expected to be displayed at an international exhibition in Italy next month.

Shaq said the portrait of the Temuan woman from Hulu Selangor took about two weeks to complete and is expected to be displayed at an international exhibition in Italy next month.

“That’s not all, I will also be showcasing several of my art pieces crafted on weaved mengkuang mat, which are considered among the best of my works of art,” he added.

Shaq developed his interest in the artistic world during his early years when he studied art in the primary school.

“I love drawing since I was young.  During my secondary school days, I received encouragement from my teacher who discovered my talent especially in making portraits. 

 “In fact, I was paid to paint portraits in school as a side income,” he said.

On his art genre, Shaq said he is more comfortable with portraits, which are focused on his friends in the village as the theme, as well as individuals, whom he did not know, during their visit to the Orang Asli settlement.

“Many things were on my mind after visiting a place, especially after my interaction with the Orang Asli community who had the same fate as I was.

“I wanted to share our story with the public but as I’m a man of few words, I can only express myself through art,” he said.

As a portrait artist, Shaq said he will try to paint a portrait of an individual by bringing it to life and the image will be immortalised in his creative piece.

Shaq’s work consists mainly of Orang Asli portraits surrounded by nature with clear commentary on issues faced by the community.

On his portraiture, he said, “Even if the subject has passed away, or grown older, or has changed over the years, his portrait and the story behind the portrait will remain.”

Portraiture is widely believed to be the most challenging form of painting to exist, as it requires an eager sharpness for portraying the human form in the utmost level of detail.

The art within a portrait comes through in the expressions. With just small hints of emotion, subtle but immediately recognisable, that’s what brings a portrait to life.

 

CHILDHOOD YEARS


Shahar, 37, told Bernama: "I am not alone in this studio as ‘they’ keep me company as I immerse myself in my paintings...at times my creativity was sparked by ‘their’ presence. Photo credit Soon Liwei.

Shaq said the most subjects in his artworks are a representation of the identity and culture of the Orang Asli in Malaysia in addition to sharing the sufferings and struggle faced by the community.

As the son of an Orang Asli Temuan, Shaq alleged that he often witnessed how the ethnic minority were ill-treated based on societal stigmatisation of the Orang Asli by labelling them as a backward community without any education from young.

In fact, it broke his heart to read of bullying cases affecting Orang Asli children in the social media.

“The only difference is the physical appearance and skin colour and some Orang Asli students, including myself were often the joke material for other students.

“In class, we were often being made fun of, calling us ‘Jakun, ‘Sakai’ and other weird names.

 “Many Orang Asli children dropped out of school as the situation had reached a tipping point,” he said, adding that some of them returned to the classroom after years of staying away from school.

 Sharing his own experience, Shaq said he was devastated when the forests around his village were destroyed to pave way for agricultural activities.

“The memories remain fresh; back then in 1994, lorry loads of timber could be seen plying the route to the rainforests and noisy sounds of sawn timber and excavators could be heard from our village. Forests, which are our place of shelter and sources of livelihood, just disappeared into thin air.

“We were furious at the sight of the destruction; while we were promised of compensation, it was only empty promises and we did not know who we should lodge our complaints to,” he said adding the issues affecting the Orang Asli community fuelled his passion to be their voice through his portraits.

Shaq said, among his artworks produced in 2015, included using burnt ash from the rainforest fire incident in Kuala Langat, to reflect the plight of the affected people in the surrounding areas.

 

MENGKUANG MAT AT INTERNATIONAL EXPO


Unlike other artists who usually use linen fabric as canvas, Shahar Koyok displays his artistic prowess by painting the portrait of the Orang Asli on a canvas made of mengkuang mat. Photo credit Soon Liwei.

Unlike other artists who usually use linen fabric as canvas, Shaq displays his artistic prowess by painting the portrait of the Orang Asli on a canvas made of mengkuang mat.

He said handwoven mengkuang mats are usually used as floor mats in most Orang Asli homes, and they reignited memories of his childhood days when his mother would weave the mats herself.

“While mengkuang weaving is quite common, the traditional craft is gradually losing its lustre among the younger generation. As such, I am immortalising my painting on mengkuang mat aimed at promoting our traditional art and craft to others,” he added.

According to Shaq, painting on a mengkuang mat is very challenging given the difficulty in making the colour stick on the canvas. It’s as though you are painting on a leaf, or nature’s palette.

“After the drawing and painting process, I have to protect the layers of shellac for embellishment and prevent the colour from fading,” he said.

Sharing his experience in participating in an international exhibition in New Zealand in 2018, Shaq said his mengkuang mat canvas masterpiece was regarded as a highly valuable artwork in that country.

“I leveraged on the international exhibition to promote Orang Asli culture in Malaysia to visitors through my artworks.

“Most foreign visitors were impressed with my artworks as they reflect my struggle in advocating and championing the rights of the Orang Asli as well as my endeavour in protecting the natural environment, which is similar to how New Zealanders protect the rights of their indigenous Maori tribe,” he added.

 

ORANG ASLI EDUCATION


UiTM graduate Shahar Koyok actually bagged the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment (2017), Indigenous People Icon Award and the indigenous People Excellence Award by Tourism Selangor in 2015. Photo credit Soon Liwei.

 As an Orang Asli, Shaq said he was delighted that his paintings have inspired Orang Asli children to take pride in their own identity.

However, there was a tinge of sadness in his voice as he spoke of public acceptance towards the Orang Asli community in the country.

“In the education system, we learn the history of the Malays, Chinese, Indians and even the ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak are also introduced in our textbooks.

“However, the history of the Orang Asli, with 18 ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia as well as in Sabah and Sarawak, is not found in the textbooks...that is why it has become an issue of discrimination as members of the public do not understand our culture and way of life.

“Contrary to misconception that we are not highly educated, many Orang Asli children have been successful in every field that they pursued, and in fact, some have also become university lecturers,” said Shaq, who is also active in charity work and an activist in advocating the rights of the Orang Asli community, especially related to the natural environment and overdevelopment of native land.

Shaq also opined that education on culture and history of the Orang Asli should be introduced at an early age so that all races can learn to respect each other.

“That’s why I used to offer to paint the mural of the Orang Asli on my school wall to instil pride among the indigenous community towards their own identity.

“My intention was to make them go to school. Many were too ashamed to be in school due to societal labelling and stigmatisation toward the Orang Asli.

“I don’t want this to happen. That’s the reason why the Orang Asli characters on my mural paintings are dressed in their traditional attire to reflect our culture,” he said adding that, this way, he was able to win over the hearts of other students toward the Orang Asli people.

At the same time, he said, the initiative would allow the Orang Asli to overcome their fear by interacting with others, and to have a better understanding of various cultures, hence fostering racial harmony at school.

 

Translated by Salbiah Said

BERNAMA 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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