Former hawker finds salvation in leaf art

05 Dec 2022 09:19am
Image for illustrative purposes only - FILE PIX
Image for illustrative purposes only - FILE PIX
KUALA LUMPUR - There is a Malay proverb that says a worm can survive even inside a rock. Muhammad Hafizi Abdul Karim, 31, from Sungai Petani, Kedah, is a living testament to this saying.

The young man lost his means of livelihood when he was forced to close his fruit juice stall following the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) last year.

Desperate to provide for his family, the father-of-two decided to make use of his skills in portrait drawing to earn an income.

"I’ve loved art since my schooldays but didn’t pursue it after leaving school as I felt I wouldn’t be able to make a living from it.

"After my business was affected during the MCO, I returned to portrait drawing and sold my works online. Fortunately for me, the response was quite good,” he told Bernama.

Not satisfied with just sketching portraits on drawing paper, Muhammad Hafizi sought other artistic mediums where he could create his own distinctive identity.

Then, sometime last year, his wife came up with an idea - she had seen videos on Instagram of foreign artists carving portraits on leaves and she asked her husband if he could do the same.

"She asked me if I could carve her portrait on a leaf and I told her ‘yes’ but she didn’t believe me. I tried and succeeded even though the end result wasn’t that satisfying to me,” he said, adding that he used the leaf of a jackfruit tree for his very first leaf portrait.

Muhammad Hafizi went on to sharpen his skills in leaf art and is now able to create exquisite drawings and engravings of portraits and other objects such as iconic buildings, natural landscapes, animals and calligraphy on leaves.
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He tasted success when one of his leaf carvings went viral on social media. This particular piece, done on a jackfruit leaf, depicted an engraving of the words ‘Free Gaza’ and was uploaded on the LUKIS Facebook page, administered by a group of well-known Malaysian artists including Latif Maulan.

"At that time there was tension between Palestine and Israel and many (Malaysian) artists showed their solidarity through their paintings (and artworks) that touched the hearts of many people,” he said, adding that his ‘Free Gaza’ leaf also carried the following inscription, "ukiran daun ini akan kering tapi doa rakyat Malaysia tidak akan kering buat rakyat Palestin” (this leaf carving will become dry but the prayers of Malaysians for the people of Palestine will never dry out).

Ever since then, he has been receiving a continuous stream of orders for his leaf artworks which have now become his main source of income. Currently, his works are only available online including the TikTok account he operates under the name 'Hafizi Eiji'.

When Muhammad Hafizi embarked on leaf art, he used jackfruit leaves as his canvas but these days he uses mostly teja and dokong leaves which are available around his house.

"The dokong leaf is the most challenging leaf to carve because it’s very fragile but I like using this leaf,” he said.

He first sketches the portrait or object on the leaf using an Artline pen before carving on it with an SD1 (standard duty 1) knife.

"It has to be done carefully,” he said, referring to the carving. "Once it is done, the leaf must be left to dry for a day after which liquid resin is applied to the back part of the leaf. It’s then left to dry for an hour and then it’s ready to be framed,” he explained.

It takes him one to two hours to produce a portrait on a leaf but creating carvings of other objects can take days. The prices of the framed leaf carvings, which can last for several years, start from RM80 and can go up to hundreds of ringgit each.

Muhammad Hafizi said he also gets orders for leaf carvings featuring objects related to current issues.

"Recently, for instance, I was asked by a friend to produce a carving of Istana Negara... this was in reference to the role of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah in resolving the post-GE15 (15th general election) crisis,” he said.

Muhammad Hafizi said indulging in leaf art has taught him to be patient as the carving has to be done with a great deal of precision.

"If you make a mistake on a drawing paper, you can erase it. But on a leaf, you can’t do anything if you make an error. One has to be very careful and patient when working on a leaf as it can tear easily,” he said.

Even though it has only been a year since he took up leaf art seriously, Muhammad Hafizi is already harbouring hopes of opening a gallery to exhibit his collection of leaf carvings and popularise this art.

He is also proud one of his artworks managed to garner the attention of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"Last year, I produced a leaf carving featuring a portrait of Tun Mahathir and uploaded a photo of it on TikTok. Tun saw it and he uploaded a video to say that he liked my carving. He also invited me to his house in Alor Setar,” added Muhammad Hafizi. - BERNAMA