SINGAPORE - At a group show with students at the Japan Creative Centre, award-winning potter Iskandar Jalil reveals that he is preparing for what he calls his "last one-man show" this August.
"My time is up, I can feel it, so it's time to do my last show," says the 75-year-old, who said in 2011 that he would no longer hold solo exhibitions.
The Cultural Medallion recipient, whose work can be seen in Changi Airport Terminal 2 and a mural at Tanjong Pagar MRT station, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January last year.
He has completed radiotherapy treatment but is due for further blood tests as the cancer might be spreading.
He will also have another cataract operation this month - one was removed from his right eye in 2012 - and says his knees are giving way because of all the pots he is lifting in preparation for the August show.
"It will be 30 per cent a completely new approach," he says, declining to reveal more.
Instead, he walks around the exhibition laid out in the Japan Creative Centre, showcasing ceramics made by him and nine students from his Temasek Potters group. Several of them work at Temasek Polytechnic, where he taught until his retirement in 1999.
The theme of the exhibition is Balance In Imperfection, based on the Japanese philosophy of "wabisabi", which seeks beauty in things that are modest and unrefined.
Iskandar studied ceramics in 1972 in Japan at Tajimi City Pottery Design and Technical Centre under a Colombo Plan scholarship and has a deep respect for Japanese traditions.
"I've been doing a lot of imperfect work with my grandchildren," he says, referring to his nine-year- old granddaughter and seven-year-old grandson. He is married to a retired teacher and has two grown children.
"The distorted is beautiful. We must pass this on to the young so that they will respect old people, people who are handicapped, birds with one leg hopping around."
He has far less tolerance for imperfect work from his students and takes pride in being known for a stern teaching style that involves hauling masses of his proteges' work to the dump if he is dissatisfied.
Yet his bite holds no terror for students such as freelance graphic designer Hiroko Mita, 43, who has been with him since 2003.
One of his "black jokes" - that "marriage is torture" - inspired her work Hommage, in which twin crescent shapes are linked by a 1.4-m-long chain of linked clay shapes, etched with the word "love" in several languages, including Korean and English.
Iskandar refuses to comment on his students' work at the current exhibition.
"I will only say: 'I can't see you in it'. But I have invited some friends and I will listen to their comments," he says. "If the comments are not good, after the exhibition, I will sack one of them. Being an artisan is different from being a student. It's no longer just me teaching them, this is an apprenticeship. Those who have not come up to the standard required, we say goodbye."
One member of the Temasek Potters' group, AB Latip Hussain, 55, says that, indeed, two former students were "sacked" two years ago after a group show. "You have to see what he wants," says the potter, who works as a member of Temasek Polytechnic's support staff.
He accepts the risk as part of the package while studying under Iskandar. Similarly, he accepted an accidental fall of material onto a work-in-progress while it was on his wheel. Instead of discarding the clay, he incorporated the extra lump into the structure of Sphere 2, one of several of his works on display.
As he wrote for the description of the piece in the exhibition catalogue: "In life, I cannot expect everything to be perfect. Sometimes I need failure, experiencing and learning from it.
BALANCE IN IMPERFECTION
Where: Japan Creative Centre, 4 Nassim Road
When: Till April 4, daily 10am to 6pm (closed on Monday, Sunday and public holiday)
This article was first published on March23, 2015.
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