Iskandar Jalil


Iskandar Jalil (b. 5 January 1940, Singapore -) is a highly-regarded local ceramist who uses fine clay to develop bowls and pots into art works, integrating Japanese and Islamic styles. He was awarded two Colombo Plan scholarships, to study textiles in India (1962) and ceramic engineering in Japan (1972), which started him on the road to a highly successful career as a potter.  In 1988 he was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Visual Arts.

The youngest of five children, Iskandar grew up at Kampong Chantek at Bukit Timah. He had trained and worked initially as a maths and science teacher. However, his second Colombo Plan scholarship in 1972 brought him to Japan where he was introduced to the fine art of pottery, much appreciated by the Japanese. Thus began his passion for pottery. Since the 1970s, Iskandar had exhibited his work in Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Sweden. Besides being a prolific potter, he also influenced young artists through his teaching. He taught at the Baharuddin Vocational Institute and later at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Design until his retirement in 1999. He also taught at community centres and the Nanyang School of Fine Arts. He has been an external examiner for colleges in Australia and Malaysia. He still gives weekly lectures on pottery at the National University of Singapore.  In addition, he also participated in community projects such as helping to fund the Singa Kiln Project in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2004.

A hugely influential instructor-mentor, Iskandars oeuvre occupies a pivotal place in modern ceramics art history in Singapore.  The characteristic features of Iskandar's works include tactile, rich surfaces, use of twigs as embellishments, use of Southeast Asian motifs and Jawi calligraphy, use of Iskandar Blue, his one-hand technique and local clay, his admiration of Japanese ceramics aesthetics and philosophy (eg Mingei Craft Movement). Iskandar has produced large public art works alongside the modest chawan bowl. 

Iskandar's work is featured in the collections of many international public and private collections, such as those by the National Museum of Sweden, Sultan of Brunei, former American President George Bush, and the Governor of Hong Kong. His work is also included in several collections in Singapore, including those by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, National Museum of Singapore, several banks, statutory boards and educational organisations. Some of his larger works can be seen in public places like the MRT wall mural in Tanjong Pagar Station (1988), and the wall mural in Changi Airport Terminal Two  (1990).

According to Iskandar, it takes twenty years to learn the craft, develop one's style, and become a good potter. He loves working with clay because it is soft, pliable, and simple. He is not motivated by money, and believes in doing his work with honesty and humility. He creates one-off pieces rather than produce large numbers of products for profit. Being a representative of Singapore's first generation of potters, he believes that he must concentrate on laying the foundations and setting the standards for future potters. The simplicity and significance of the form of the bowl is of prime importance to this master potter; it represents nature, mankind, and God.

1962 : Teacher's Training College, Singapore
1966 : Colombo Plan Scholarship (Textile), Maharashtra, India
1971 : First group exhibition, ASEAN Art Exhibition at Malaysia
1972 : Colombo Plan Scholarship (Ceramics Engineering), Tajimi, Japan
1985 : First solo exhibition entitled "Raw, Earthy and Pliable" at Alpha Gallery, Singapore
2000 : He returned to Japan to visit his old teacher to investigate his renewed interest in the form of the bowl. This teacher conferred the title 'master potter' on him to acknowledge the 'full circle' of his career journey.
2001 : The Economic Development Board (EDB) sponsored a book on Jalil's work entitled Square One- A Potter's Journey, featuring works commissioned by EDB to mark its 40th anniversary, as well as works produced throughout his career.

Solo Exhibitions
 : Raw, Earthy and Pliable, Alpha Gallery, Singapore
1990  : The Potters Journey, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1991 : Singapores Pottery, Stockholm, Sweden
1992 : Ceramics, Miyazaki, Japan
1993 : Hong Kong Festival of Arts, Hong Kong
1995 : My Dialogue With Clay, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore
2001 : Potters Life, Potters Thoughts, Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore
2004 : New Zealand International Arts Festival, New Zealand
2007 : The Pottery Voice of Iskandar Jalil, Art-2 Gallery, MICA Building, Singapore

Selected Group Exhibitions

1971 : ASEAN Art Exhibition, travelling exhibition to ASEAN countries.
1975 : 14 Singapore Ceramics Artists, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1976 : Contemporary Singapore Sculpture, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1979 : Ceramics and Sculpture, Gallery Asia, Singapore
1981 : International Design, Osaka, Japan
1985 : International Ceramics, Taipei, Taiwan
1986 : Clayworks, Alpha Gallery, Singapore
1987 : Transformation Image Contemporary Ceramics in Singapore, National Museum, Singapore
1987 : Basic, National Museum, Singapore
1987 : National Museums Centenary Art Festival, National Museum Art Gallery  Singapore
1987 : Ying and Yang, National University of Singapore
1988 : Clay and Cloth (joint exhibition of pottery and quilt arts with wife), National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1988 : Infinity, Westin Stamford Hotel, Singapore
1991 : Clay Pieces, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1994 : Contrast, Takashimaya Gallery, Singapore
1995 : Singapore Art 95, Suntec City, Singapore
1995 : 4th International Ceramics Competition 1995, Tajimi Gifu, Japan
1995 : Malay Artists, Petronas Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1999 : Handmade:Shifting Paradigms, Singapore Art Museum
2004 : Material Matters Inaugural Exhibition of the Arts House, The Gallery, Arts House at Old Parliament, Singapore
2006 : Ceramics Beyond Borders Commemorating 40 years of Bilateral Ties between Singapore and Japan, National Library Building, Singapore
2007 : Fourth World Ceramics Biennale, Incheon, Gwangju and Yeoju, Korea

1988 : Mural, Tanjong Pagar SMRT station, Singapore
1990 : Changi International Airport Terminal 2, Singapore
1992 : Clocktower, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan
1991/2 : Special gifts for International Design Forum Speakers, Design Centre, Singapore
1992 : Special gifts, Sothebys Singapore, Plum Blossoms gallery, Singapore
1992/3 : Special Gifts, National Book Council, Singapore
1994 : Corporate Gifts, Keppel Shipyard, Singapore
1995 : Singapore Press Holdings, 150th Year Celebrations, Singapore
1995 : Pan United Corporation, Singapore
- : Design for Berita Harian Award, Singapore
- : Design for Singapore International Foundation (SIF) Award, Singapore
- : Economic Development Board, Raffles City, Singapore
2001/2 : Mural, Mitravam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Lobby, Tanglin, Singapore
- : Istana Collection, Singapore

DBS Bank, Singapore
Economic Development Board, Singapore
Istana Collection, Singapore
Keppel Shipyard, Singapore
Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore
Mass Rapid Transit Corporation, Singapore
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore
National Arts Council, Singapore
National Museum, Sweden
Octogram Design, Singapore
Raffles Country Club, Singapore
Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
Singtel, Singapore 
Swisshotel, Singapore
Su Yeang Design, Singapore
Sultan of Brunei, Art Collection, Brunei Darussalem
Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore
Trade Development Board, Singapore
Private Collection of George Bush, USA
Private Collection of Governor of Hong Kong
Private Collection of President Wee Kim Wee, Singapore
Private Collection of Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew


1977 : Special Award, the National Day Art Exhibition
1988 : Cultural Medallion Award for Visual Arts
1994 : Fellow, Centre for the Arts, National University of Singapore
1998 : Pingat Apad, Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya
2002 : Berita Harian Achiever of the Year award. The trophy was something that he himself had designed four years prior to this. The three steel bars on top of the pewter column represent past, present and future achievements of the recipient.

Wife: Saleha, a homes economics teacher
Children: Daughter Elena and son, Edzra.

Iskandar Jalil lives in Jalan Kembangan with his wife and two children. He is a devout Muslim and has been to the Umrah and the Haj.

Ruth Creamer & Lindy Poh

Abbas, D. (1980, August 24). Penduduk terkemuka degan seni tembikarnya [Microfilm: NL10740]. Berita Minggu.

Abbas, D. (1988, July 17). Lapan visi [Microfilm: NL16235]. Berita Minggu.

Bachik, H. (1995, December 18). Pameran tembikar Iskandar [Microfilm: NL20551]. Berita Harian.

Chia, W. H. (1987, March 29). Potters spring pleasant surprises [Microfilm: NL15772]. The Sunday Times.

Curran, A-M. (1984, December 9). A 25-year affair with clay [Microfilm: NL14874]. The Sunday Times.

Choy, S. (1971, March 6). Sound advice when buying a vase [Microfilm: NL6732]. New Nation.

Holmberg, J. (1975, June 12). The bold ones in fine art [Microfilm: NL8353]. New Nation.

Iskandar Jalil, My cinema paradiso [Microfilm: NL26982]. (2006, August 9). The Straits Times, National Day Supplement.

Jalil, I. (2001). Square one: A potter's journey (p. 128). Singapore: Economic Development Board.
(Call no.: RSING 738.095957 ISK) 

Lim, S. (2004, March-April). Of clay and gundus Potter and Teacher Iskandar Jalil. Spring, 8.
Call no.: RSING 307.095957 SLN  

Lim, R. (2001, August 1). No begging bowl: The spirit of the bowl [Microfilm: NL22190]. The Straits Times, Life, pp.1, 4.

Lum, M. (2002, August 13). Off to Desaru on my bike. The Straits Times. Retrieved February 14, 2011, from NewspaperSG.

Nayar, P. (2007, March 23). When Iskandar sculpts his personal stories. Business Times. Retrieved August 18, 2008, from Factiva database.

Pereira, B. (1986, March 28). Pottery - forever Cinderella? [Microfilm: NL15440]. The Sunday Times.

Poh, L., & Iskandar Jalil. (2007). Material message metaphor : The pottery voice of Iskandar Jalil. Singapore : Art-2 Gallery.
Call no.: RSING 738.095957 POH 

Potter Iskandar gets Achiever of the Year Award [Microfilm: NL24521]. (2002, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 2. 

Quek, S.P. (1984, December 17). The Face of poverty in pottery [Microfilm: NL14867]. Business Times.

Ramthan, H. (1987, October 12). Lima pelukis melayu daki tangga kemajuan [Microfilm: NL15957]. Berita Harian.  

Reservoir in the city. (2005, March). Waternet, 11.
(Call no.: RSING q363.61095957 W )

Potter Iskandar gets Achiever of the Year award. (2002, August 1). The Straits Times, Singapore, p. 2. 

Saini, R. (1995, December 19). It's Talking to me at last! - the clay is human, and it is a woman: Iskandar [Microfilm: NL20080]. The Straits Times, Life!, pp.1-2.

Seah, L. (2006, March 2). A house for all seasons [Microfilm: NL26634]. The Straits Times.

Sabapathy, T.K. (1987, March 18). Pots as containers of ideas [Microfilm: NL15750]. The Straits Times.

Singapore Artist Directory. (1992). Singapore: Empress Place Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 709.59570922 SAD) 

Sirat, K. (1984, December 6). Iskandar lahir ilham menerusi [Microfilm: NL14874]. Berita Harian.

Sirat, K. (1984, December 24). Pameran seramik Iskandar dapat sambutan hangat [Microfilm: NL14874]. Berita Harian.
Tsang, S. Y.(1986, March 10). A pot of excitement and dreams [Microfilm: NL15391]. Business Times.

Usaha galak pembuat seni reka mahir [Microfilm: NL15772]. (1987, April 19). Berita Minggu.

Tinsley, B. (1982, May 13). A craftsman at heart [Microfilm: NL12068]. The Straits Times. 

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Iskandar Jalil, 1940- --Biography
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