His family name is Jalil, said Vera Ong of Art-2 Gallery in Singapore. “But just call him Iskandar—everybody does.”
Iskandar Jalil is a Singaporean master potter whose work has been exhibited in Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.
About 25 of his pieces are now on display at Hotel Le Royal through to Nov 24—the first time his work has been featured in Cambodia, Iskandar Jalil said.
The exhibition has been organized by the Embassy of Singapore with the support of Singaporean companies in Cambodia, to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Singapore.
“Iskandar’s work is very recognizable, with his signature blue color,” said Vera Ong, whose gallery represents the artist.
Vibrant and yet tranquil, this blue appears on most pieces. Their sculpted shapes suggest lightness and joy, designed in a simplicity of lines that can only come from a master in his field.
“Pottery is an image of a person—it’s not an intellectual exercise,” said Iskandar Jalil. “When I see a piece of pottery in Cambodia, I expect to see a Cambodian—in the clay, the style, the decoration.”
There used to be a distinctive Khmer style of pottery, he said. One of its characteristics was “a green celadon glaze derived from ashes.”
Some of those pieces are still on display at the museum of the National University of Singapore. But the technique and artistry vanished as expertise in so many sectors did during the Khmer Rouge era.
“We’re trying to revive it,” Iskandar Jalil said. In October 2004, he became involved in the project “Expedition Soul of Cambodia” of the Singaporean NGO Mercy Relief Organisation. This included holding workshops and building a kiln in Bakong village, on the outskirts of Siem Reap town.
“We brought special refractory bricks from Singapore to build it,” said Iskandar Jalil, adding that the raw material for those bricks is not available here.
But for this art to reawaken, Cambodian potters need technical manuals, good kilns, and marketing to produce for hotel designers and visitors, he said.
“They need inspiration, to be exposed to the work of potters in Japan, Korea, even Singapore.”
Above all, Iskandar Jalil said, they need encouragement. Singaporean government officials often include his pottery among gifts for foreign dignitaries at home and abroad. If the Cambodian government gave pottery, it would do a great deal for the art, he said.
Born in 1940, Iskandar Jalil has won several awards and served as an adviser to the Council for the Arts in Singapore. Now officially retired, he still lectures at the National University of Singapore and remains a full-time potter.
This exhibition in Phnom Penh is part of an effort not only to make Singaporean artists better known in Cambodia, but also to promote Cambodian artists in Singapore, said Singaporean Ambassador Lawrence Anderson. At his initiative, Art-2 Gallery will exhibit the work of Cambodian painters Chhim Sothy, Leang Seckon and Svay Ken in March.