Noor Iskandar
Visual Artist

Noor Iskandar is an award-winning, multidisciplinary artist based in Singapore. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Arts (Research) after having graduated from NTU School of Art, Design and Media with an honours BFA in Photography and Digital Imaging. His works have been exhibited in Singapore as well as the international arena including London, Valencia, Pingyao, Belfast and Bandung. In 2013, Noor was chosen as one of the ten emerging voices from around the globe to be part of the World Islamic Economic Forum’s Marketplace of Creative Arts inaugural fellowship programme. Noor’s work was showcased alongside budding artists at the Ion Art Young Talent Programme for the 2013 Affordable Art Fair. He went on to win a solo exhibition provided by ION Art. In May 2014, Noor was awarded the prestigious Kwek Leng Joo Prize of Excellence in Still Photography 2014.

Assalamualaikum Iskandar! You graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Digital Imaging (Honours) at NTU. Why did you choose to do this degree?

Waalaikumussalaam Alia! It was quite a leap of faith. I knew I wanted to delve into something arts related, having grown to be culturally in tuned with artistic trappings but I was pretty much clueless about my options. To be honest, I chose ADM (School of Art, Design and Media) over a shallow reason; it’s architecture! Initially, I was all set to major in Visual Communications which I reckon was the one with the relatively most prospect. But, photography suddenly stole my heart halfway through foundation year. I believe it allows me to express in ways I’ve never thought possible. So this refreshing epiphany became the fuel. Photography also allows me to establish a voice as well as visual aesthetics that projects my passion for identity, social critique and the human condition.

How did you get into writing poetry?

Naturally, I just am obsessed with words. It was never really a proper route or structured formality in poetry or linguistics on my part. I began to be very much imbued with the qualities of feelings and emotions. Words just became a convenient and comfortable outlet for this. I began to write personal poems on benign, trivial subjects in late primary school till high school. In JC, having assumed the Language Head position in the Malay Cultural Society’s Exco, I wrote lyrics for performing art groups as well as scripts for plays. I believe I found a particular style of writing in these four years in university – echoes of existentialism, a soul for spirituality and softness of Love, something Rumi-esque if I may. Of course, literature, music and film have played tremendous roles in my poetry. I get inspired by almost everything visual and exhilaratingly sensual; Sofia Coppola’s films, Khaled Hosseini’s novels, Murakami’s vibe, Motown classics, you name it.

What are your passions? Has your family been supportive of them?

Art. Culture. Travel. Linguistics. Human condition. Spirituality. Light and words. Places and faces. Every step of the way, yes. They have literally helped me in unbelievable ways through phases of my works, from being subjects of portraits, to assisting me on location, to setting up for installation. They are always so accepting and open to me being involved in the arts. They constantly have faith and support what I do and believe in.

You won the Kwek Leng Joo Prize of Excellence in Still Photography. Your works have been exhibited both in Singapore as well as in international arena including London, Valencia, Pingyao, Belfast and Bandung. What achievements are you most proud of?

Alhamdulillah, yes. That is one astounding blessing from Him. Grateful for such a great closure of undergraduate life. It affects not just me but also the people around me. I am not proud, but more eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve gotten to put my knowledge and craft to beneficial use. For instance, I was able to conduct photography workshops at a boarding school during our overseas humanitarian expedition in Bondowoso, Indonesia with a group of friends from the NTU Muslim Society. Things like that. Or receiving the honours degree on stage just for the fact that it warms my parents’ and loved ones’ hearts for all the sacrifices they have invested in me.

What drives you to pursue your passions?

The thirst to inspire others and at the same time, be inspired to no end. I have continually reassessed my intention and motivations behind my purpose and goals. I believe in servitude towards a larger web of brilliance, where we forge ahead not alone but with as many as you can blaze the trail with.

What are the greatest challenges that you have faced?

Personally, I have had runs with intellectual property infringements brouhahas over the last years, where my artworks have been retrieved by large corporations without my knowledge. I came to realize that one of the challenges as a Malay/Muslim artist is that you are naturally in a realm where knowledge on such issues are still not fully cultured. A challenge is to foster an awareness of these matters – rights of an artist, ethics of art and on elevating the regard of artists, especially those who ultimately yearn to serve the community.

On a similar vein, I feel the support, in every fashion of the word, for such nature of art is still not outstanding. Our community is still struggling to receive and contribute in this exchange of culture as we are more in tune with celebrity glitterati and showbiz kind of art. Being a community that excels so naturally on the creative consciousness, having a knack for the fine arts, contemporary, fresh community-serving art which explores crises and voices, paradigms and postulations should be fostered on a far greater magnitude. We need more pakciks, makciks, atuks, neneks, abangs, kakaks lurking in art exhibitions! -laugh-

After the repeated plagiarism fiascos, I have had people coming up to me expressing the need to watermark the works and what not. Of course, I am very much aware of that and also on the fact that at this age of technology, that would be quite useless. I feel that educating the public on artistic rights and liberations is far more essential. Having your works up without watermarks does not warrant it to be stolen by anyone. Of course, artists can go ahead and take precaution in ways that they deem fit to stay vigilant. Uploading low-res images, for instance, might reduce chances of them being retrieved. If we are talking about ideas being copied then, it would be a totally different thing. Let’s just hope artists maintain esteem and regard amongst themselves in order for authenticity and creativity to keep being nourished.

In shaa Allah, Isk. What do you see yourself doing 5 years from now?

In shaa Allah, I plan to be a lecturer in a visual arts school. I have to further my education these next two years. We’ll see if God approves of that plan for me. Teaching art in a refugee camp would be such a dream to me as well. The power of reformative art and the reclaiming of that silenced voice! Or if all that doesn’t come to fruition, I would love to find recluse in a lake house with a strawberry farm in a corner of the world or something. -laughs-

What would you say to budding artists who are doubtful about their future?

Always have faith. Know that light is contained in every fiber of our being and it is our responsibility to profuse that unto as many hearts and minds during our chance at living. Art offers you a platform to do just that. Always respect the hopes, fears, wounds and exhilaration of others cause these will be what inspires you to make transformative art. If you are doubtful about your future, carve one out of yourself, carve one out of ‘noor’.

Any last words?

Be always kind and eternally grateful. Remember to pray for humility and forgiveness every night before bed. Selamat hari raya and maaf zahir batin to all!

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