Tuesday March 12, 2013
Veteran artist Awang Damit is still learning all the time
By T. AVINESHWARAN
THE scorching heat was a nuisance but the opportunity to meet painter Awang Damit - made me forget the excruciating weather!
Most artists prefer peace and tranquillity and Awang is no exception.
A fixture in the arts scene for 38 years, Awang currently lives in Sijangkang, Teluk Panglima Garang.
An hoursí drive from Kuala Lumpur, the surroundings and the atmosphere of Sijangkang reminded me of the rural areas in Perak particularly Kuala Kangsar.
I had a tough time finding his private gallery but once I saw the man waiting for my arrival, I knew I was in for a true learning experience.
Awang Damit Ahmad was born in Kuala Penyu, Sabah in 1956. His father was a fisherman in Sabah while his mother was a housewife. His love for arts started in the 70s when he travelled around Sabah to learn painting from various artists.
In 1975, the then 21-year-old came to Selangor to become a technician with Telekom Malaysia. While working as a technician, he began to delve into arts intently and it was one artist who kindled his passion.
"I first came across a painting by the late Syed Ahmad Jamal titled Windows of the sky at Balai Seni Lukis Negara."
"I was mesmerised by what he did. I then decided to go one step up and fine tune my artworks," says Awang
He quit Telekom in 1979 and joined Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) in mid 1979. He pursued his Diploma in Fine Arts, which is equivalent to a general degree. During his time with UiTM, he did his practical in Melaka and developed his skills by learning with the best in St.Paul Hills, Melaka. Awang topped his class in UiTM, graduating in 1983. For two years, he became a full-time artist and completed his first series, Essence of Culture.
In fact, he started in 1975, meaning it took him 10 years to complete his first series. "I was inspired by my childhood experiences and decided to look into other painting mediums such as oil and acrylic,"
What inspired me to start this series and my subsequent series was my childhood experiences, working experiences and also my fatherís background as a fisherman and farmer." says the artist from Sabah.
Evetually becoming a tutor at UiTM, he went off in 1989 to pursue his Masters Degree in Fine Arts at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, United States.
During this time he joined art collectives the Arlington Art Group and The Capitol Hill." By joining them, I was exposed to various arts aspects and at the same time, I earned pocket money and also got the chance to travel around America - which was an incredible experience!" he says. Abstract expressionist Professor Tom Nakashima was his main influence. "Professor Tom was such a great influence and I learnt lots of things from him. He was such a joy to watch because he made abstract art look so easy," he said.
Petronas Gallery bought a few of his artworks and one of his paintings Nyanyian Petani Gunung which won the 1991 Salon Malaysia Award - one of the most prestigious arts award in Malaysia is still exhibited at the gallery.
"When they first bought it, it was RM 12,000. Now, based on my estimation, it could cost up to RM60, 000 to RM70,000!"
He returned to Malaysia in 1999 and continued lecturing in UiTM. Armed with techniques he picked up in the US. He completed the lauded series Marista (2002) and Iraga (2011). Hehas just started on his fourth series - Paya Rama and he says this series is similar to previous works but with a touch of modernity.
He commends the efforts of young Malaysian artists who go the extra mile to express their creativity. "Some may say that itís competition but actually itís a welcome challenge! Young artists are beginning to mix lots of art elements and many are exhibiting their artworks in Europe and countries around Asia," he enthuses.
"From the 60s to 80s, most artist followed a conventional style and their technical skills at times controlled their creativity. After the 90s, many donít follow conventional art styles but they have their own way of painting Ė Itís very energetic and they experiment new things,"
Asked whether he is an expert in painting, he only had to say this - "Art is an ever learning process, as long as you learn new things, you canít call yourself an expert."
The Malaysian arts scene has been booming for the past few years and Awang said that the peaceful surroundings of the country is the main reason why artists in Malaysia are flourishing.
"For me, the future of the Malaysian arts scene depends on the political and economic situation of the country. If itís stable, you will see lots of beautiful artworks,"
He also said that the youngsters in the arts industry are lucky as they are getting lots of opportunities to go abroad to further their art forays. Married with six children, Awang lives with his wife Saadiah Kassim who was formerly a nurse in Melaka. One of his children, Mohammad Iqbal is a ceramic artist.
After the interview, he brought us around his house and for a man that is respected among the Malaysian artist fraternity, his humility stood out. Itís a trait that makes his touching work all the more remarkable.