Sarkasi bin Said (b. 27 March 1940, Singapore–d. 14 October 2021, Singapore), who went by the artist name Tzee, was an internationally renowned Singaporean batik painter.1 The artist was noted for his unconventional use of a wax-resisting technique for batik painting, his bold use of colours and his frequent depictions of nature.2 In May 2003, Sarkasi’s 103-metre batik painting set a Guinness World Record for the world’s longest batik painting.3
As his parents were separated when he was just three years old, Sarkasi was raised by his grandparents.4 His passion for art was sparked by a treasured hand-made toy aeroplane from his grandfather for his fifth or sixth birthday. Its construction without the use of nails impressed the young Sarkasi.5 It made Sarkasi appreciate the joys of hand-made works of beauty, and he aimed to accomplish the same with his paintings.6
Although Sarkasi performed well enough at school, he felt that art was his calling.7 When he was 16, the artist made the daring move of dropping out of Beatty Secondary School to concentrate on his art.8 Sarkasi then took to street painting, cycling to different locations to paint and sell scenes of nature. His works were highly popular with the expatriates in the Bartley and Gilstead areas, some of whom even recommended his paintings to their friends.9
Sarkasi’s exposure to batik art came during his formative years and was a result of helping his grandmother who sold batik cloth as an extra form of income.10 However, he began to develop a serious interest in the art form after he saw an Italian artist’s exhibition in a gallery in Singapore in the 1960s. He noticed that the foreign artist was using a technique that was a traditional art form in the region.11 As a Javanese, Sarkasi felt that it was important that he should return to his cultural roots, and focus on batik art because of its significance in Malay culture.12 He was inspired by the wax-resisting or wax-dyeing batik painting technique instead of both water colours and oil for his paintings.13
To deepen his knowledge and understanding of batik art, Sarkasi travelled extensively in the region so that he could learn from the batik printing centres.14 His stay at Karang Malang was one of the personal highlights of his sojourns to Indonesia, as it was his grandparents’ hometown.15 On the same trip, Sarkasi was also able to study under Pak Aznam Effendy, a painter-teacher at Yayasan Akademi Senipura Nasional in Jakarta.16
The artist rose to prominence in the 1970s with his portrayal of the orchid on a dress. The National Trades Union Congress was conducting a nationwide search for a Singapore Dress design that could be representative of the nation.17 Sarkasi had chosen to branch into batik painting on dresses, and it was during this period that people began referring to Sarkasi as the “Baron of Batik”.18 Such batik-print dresses were sold at Tzee Creation, a company he started up with four other partners but is now defunct.19
Sarkasi expanded his repertoire to include batik designs on shirts, scarves and other products that are sold both locally and abroad.20 Detractors of his work are critical of Sarkasi’s popular appeal as they think that his works are overly driven by commercial impulses.21 Sarkasi, on the other hand, saw the popularity of his works as a means of inspiring new artists, as well as to promote batik art to the layperson, allowing them to understand that the art form possesses both a decorative and functional aspect.22 Admirers of his work include the art historian, T. K. Sabapathy, who has praised the artist for his bold and effective use of colours, as well as the dynamic and intricate decorative elements in his paintings.23
Sarkasi took a contemporary approach to batik art by utilising abstract and modern techniques in a Singaporean context.24 He also publicised the art form by holding exhibitions in countries such as Brunei, France, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and the United States.25
The batik painter was a board member of several art committees such as the National Arts Council (NAC) (2006–8), Singapore’s Modern Art Society and the Malay Museum Committee. He was also appointed the Chairman of Public Affairs and Education at the Malay Heritage Foundation.26 He won a number of awards including Pingat APAD (from the Association of Artists of Various Resources) in 1974, and Best Foreign Entry (Sarasota Art Exhibition in the United States) in 1981.27
The artist also volunteered as an art teacher at a drug rehabilitation centre and frequently donated to charitable organisations.28 One of his first students at the Khalsa Crescent Drug Rehabilitation Centre, Kelvin Lee, held his first batik art exhibition in November 1993.29
Singaporeans continue to appreciate Sarkasi’s art. In 2014, the People’s Association (PA) launched a set of commemorative ez-link cards featuring Sarkasi’s trademark orchid batik design for the Chingay celebrations.30 He regularly conducted batik-painting workshops.31
Sarkasi’s son, Ika Zahari, is also a batik artist who has studied batik from Sarkasi from a young age.32 Before becoming a full-time batik artist, Ika was an auxiliary police officer.33
Sarkasi died at age 81 from kidney failure.34
Tanglin Tinggi Malay Primary School35
Madrasah Aljunied Muslim School36
Duchess Primary School37
Beatty Secondary School38
Grandparents: Haji Mukayat and Madam Suriati39
Parents: Said bin Haji Abdul Razah and Hajjah Suminah Sarpan40
Wife: Hajjah Salamah Ahmad41
Children: Ika, Illya, Indra, and Imelda42
1. “Sarkasi Said,” Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, last retrieved 2 August 2016.
2. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1988, March 24). “World View of Sarkasi,” Straits Times, 24 March 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Sarkasi Said, Lyrics in Wax: Art of Sarkasi Tzee (Singapore: Tzee Creation, 1997), 34. (Call no. RSING 759.95957 SAR)
3. “Target Reached,” Today, 21 May 2003, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 27.
5. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 28.
6. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 29–31.
7. Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi.”
8. Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi”; Said, Lyrics in Wax, 19.
9. Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi.”
10. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 28.
11. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 33–34; Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi.”
12. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 34.
13. Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi.”
14. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 35; Abu Bakar, “World View of Sarkasi.”
15. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 35, 37.
16. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 37.
17. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 40.
18. “Sarkasi Paints Batik Prints on Dresses – for a Change,” Straits Times, 4 July 1978, 11; “Long-Drawn Feat,” Straits Times, 5 September 2003, 13. (From NewspaperSG); Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Norshahril Saat, eds., Majulah!: 50 Years of Malay/Muslim Community in Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific, 2016), 604. (Call no. RSING 305.697095957 MAJ)
19. Mardiana Abu Bakar, “The Art of Selling,” Straits Times, 20 March 1993, 7. (From NewspaperSG); “Bizfile,” Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, last updated 5 December 2016.
20. Abu Bakar, “Art of Selling.”
21. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 40.
22. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 40; Tuminah Sapawi, “Big on Batik,” Straits Times, 19 October 1992, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 15.
24. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 39.
25. Abu Bakar, “Art of Selling.”
26. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 82; “Appointment of New Members to National Arts Council,” National Arts Council, last updated 5 December 2016.
27. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 17.
28. Ravi Veloo, “Hooked on Art,” Straits Times, 31 October 1993, 6; “Artist Praised for Contribution to Mendaki,” Straits Times, 18 July 1991, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Tuminah Sapawi, “Ex-drug Addict to Hold Art Exhibition,” Straits Times, 23 October 1993, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
30. EZ-Link Pte. Ltd., “EZ-Link Launches Chingay 2014 Commemorative Ez-Link Cards Set,” press release, 7 February 2014.
31. Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, “Sarkasi Said.”
32. EZ-Link Pte. Ltd., “EZ-Link Launches Chingay 2014.”
33. Melanie Heng, “Critics Called Him ‘Crazy’,” New Paper, 19 September 2015, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Ong Sor Fern, "Cultural Medallion Batik Artist Sarkasi Said, 81, Dies from Kidney Failure." Straits Times, 15 October 2021.
35. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 30.
36. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 30.
37. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 30.
38. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 30.
39. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 27.
40. Said, Lyrics in Wax, 27.
41. Kamali Hudi, “Sarkasi Melekat Pada Batik,” Berita Harian, 26 June 2003, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Kasih Ayah Dicurah Melalui Lukisan,” Berita Harian, 16 June 1987, 2; “Memupuk Harmoni Dengan Lilin Dan Canting,” Berita Harian, 13 May 2003, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
Dua M Pte Ltd, Infusion. Episode 6, Media Corp, 2002–2005, videodisc. (Call no. RSING 782.1 INF)
Jamie Ee Wen Wei, “Artists Concerned About Centre Revamp,” Straits Times, 28 March 2010, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
Mayo Martin, “Different,” Today, 10 September 2007, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
MediaCorp TV12 Singapore Pte Ltd, Art Nation. Episode 13, MediaCorp TV12 Singapore, 2003, videodisc. (Call no. RSING 700.95957 ART)
Sandra Leong, “The Big Break,” Straits Times, 5 September 2003, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
Sarkasi Said, Introspection (Singapore: Tzee Creation, 1991). (Call no. RSING 759.95957 SAR)
Sarkasi Said, Memory: Black & White Sketches of Sarkasi Said Tzee (Singapore: Baoyou, 2002). (Call no. RSING 741.95957 SAR)
T. Sasitharan, “Wax-and-Dye in Vibrant Colours,” Straits Times, 14 July 1989, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to 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.