Artist on quest to modernise ancient art

Artist Malik Mazlan studied calligraphy for 10 years and has sold close to 100 works and wooden seal carvings last year alone.
Artist Malik Mazlan studied calligraphy for 10 years and has sold close to 100 works and wooden seal carvings last year alone. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

In the back room of a hair salon run by his mother, artist Malik Mazlan wears VR goggles to trace calligraphic script in virtual reality.

The 29-year-old is preparing for a performance this weekend at Paragon shopping centre.

It is his first time performing VR calligraphy using Google Tilt Brush, but Malik has done many traditional performances using ink and paper, including for the National Library last December and for the World Islamic Economic Forum last November in Kuching, Malaysia.

His preference is to draw characters in ancient script rather than traditional Chinese script. He says: "It's easier and more interesting for someone who's not studied Mandarin to start with ancient scripts. The traditional script is saturated with Chinese culture. And you can be too obsessed with stroke order and forget the artistic possibilities."

Malik has studied calligraphy for 10 years, including taking lessons with established Singapore artists Ho Sou Ping and Yong Cheong Thye, plus at Beijing's Central Academy of Art.

Last year alone, he sold close to 100 works and wooden seal carvings, all done in that makeshift studio behind the salon in the Kampong Glam area. He does commissions for public institutions, including Yayasan Mendaki, and hosts workshops. "I'm just trying to develop my own works in my own way. I don't want to compete with Chinese calligraphers," says Malik.

What draws him to calligraphy? "I don't know. It just feels right."


  • WHERE: Atrium, Paragon, 290 Orchard Road

    WHEN: Saturday, Sunday, Feb 10 and 11, 3 and 6pm. The VR calligraphy performance lasts 15 minutes


Malik's father is a secondary school teacher and his sister helps him with the growing business of being an artist.

His first calligraphy teacher was a Japanese friend introduced by his mother. The man exchanged calligraphy lessons for English conversation practice; Malik speaks Japanese as well as Mandarin.

After the teacher returned to his country, Malik approached others and continued his calligraphic studies while completing a diploma in material science at Republic Polytechnic. "My parents hoped I would further my studies in Chinese," he says, "but instead, I went to Beijing to study art."

To be a calligrapher, one must know how to paint, carve seals, compose poetry and write script. "My poems are terrible. That's what I worry about the most," he says, laughing.

He is also not interested in painting, preferring to focus on calligraphic script. "They say the worth of a painter is in his calligraphy," he says.

He has done calligraphy workshops at museum open houses and hopes the VR performance over the coming two weekends will interest other young Singaporeans in the ancient art.

"I feel a lot of young people, Chinese people, are afraid to do calligraphy. Rightly so, they put it on a very high pedestal," he says.

"The challenge is, how can we make calligraphy palatable to the common man without insulting it?"

Akshita Nanda

Other ink shows


Local gallery iPreciation's show by 73-year-old calligrapher and ink artist Wang Dongling is his first solo in Singapore and features some 20 recent works.

Wang is known for his wild and dynamic script, which he creates in painting-performance, as well as paintings and calligraphy in abstract and classical styles. He is a professor at and director of the Modern Calligraphy Research Centre at the China Academy of Art.

Where: iPreciation, 01-01HPL House, 50 Cuscaden Road When: Until Feb 28, 10am to 7pm (Mondays to Fridays), 11am to 6pm (Saturdays) Admission: Free Info:


The DigiMuse Digital Showcase presents five works that use technology to redefine art and heritage presentations. Among them is Eternal Landscapes by Chinese artist Yang Yongliang, a Chinese ink landscape painted in virtual reality using the Google Tilt Brush platform. Visitors can "walk through" the painted mountains, thanks to a multi-channel video projection.

Where: Concourse Gallery, Level 1 National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road When: Tomorrow to March 4, 10am to 7pm daily Admission: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents and children aged six and below; otherwise $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors Info:

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2018, with the headline Artist on quest to modernise ancient art. Subscribe