Potter Iskandar Jalil has cancer

Potter Iskandar Jalil has cancer
Renowned potter Iskandar Jalil.

One of Singapore's most renowned artists, potter Iskandar Jalil, is suffering from Stage 4 prostate cancer.

Yet, the 75-year-old Cultural Medallion recipient sounded upbeat over the weekend when Life! contacted him.

In his usual relaxed, chatty manner, he said over the telephone: "Why worry? I live month to month, day to day, minute to minute. What is important is I stay happy."

He first learnt of his condition in January this year and recently completed radiation treatment.

The cancer was discovered during a routine check-up and he admitted that he was in a "state of shock for two to three days".

"Then I thought this is the way it was meant to be. I have lived and lived well for so many years," he said.

"How it happened, even I do not know. I have always lived a very healthy life. I exercise. I eat well. I run marathons."

He added that stress could have played a part. "One reason could be stress. Most probably that could be it. The way we live in Singapore is stressful."

In spite of his illness, Iskandar, who is married to retired teacher Saleha and has two children in their 40s, said he had not made any major changes to his life since being diagnosed.

He said his lifestyle "stays simple" - he goes to bed by around 9pm and is up at the crack of dawn.

"I still run 4km every alternate day and do my push-ups."

If anything, he said he had been spending more time with his family.

When Life! contacted him yesterday, he was attending a wedding - the first of three that he was to attend that day.

This week, he leaves for Japan, a country that has greatly inspired him throughout a career that is more than 20 years long. The visit is at the invitation of the mayor of Tajimi, where he studied ceramics in 1972.

Just last month, he received the Japanese Foreign Minister's commendation for promoting friendship and cultural exchange between Japan and Singapore and contributing to the increased recognition of Japanese culture in Singapore.

On how he has been feeling physically and how he coped with the radiation treatment, he said: "I still do not feel any pain. I have completed the treatment. I do enjoy going to the Cancer Centre and meeting all the doctors and nurses there and hearing their stories."

In October 2011, he spoke about his last solo exhibition in an interview with Life!.

He said he was planning to participate only in group shows from then on.

At the time, he said: "I am in my 70s, it is time to slow down. My eyesight is not very good. I have been having problems with my right eye."

In 2012, he underwent an eye operation to remove a cataract in his right eye.

The last group show he took part in was last year. His work was part of an exhibition titled Shakei - An Exhibition By Iskandar Jalil And The Temasek Potters. Shown at Temasek Polytechnic, it featured clay forms inspired by traditional East Asian garden designs.

Iskandar received the Cultural Medallion in 1988. His works are in several private and public collections and murals created by him can be seen at the Tanjong Pagar MRT station as well as Changi Airport's Terminal 2.

Gallerist Vera Ong of Art-2 Gallery, who has known him for 25 years and represented him exclusively for more than two decades, said his positivity in spite of his illness did not surprise her.

"Iskandar has always been an incredibly positive person. He is not letting this get him down in any way. I met him two days ago. He is looking very good and, importantly, he is taking this in his stride.

"His positivity is infectious. Not once has he talked about pain or what it takes to undergo cancer treatment."


This article was first published on Sep 8, 2014.
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