Monday, April 20, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou

by Hilde Winmai & Barbara Parker, The Hornbill Magazine, November 2002

Drawings of elephants filled the walls of Melawati School to welcome Yusof Gajah. All classes cleared their schedule on Tuesday, August 29th, to make time for the students to visit the Malaysian artist-in residence, Yusof Gajah. The students went to the art room to watch Yusof Gajah in action and find out more about him and his artwork.
The art room resounded with giggles as Yusof Gajah deftly sketched his trademark elephants and turned them into teapots. Smile of recognition spread across their faces as a familiar letter of the alphabet took on the shape of the elephant. Even his Twin Towers and other buildings had elephants tucked away.
“When did you start drawing elephants?” an eager 4th grade asked. Yusof Gajah explained about visiting the zoo in Melawati and seeing an elephant and becoming fascinated. The students were amazed to discover that his name was given to him by a friend. Gajah means elephant in Bahasa Melayu. Because of his passion for elephants, his friend suggested he take that as his name. So now he is known in Malaysia and around the world as Yusof Gajah. He was born in 1954 in Negeri Sembilan as Mohd Yusof Bin Ismail. He was educated in Singapore, and received his art training at the Sekolah Seni Rupa Indonesia and the Akademi Seni Rupa Indonesia in Yogjakarta.
Yusof has won several awards for his work, both nationally and internationally, some of his most recent ones for his illustrations of children’s books. He was awarded the Grand Prix ( The Real Elephant) Noma Concours for Children’s picture Book Illustration by ACCU in Tokyo, Japan in 1997. He has held a number of solo exhibitions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. After visiting the opening of his most recent solo exhibition titled Elephantoidea on September 14 in Bangsar, KL, Hilde Winmai, a fourth grade teacher, exclaimed, “It was a most uplifting experience where Yusof’s paintings of elephants were combined with beautiful live music performed by two Hungarian musicians.”
Yusof Gajah has a studio at Budaya Kraf on Jalan Conlay. Some of our students visited his studio after meeting him at ISKL. At his studio they painted canvasses to be entered in the international children’s exhibition of paintings, organised by Yusof, and held on September 24, 2000. Many of our ISKL students are featured in the catalogue from that exhibition.
The 4th grade team along with the art teachers provided the impetus for bringing Yusof Gajah to the elementary campus. Throughout 4th grade the students focus on South East Asia. Art and culture are integrated into the study of geography and economics. Ms. Winmai explained, “We loved the concept of incorporating the work of a Malaysian artist with our focus on Tools, Tourism and Transportation. We grade 4 teachers with invited the art teachers at Melawati to combine our ideas with theirs to come up with a way of introducing this artist to our school and our students.”
Mr. Gajah visited ISKL a second time on October 17th. This time he worked with the three grade 4 classes to make a collage of a Malaysia landscape. Each 4th grader had to decide what they were going to paint on scraps of canvas they were given. For many of the students this was their first opportunity to paint on canvas. Some students painted kampong houses, some buses and other form of transportation, and some busily created tress to form the jungle. In the weeks to come, the students will put the final touches on this large painting- a collaborative effort between a Malaysian artist and the 4th grade students of ISKL.
“Art is a Visual Language. While some people claim that na├»ve movements evolved from American folk art traditions, that is too limiting. Asian Art is rife with depiction ; Indonesian paintings boast this tradition, regional weaving possesses elements of it. Who is to say it is not relevant?”- Yusof Gajah