A lino-cut above the rest

Rouwen Lin

THE STAR – As a curious child, Syafiqah Sharom – better known as Ika – used to watch her mother transform fruit into works of art. Her mother participated in numerous fruit carving competitions and young Ika would watch her in fascination.

“She loves carving fruit and she used to enter so many competitions. It was amazing to watch her doing it. All the detailing, it just blew my mind. Whenever there is a wedding for a family member or a friend, she would carve fruit into flower shapes to use as table decorations. She really inspired me with her creativity,” said Ika, 29, an illustrator and printmaker who is steadily making a name for herself in the art scene with her retro-inspired linocut prints.

A linocut is a type of relief, or block print. It has a lot of similarities to woodblock printing. The artist carves an image into a linoleum (lino) block and what is left of the block is inked and printed.

Through the pandemic, Ika has been active on Instagram, sharing her creative process and giving viewers a glimpse of her works ranging from black-and-white prints to hand-painted prints.

Everyday women and mothers, seemingly hailing from an old world Malaysia, are seen looking strong and elegant in traditional Malay attire, especially the baju kebaya and baju kurung.

Ika, who was introduced to lino printing during her university days, enjoys the element of surprise and suspense of this printmaking technique. PHOTOS: THE STAR
Among the creative vendors, Khiddir Baharudin and Syafiqah Sharom, also known by Kide and Ika at TapauFest 2019

Her artwork themes also feature a Mother Nature (Bumi Ibu) character to a Malaya-era woman rubber tapper (carrying a pail of latex and a hooked knife).

Each new piece shows the artist sharing stories and developing an inspirational print series celebrating women’s empowerment, freedom and achievements.

In an ever-expanding series of works, Ika has also made prints featuring a Japanese woman wearing Kitsune mask and a kimono of a flora and fauna traditional batik pattern.

“In a way, you can say that I am a self-taught artist in linocut. I find it a very interesting and unique technique, one that really tests your patience in creating art.

“The most challenging thing in lino is you have to know what to carve and what not to carve. It is like seeing an inverted photo, and you have to carve the inverted part.

“I also like the element of surprise and the suspense when you reveal the final work. Time passes so quickly when I am engrossed in my art. I just need my tools and music, and I am good to go!” she said.

Ika, who is a design graduate of Universiti Selangor and is currently based in Seremban, was introduced to lino printing when researching printmaking techniques for her final year project.

Her limited edition and numbered prints have found an avid following, and she has come a long way from the days of exhibiting a small series of works at her husband Kide Baharudin’s show Pe’el last year in Kuala Lumpur.

Her linocut prints, which range between RM100 and RM2,000 per piece, don’t stick around for long when they are made available online. Ika’s storefront is her Instagram page.

But Ika has always been comfortable working as a team with Kide, especially as seen during the early days when they used to exhibit illustrations at indie arts festivals in KL, including the TapauFest.

Today, the husband-and-wife artist duo are busy building their own brand, Kide & Ika.

They both bring something different to the table: Ika works on her linocut prints while Kide does all the ink drawings.

Earlier this year, they released a limited edition Hari Raya art box set, comprising tote bags, T-shirts, art prints, stickers and money packets that featured Ika’s prints and Kide’s drawings.

The main design was a typical kampong scene that the duo imagined as “a bit of a wonderland”. It showed people dancing among the trees and flowers in the kampong.

In Ika’s works, the female form in a rhythmic groove is often celebrated.

Both Kide and Ika also wanted to remind people of the joys of “balik kampong“, something that many of us have not been able to do during the pandemic.

These boutique releases have made the brand a popular name among young art collectors. There was no need for an art gallery route to success.

As independent artists who loved printmaking and design, they worked outside the art gallery system and often found ways to sustain themselves through art-based commissions.

“We have known each other for more than 10 years. We are very lucky that we share the same passion for visual art. The first project that we worked on together was for the 2018 House of Vans Asia Tour.

“She helped me with the colouring process after I was done with the black-and-white outline for the illustrations. This project will always hold a special place in our hearts because through this commission, we were able to save up for our wedding ceremony the following year,” said Kide.

Kide & Ika officially kicked off later that year, in August 2019.

The recurring theme in their creations? Malaysian culture and its people.

The duo was inspired by the beautiful illustrations by other artists, especially those from abroad, that captured their local culture in a fresh and catchy way.

So they thought, why not make Kide & Ika a visual art platform that introduces and promotes Malaysian culture?

Their mantra? To do their part in creating a positive impact, spread joy and remind everyone to be proud of our unique culture and heritage.

“We try to come up with ideas that highlight the unique aspects of Malaysian culture and traditional elements, some of which are fast disappearing from modern life. We find ways to celebrate this with fans of our work. I also like to insert elements of fantasy and surrealism into my linocut works, merging it with local stories and imagery. For instance, imagine the Bawang Putih character entering the world of Alice in Wonderland!” said Ika.

She added that they fully embrace the handmade concept with their brand and they try to support the local creative industry during their production process.

In the spirit of Malaysia Day, Kide & Ika recently released a new rug. Like all other creations under this brand, the rug is made by hand and combines the artistic styles of the creators.