A firm believer in the idea that the best mentors for students are practising artists, Mr Zaki Zulfakar does double duty each day as both teacher and creator of art.
“I don’t think I should find excuses not to make art. If I have time to go shopping or drink kopi, I should have time to make art too!” Mr Zaki Zulfakar, Lead Teacher at Si Ling Secondary School says.
Mr Zaki, who has been teaching at the school for the last 15 years, has a talent for sketching and photography. He tries to complete one sketch a day – inspired by the things around him – and participates in art exhibitions regularly. He’s also a contributor to Malay-language daily Berita Harian, where he writes about his travel experiences and shares his photographs.
Mr Zaki believes that “art is life” and values the practice, sharing and teaching of art with others. He encourages his students to exhibit their artworks and advises them to work hard and respect the discipline. Every week without fail, he gathers with his art teachers for a session of art jamming, where they exchange ideas and make art together.
The jamming sessions are usually boisterous affairs. The teachers create prototypes for upcoming art lessons. These prototypes – displayed in the art room – help students have a better idea of what they’re expected to create. They also exchange tips on how to improve their craft.
“I tell my teachers to stop being a parrot,” Mr Zaki says. Teaching art is not only about repeating instructions – he wants his teachers to demonstrate how a piece of art is made.
“If you’re able to show your work and they see that you know your stuff well, they’ll look up to you.”
The teachers created a batik art piece for “a-edge”, an annual exhibition, held earlier this year, by Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts (STAR). Mr Zaki and his team are already exploring the idea of creating a décollage, which involves dismantling musical instruments to build a sculpture, for the next run of the exhibition.
Art and the Community
The students at Si Ling Secondary have held annual exhibitions at the community libraries in Yishun and Woodlands in the last three years. The artworks on display include black and white photographs of everyday scenes in the neighbourhood, self-portraits and batik prints – all created by students from Secondary 1 to 5.
Mr Zaki says that taking part in such exhibitions shows the community what the students are capable of. “It’s wonderful when you see how proud the parents are of their children’s achievements.”
The students also conduct art workshops for primary and pre-school kids during the exhibitions. They teach their young charges some simple techniques of printmaking and batik painting.
The Value of Hard Work
Mr Zaki has had to work hard to master his craft and continues to hone his skills through rigorous practice. He hopes that his students have the same perseverance and discipline to succeed as art practitioners.
He has seen students cry in class because of missteps they made in the process of creating their work. In printmaking class, where students have to carve images on sheets of thick rubber and transfer the images on paper, one mistake could mean that they have to start all over again. Weeks of hard work could be wasted.
But there have been returns for the students’ hard work. The school clinched the top prize at an inter-school canvas art competition in 2015. The student’s artworks have also been recognised at international competitions such as the Lidice International Art Competition, where they received an award from the Ambassador of the Czech Republic.
His advice for his students: “You need to work hard and be honest about what you do, and doors will open up.” This story is reproduced by permission of the publisher, the Singapore Teachers’ Academy for the aRts.