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Visual Arts

Sarkasi Said

The "Baron of Batik" known for his bold and abstract style

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Batik is much more than just an artistic technique. It involves everything such as philosophy and history. That is when a piece of work can be called batik—when it has everything. The design paints the social and cultural essence of a community and every symbol, every line has meaning to it.

Sarkasi Said is an internationally renowned batik artist who goes by his artist name Tzee. Called the “Baron of Batik”, he is known for his bold and vibrant abstract style, and his mastery in unconventional wax-resist techniques. His works have been exhibited internationally and feature in many public and private collections. In 2003, he set a Guinness World Record for the world’s longest batik painting with a 103.9-metre-long batik artwork. Sarkasi has also served on committees for the National Arts Council, Malay Museum Commitee, and the Modern Art Society.

Sarkasi Said was born on 27 Mar 1940, in Singapore. As a young boy, he helped his grandmother—who together with his grandfather, came from Karang Malang in Indonesia—sell batik in a time where batik was a highly desired artistic commodity. Through this, he learnt and experimented with batik techniques.

Despite dabbling in other creative forms in his early artistic career, batik became a natural medium of creative expression for Sarkasi as developed as an artist. The significance of batik in Malay culture and for his own family was of inescapable importance for him.

Already a dab hand dealing with the complexities of manipulating silk, dyes and paraffin wax, he was first presented with the opportunity to learn and use dye-resistant methods, techniques and materials at a Singapore exhibition of batik created by non-Asians in the ’60s.

Largely self-taught, Sarkasi travelled extensively, particularly throughout Indonesia, to improve his skills in batik. In the absence of formal batik training, he developed a distinctively bold style that would become his calling card. Now, he is known also for his expertise in unconventional wax-resist batik techniques. His vibrant colours and frequent depictions of tropical natural environments were further influenced by Hawaiian artists that he came to know.

Sarkasi frequently employs traditional motifs, interpreting objects such as orchid flowers in his contemporary, sometimes even abstract batik works. In the ‘70s, he began creating batik designs for clothes that he sold at his shop Tzee Creations. During that period, he designed a Singapore national dress with orchid motifs for a National Trades Union Congress initiative, eventually resulting in him being known as the “Baron of Batik”. In 2003, he produced a 103.9-metre-long batik artwork, setting a Guinness World Record for the world's longest batik painting.

An internationally recognised batik artist, Sarkasi’s works have been exhibited in the USA, France, Japan, New Zealand and in Southeast Asia. Now, his works can be found in public and private collections, including the collection of the National Museum of Singapore.

Known also a champion of batik as an art form and of batik’s role in Malay culture, Sarkasi also believes strongly in art appreciation and the importance of art in society. In this capacity, he served on committees for the National Arts Council and the Modern Art Society. He also played a prominent role in the organisation of the International Batik Conference and Exhibition in Singapore in 1997.

Sarkasi received the Cultural Medallion in 2020. A year later, he suffered kidney failure and passed away at the age of 81.

Timeline

27 Mar 1940

Born in Singapore.

1946 to 1948

Attended Tanglin Tinggi Malay Primary School.

1948 to 1949

Attended Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah.

1950 to 1951

Attended Duchess Primary School.

1952 to 1956

Attended Beatty Secondary School.

1956

Started selling paintings in Bartley and Gilstead areas in Singapore.

1970

Established Tzee Creation.

Submitted orchid batik painting to take part in National Trades Union Conrgess for a Singapore Dress design.

1972

First exhibition.

1974

Pingat APAD by Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD)

Board Member, Modern Art Society, Singapore.

Board Member, Malay Museum Committee.

1993

Started conducting art classes at drug rehabilitation centre, Khalsa Crescent Drug Rehabilitation Centre. One of his students had his first exhibition in November.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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