At age 77, artist Sarkasi Said is a sprightly gent. Known in the arts community as the baron of batik, he speaks with fiery passion, especially when it comes to the art form that he adopted as his own some 60 years ago.
For Said, who has travelled extensively throughout Indonesia to learn more about the art, batik is about culture and heritage. “It is not merely a fabric or an artistic technique, as the majority of the people here think. It is a philosophy. A lifestyle,” he stresses.
“In Java, women used to wear different types of patterned batik to symbolise their marital status,” he says, running his hand through his silver hair. “A woman who is single, married or divorced wears different designs and that is when you know if you can approach her!”
A self-taught artist known for his abstract style, Said has travelled the world to showcase his works, served on the committee of the National Arts Council and even thrust Singapore into the international spotlight when he scored a place in the Guinness World Records for creating a 103.9-m long batik artwork in 2003.
But as much as he takes pride in his achievements, Said these days finds a greater sense of accomplishment in giving back to the community. His involvement with non-profit organisation Jamiyah Singapore, for instance, sees him conducting workshops on batik painting every Saturday morning at the Jamiyah Children’s Home. As part of the home’s Centre of Excellence programme, established personalities such as Said devote time to ensuring the children receive more than just an academic education, so they will grow up as multitalented individuals.
“In my career, I have always lectured, taught and conducted workshops at community centres, universities and even prisons. This current initiative is something I wished I had started much earlier,” the champion of batik painting says.
“At 77, I probably have just a couple more years to go,” he says frankly. “I must spread the word on the art of batik and simultaneously enrich the lives of the younger generation. They will carry on this art from and perhaps even make a livelihood out of it. If I don’t do it now, then when?”
At this juncture of his life, the happiness of others is what matters most to the artist. He shares the story of an elderly lady at the Jamiyah Nursing Home where he conducts classes every Wednesday. Her batik painting was chosen and gifted to politician Halimah Yacob, the current Speaker of Parliament. “She was thrilled and that alone made me truly happy,” he shares.
Being able to exchange ideas with younger creatives also excites Said. An ongoing collaboration with three home-grown designers — Kavita Thulasidas of Stylemart, Adlina Anis of adlinaanis.com and Sylvia Lim of Triologie — will result in exclusive ready-to-wear pieces designed with batik prints, which will be unveiled at a charity fashion show later this year.
“This is a contemporary project that reaches out to another segment of the community and is one that I am proud to be part of,” he says. “It helps to ensure that people understand the history and philosophies of batik. The legacy must go on.”
In art...there is no success. Your best today may not be the best tomorrow. It is a continuous journey.
A good student is...one who capitalises on the knowledge that is passed on and is willing to work hard to reap results.
I believe very strongly…that your journey in life has long been written by the higher power.
In a display of passion, I...once walked for five hours from Bishan to Sembawang in the 1980s to teach a batik painting class. I didn’t have enough bus fare.
My family is...supportive and knowledgeable in batik painting. My son Ika is doing it full-time, while my wife and other children also teach it. They’re helping me to preserve the art form.
My mantra is...to make life simple and it will be beautiful.