Most artists would confess that it was hard to make a living.But multiple-award winning artist Yusof Gajah tells a different story, that is, being an artist is about creating an identity for yourself.Yusof was born in Negeri Sembilan, brought up in Singapore in his early years and studied arts in Indonesia.Over the years the artist-painter-writer has produced more than 16 pieces of children publications.
In an interview with the 56-year-old artist, Yusof revealed that he was actively promoting ‘naive art’, which basically means a self-taught artist who paints local landscapes in a child-like way.Hence, instead of being labelled as Sabah Art, Yusof suggested artists find a niche to start thinking about developing Sabah Naive Art.“If you call it Sabah Naive Art, you restrict it to local artists who paint local landscapes or culture that look like a less-than perfect painting.”
Artists should also think about other ways to promote their works, and to get closer to their audience. Yusof himself has held workshops, storytelling sessions and artwork exhibitions to promote his ideas and publications. During his visit to Kota Kinabalu to promote his latest publication entitled ‘Elephabet’ on Friday, he entertained and thrilled nursery and kindergarten children with his puppet shows and drawings.“Instead of a painting exhibition, why not have a children book illustration exhibition?“We can have children coming to the library to see the original artwork and mock-ups, then they will buy our books.”Yusof became successful also because he saw the importance in having a manager and a public relations officer to assist him.
“Artists do not know about marketing and promoting, hence we need someone to stimulate or open up our minds.”He himself is managed by his wife Zakiah Md Isa. Yusof decided he wanted to be a painter at an early age of seven.He started working with children since 1975 and in 1982, he was offered a job by Yayasan Sabah to develop Tadika Ria.“My job was to make puppet, tell stories, and do anything that is related to children and art.” His passion in producing and entertaining children with books and shows never diminished over the years.“Children are sincere and honest. If you give a child food, they will tell you either they like it or hate it, unlike adults who pretend they like the food.”
He believed that reading should start from young and that local artists and painters should do their part in producing more books for children.“We need more books because children now spend more time on television, radio and Internet.” Yusof also felt strongly towards having more local artists or writers’ publications in libraries, as it is a way to promote our culture.“When I came back in 2010, I see lots of improvement, sea covered with land, but what happen to the improvement of artists?”