Penglipur lara (Storyteller)
This post is also available in: Malay
Sanuri Zulkefli, Artist & Storyteller
Masjid Jamek LRT station, Kuala Lumpur
Whenever I walk through the Masjid Jamek LRT tunnel, I’m focused on the path ahead. Taking a look around at my fellow travelers, everyone has a blank stare or animated due to interaction with their phones. However, in the first week of October, I noticed that people ahead were pausing in their stride while looking at the tunnel walls. I was intriqued as to what would possibly make people break their stride whenI then came across tunnel walls covered with doodles.
It was an exhibition titled, Contenglah by Doodle Malaysia, a group of 8,900 doodlers and artists who call the Doodle Malaysia page on Facebook home. The exhibition was organised by Allie Hill, a Malaysian artist who is quite shy whenever she’s asked about her art but is more than happy to promote the work of others. The exhibition is supported ThinkCity and Prasarana.
Both Sanuri Zulkefli and Arif Rafhan Othman have finished their artwork. Do visit the Masjid Jamek LRT station to view it. It will be up till the end of November.
In Sanuri’s own words (original text in Malay here) – Translated by Allie Hill
Life is filled with stories and narratives that bring meaning and guidance. Let’s remember that life is not just for pleasure, but also for us to learn to be better people, to be stewards of our earth and to always glorify Allah the Almighty. This is the largest artwork I have ever produced, 8 x 5 ft. I painted this over four days in the pedestrian tunnel of Masjid Jamek LRT station.
6 Oktober – 9 Oktober.
My four days painting at the station was filled with memories and stories.
On the first day, I met Allie Hill at the station entrance and we headed straight for the tunnel. We also met Kenny Loh, a photographer and Allie’s cousin, who was keen to document the process. Every now and then, the voices of commuters who have just come off the LRT broke the silence of the 200 feet long tunnel. And so with an utterance of Bismillah, I began to sketch on my 8×5 feet panel.
The mural concept portrays the life of a ‘penglipur lara’ or wandering storyteller, a life that was rich with stories and fantasies. Based on this concept, I made my painting using a doodle technique of undulating organic lines and patterns found in Malay art. A number of commuters stopped to ask about my mural. Many expressed their surprise and joy to encounter a ‘live’ drawing session on their normal commute. I began to relax and get used to drawing in a public place. Even with Kenny clicking away in the background, I could focus and not feel self-conscious.
At one point, a grandad of about 70+ years old suddenly appeared behind me. “I’m so pleased with young people like you, so creative” he said while patting me on the back. And then his imagination took him away… “… see this hand here.. you could turn it into a dragon, couldn’t you… and over here, by the water.. why don’t you make a crocodile appear…” He stayed for quite a long time and told me so many things that I can’t even recall them all now. Slowly and steadily, I drew my fine lines as I listened to him natter away.
Not long after that, a kakak came over and asked which school I attended. Again we had a rather long chat, but I must admit I have forgotten most of it. All I remember was that she showed me a photo of wild boar piglets that slept near her home.
Everyday, I drew from morning till about 4 or 5pm, stopping only for food and prayers. Outside the station, it was chaotic, hot and dusty from the renovation works at Masjid Jamek. Sometimes I stole a glance at the many homeless folks who sought refuge in this area and thought to myself, their outlook may seem quite grim now, but maybe in the afterlife it will be filled with light. I offered some alms according to my means. The few days that I spent here has been a humbling experience. Even though I am not rich, the gulf that separated us was still so vast. A life full of laughter can make us forgetful and careless. Sometimes our hearts need to weep so that we can understand the true meaning of life. I managed to buy a jar of perfume from a Syrian refugee at the side of the mosque before returning to my work. I was reminded of a saying by Andrea Hirata: “Live to give as much as you can, not to take as much as you can”.
A group of ladies also came to ask about my mural, but in the end I realised that they were trying to convince me about the benefits of network distribution. Those were the things that I really could not be bothered with, so I tried to push them away as gently as I could, and eventually, they went on their way.
I will never forget all the friends from Doodle Malaysia who came to visit while I painted. When they came in a group, it was as if the quiet tunnel had transformed into a pasar malam – what a cacophony of chatter and laughter! And finally, I was also grateful for the chance meetings – old friends I had not seen for years happened to pass by, and we managed to catch up on each others’ lives.