Friday, September 5, 2008

Visiting Tengku Sabri

When I arrived at Tengku Sabri’s (Yi) house on Tuesday evening, I was on a mission. However, by the end of our long chat into the late hours of the night, the meeting had turned into a reminiscence of our teenage years at UiTM, an enlightening lecture on Yi’s views on art, and much more.

Stepping into Yi’s house, you would immediately notice the shelves overflowing with books. Children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, religious books, art books, classic literature, the Quran, the Holy Bible, and whatnot. I am sure that if I looked properly, I would find the original Kama Sutra text too, sandwiched between the Bhagavad Gita and something by Stephen Covey. He is a voracious, unsatiable reader, that man.

His home resembles an academician’s office rather than an artist’s residence. This is even more ironic when you understand that he and his wife are both artists. They are well-read individuals and the initial assumption isn’t all that wrong as both of them do teach at the Multimedia University.

An aspect about this couple that truly fascinates my wife is the fact that they are both Ariens, known, perhaps stereotypically, as dominating, creative, impatient, intelligent people – characteristics that perhaps these two display to varying degrees. My wife finds it a little intimidating to be in a room full of Ariens, and she wonders sometimes, how a Pisces like myself survives the triple fiery vibes of the ram when she, herself an Arien, joins them!

But I digress. They are fascinating characters, these two…but the main point of my visit there was to enquire on behalf of a collector about Yi’s works.

When he heard of this interest, Yi went into a room and came out bearing two sculptures – his early, and now considered, rare works. One was “Pengantin” and the other was “Mother.”

“This is the last piece of Pengantin that I have,” Yi explained. The others in the series were already bought by Pakharuddin and Senator Kamarul Ariffin many years ago.

“I’m not happy to have to part with them,” he said, gesturing to Pengantin and Mother, “but if I do, I’d like to know the person who will treasure it.”

I nodded because I understood his feelings. As an artist, we produce our works and a little part of us is forever embedded into it. Maybe a little bit of our emotional state during that period, our artistic knowledge or level, the things we held dear. Each piece says something about that part or period of our lives. Once it is sold, we know we will never get it back.

A piece of our art is like an old photograph of us. A picture captured of our youth. When we lose that photo, we can never study it anymore and see what we were like as a child. We will never see that raw look in our eyes, the innocence, the naivete…

Ah…sentiments of an aging artist….!

Again, Yi got up to show some other works he had in his keeping, as well as photos of his installation works from his residency in Japan some years ago. So many of them were absolutely impressive…the works of a brilliant mind.

One in particular, the Gunung Daik sculpture, done in the late 1980s, caught my interest. Others in the Gunung Daik series are in the possession of U-Wei, Pakharuddin and the Balai Seni Lukis Negara.

As the hours went by, Yi pulled out his photo album of his days at UiTM. So carefree, so spirited, so idealistic, so in love! So much different from the Yi of today, and yet, in some ways, still the same.

Today, he is more philosophical about art. His views are much bigger, more mature, less selfish. He said, “Beauty is not anymore for pleasure but for thought.”

His role as a teacher has perhaps expanded his views of his role in art. He doesn’t see himself as a creator for the sake of self-expression, but more accurately, perhaps, as a guide to open the minds of the many who attend his lectures. Perhaps even, as an advocate for “art for the masses.” He talks about wanting to “merakyatkan seni” in the belief that art should be accessible to everyone, that it should be part of everyday life, like it once was in the days of our forefathers.

His progress as an artist and maturity in thought has perhaps led him to believe that art should provoke sentiments, challenge pre-conceived notions and thoughts, and even instigate action. His understanding of art is of a higher level, while the rest of us still continue to paint and create for the sheer individualistic pleasure it gives.

There is nothing wrong in either because art, too, is personal. Every artist embarks on his own journey, at his own pace, appreciating different aspects of the journey. Some may have already found their destination. Others, reluctant to end the journey, amble along, or pause at a particularly pleasing location to enjoy the scenery for as long as it lasts.

Yet another sentimental reverie here? Perhaps…

But yes, this is, essentially, Yi’s involvement in art right now. He never left the art scene but was quietly absorbing everything that was going on in his head. His love for and strongly-held thoughts on art still simmer in his mind. When the time is right, we will be fortunate to see his new works, a reflection of the Yi of today.

Until then, we can at least look forward to his solo exhibition some time next year which will be a retrospective of Yi’s past works, They include an archive of sculptures, installation works and various documentations of these works.