Norhaiza meets Prince Charles

Royal visitor for master carver


By Zaharah Othman

Read more:Royal visitor for master carver

PRINCE Charles paid a brief visit to the Malaysian Auditorium at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on Thursday.

There, the Prince of Wales met with master carver Norhaiza Noordin, architect and designer Datuk Kamal Zahrin and contractors for the RM12 million project which will see Malaysia’s traditional designs and woodwork in one of the most prestigious academic centres of learning in the world.

The visit coincided with the 25th anniversary of the centre, built to promote a better understanding of Islam. Prince Charles is patron of the centre. The prince, who was met on arrival by centre director Dr Farhan Nizami, was taken on a tour of the STG50 million (RM240 million) building, built with contributions from various countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen and Malaysia.

Prince Charles showed a keen interest in the panels in the gallery and the auditorium which depict motifs of flowers and plants from Malaysia.
It is understood that the prince would also have his own garden there. He also wanted to know how the whole project was put together and asked the Malaysian team lots of questions. According to Norhaiza, from Seni Ukir Bakawali, whose works adorn mosques, private residences of royal families, museums and offices, Prince Charles wanted to know who did the design and the carving.  “I told His Majesty that the Malaysian government paid for the work on the auditorium and the gallery. He also wanted to know who did the carvings. I told him that I personally did it together with a team, with the contractor, Chulan Woodworks and architect Datuk Kamal Zahrin,” he said after the brief meeting.

The centre was established in 1985 to promote a better understanding of the culture and civilisation of Islam and the new building was designed by one of the world’s leading Muslim architects, Abdel Wahed Al-Wakeel, with an Islamic architecture gracing the skyline of Oxford. Kamal, who has worked with Al- Wakeel and has ongoing projects all over the world, said the prince was very much a fan of Al-Wakeel because of his traditional designs.

“The prince was also very interested and wanted to know the kind of wood that was used. The work we do here is about woodwork and joinery, how we put them together.”
Also present during the prince’s short visit was Clive Naylor, supervising architect from Blampied and Partners. The centre is expected to be ready in two years’ time.

Read more: Royal visitor for master carver


Carving the Keris

A Morning With Norhaiza

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to visit Norhaiza when he was carving a Keris hilt of his own design. I had never seen fine carving in action, and it was with some pleasure as I looked on as he applied his craft. His tools are also hand made, sharpened and honed for the perfect cut.

The work as you can see is fine, the carving action controlled, but the unseen discipline and preparation are what makes this event special. For today was not any ordinary day, as he explained, it was a day that was free of care, free of other concerns – a day that starts with the morning oblution for prayer, and the asking of Allah’s blessing for the task ahead.

The preparation of mind, body and spirit are the essential ingredients for the master woodcarver. He must be ‘free’, so as to allow the meeting of man and his materials, between man and his task. This is what Norhaiza learnt from the late Nik Rashiddin, his guru and mentor. Carving is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation, but for Nik Din, and later for Jah it was necessary to seek out that guru and strive for that perfection. The work of Nik Rashiddin was among the finest of his generation. For Jah it is important to emulate that excellence, so for now he walks that path of refinement, of continuing study searching from within.

The Keris hilt is symbolic in many ways. It represents one of the few remaining arts of the Malay world, arts that are dwindling. Over time the demand has reduced, to the extent it is now hard to find the artist carver, someone imbibed with the art itself – the legends, the mystical elements wherein the artist carver is joined to his carefully chosen material, a material that must have ‘semangat’, put simply ‘life force’. But it is a two way street, both material and man must have that life force, the special element.