Big heart for art: Faizal Hamdan

FAIZAL Hamdan is the kind of art teacher who gets a sense of satisfaction from the achievements of his former students. With a glint of pride in his eyes, he talks about coming across his former students who are continuing to teach and practise art and how he always tells them to do art beyond the confines of the canvas.

“I have to tell them what they can do with art,” says the 40-year-old artist and art educator. “When you finish school or your art subject you can apply it to other things – like making your own business or creating a product. It’s not just painting and drawing.”

His former students have taken this to heart, such as the owners of the clothing line Fizzy Fire and Fairuz Zabady Hj Zaini, owner of the graffiti store Stain, who are creating their own distinctive creative brands and identities.

He says that he sees teaching as the highlight of his career so far. But who knew he would go on to develop a big heart for art about two decades ago?

Seemingly a world away from art, Faizal Hamdan completed his National Diploma in Construction from Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College in 1997. He was going to pursue a career in architecture.

“I did some work as a draughtsman at a structural engineering company (under a work attachment programme). Drawing floor plans, internal structures of beams, reinforcement and calculating the force.”

During the two-and-half-year course he learnt about computers, computer-aided design software and materials. After Faizal completed his course he was on the lookout for employment in the private sector.

However, while scoping jobs in the field of engineering, architecture and quantity surveying his mind was somewhere else.

“In the meantime I was preparing my art portfolio… I was wondering if (getting a job) wasn’t the next step for me, so I focused to get back into art.”

The portfolio was prepared from the previous work he completed as secondary student and some portrait commission work. He always had an interest in art and initially applied for an art course, but with no scholarship he found himself in technical school.

With the portfolio Faizal assembled during his time looking for jobs he applied for an art course in Western Australia at Curtin University of Technology in Art. The transition between the fields was a shock.

“It was a shock in the beginning. First year, I didn’t really know what art was. But it was really interesting since they exposed us to different areas. Changed my perception looking at things.”

Once back in Brunei from university, he started to teach but had no time to create his own art work.

“I didn’t know how to manage my time,” he says of his first teaching stint at Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien College. “Teaching was more important.”

“Teaching was more important.” It took him four years to find a balance between teaching and creating art work. Now Faizal Hamdan’s artwork has been exhibited throughout Asia and he is one of the few art educators in the country who are also practising artists.

Faizal’s realistic portrait paintings have also occupied the top spots in the annual portrait competitions for His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s birthday celebrations.

The first opportunity for him to exhibit was at the Penang National Art Gallery, Malaysia in an exhibition entitled ‘Darussalam Spaces’. Being invited with other art educators in Brunei was “a turning point” for the sixth form teacher.

This exhibition led to more opportunities for him to exhibit locally and internationally while honing his craft as an artist and educator. His growing confidence in his practice led him to organise his own self funded exhibition ‘Empat’ with four other art educators.

Now at Sengkurong Sixth Form Centre, Faizal hopes that his own attitude towards teaching and making art can urge students to create. He acknowledges most of the art teachers in Brunei don’t practise art, they only teach, he says. “I’d like to change that. Maybe slowly, it will happen.

“Even if it’s not every day, teachers should produce something, express themselves and let their students get in- spired by their work. I like to do it that way, rather than teach them, I share my experience.”