How artist Malik Mazlan is redefining the art of calligraphy with technology

There’s so much to be said about jovial and humble artist Malik Mazlan. For starters, he’s a Malay calligrapher, practicing and learning the art of Chinese calligraphy under expert calligrapher and master Yong Cheong Thye. More recently, he has even begun several projects that combine his passion for the art form with the use of technology, thus bringing the traditional art form into the daily lives of modern Singaporeans.

Mazlan’s calligraphy journey began in an interesting way. Previously a mischievous materials science student on an exchange trip to Japan, Mazlan ditched class to wander the streets of Japan, only to fall in love with calligraphy after viewing an eye-catching sign board displaying Japanese calligraphy. A year or two later, he then proceeded to pursue calligraphy seriously, and was adamant about finding a mentor who would give him the tutelage he required.

However, being illiterate in Mandarin, Mazlan was deemed a difficult student to coach by local calligraphers. Despite being turned down by a couple of artists, Mazlan soon found himself learning the art of calligraphy through artist and gallery owner, Ho Sou Ping, before being passed on to master Yong, who had no qualms about undertaking him as a student, which led to the blossoming of an almost 10-year apprenticeship.

A fervent student of calligraphy, Mazlan refused to let his illiteracy in Mandarin hold him back. Having overheard on the MRT a parent discussing plans to send her child to a school in Taiwan that’s known for its Chinese language semester programme, Mazlan enrolled himself into the institution, packed his bags and left for Taiwan.

His efforts paid-off. After living in a Chinese-speaking country for close to two years, he is able to speak and write fluently in Mandarin, which has aided him in his art. He has also become a great calligrapher in his own right, receiving plenty of requests for collaborations from art and tech collectives, besides being given opportunities to showcase his talent. Many of which allows him to incorporate the use of technology.

Fast forward to the present, he’s exploring the use of virtual and augmented reality in his art. Just last year, he donned virtual reality goggles at Paragon Shopping Centre, and traced calligraphic script in a VR space as shoppers watched on a separate screen, in collaboration with media tech company Hiverlab. The shoppers even got to “enter” the VR space by wearing the same pair of goggles.

As for augmented reality calligraphy, he’s looking at providing educational AR tours that’ll bring the art of calligraphy closer to the hearts of Singaporeans. Still in the works, tours will (fingers crossed) be conducted in a classroom setting, with the use of a smartphone app that will take visitors through displays of artworks at real spaces all across Singapore.

“I’ve always said that I’m a modern artist, which means I must learn to adapt to today’s digital age and produce works that are modern too,” remarks Mazlan.

Our interview with Mazlan continues below.

, How artist Malik Mazlan is redefining the art of calligraphy with technology
Artist Malik Mazlan 

As a Malay learning and practicing the traditional Chinese art form, what do you enjoy and appreciate about it?

That’s a tough question, and a profound one at that (laughs). I won’t get into it too much because then I’ll get philosophical. Simply put, I really appreciate the long history of calligraphy, the ancient script—which I actually practice and prefer over traditional Chinese script for its versatility, and the advice you can actually seek from the ancient texts. So much has been written down in calligraphy, and the texts are as timeless as they are relevant.

What was the reaction you received from your family and friends when you first told them about your ambition to pursue calligraphy?

I was very fortunate to receive a positive response from my family and friends, as well as from both the Malay and Chinese community, all of whom are incredibly supportive of my decision to pursue this art form. There was no negative or lukewarm responses at all.

How has your apprenticeship with Master Yong fuelled your growth as an artist?

Firstly, I’ve always thought my apprenticeship with Master Yong as somewhat predestined. I’ve always unknowingly fancied his calligraphy artworks, littered around Singapore, only to find out that they are pieces by Master Yong after I came under his wing. He has also taught me so many things, from how to draw to how the industry works. My classes with Master Yong are supposedly only once or twice a week, but I come almost every day just to consult and chat with him.

Tell us more about your use of virtual reality and augmented reality for calligraphy.

My use of virtual reality predominantly extends or brings forth the performance value of Chinese calligraphy. On the other hand, my use of augmented reality is more for educational purposes.

How will this new form of calligraphy shape the traditional craft?

It’s necessary for artists to diversify and expand their horizons. There are a few approaches I take when it comes to calligraphy, namely the performance aspect, technological aspect and the educational aspect. I see these areas, including the technological aspect as an extension of the art form, not replacements. New forms of calligraphy also help reach out to audiences that were once disinterested in the art form.

What’s next for you as an artist? Are there any other initiatives or endeavours you might explore soon?

I’m always working on new projects, I don’t even know when to begin. There are more virtual reality collaborations to come, more art performances where I showcase my calligraphy skills, as well as the augmented reality tours I’m working on. There’s also an upcoming collaboration that I’m very excited about. I’m working with a local poet for this particular project, but unfortunately I can’t divulge much about that yet. You’ll just have to wait and see.

Watch the video below to see both master Yong and artist Malik Mazlan demonstrate their calligraphy skills and techniques.

Keep up with artist Malik Mazlan here.