“There’s so much more to fabrication than making carpets and fixing chairs. It’s an art form,” says fabrication expert Tauqeer.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Tauqeer ran his own business specializing in fixing and installing car air conditioners. Though his business was doing well, he was facing harassment in the form of death threats due to an interreligious marriage in his family. Driven by the desire to keep his family safe, Tauqeer made the immensely difficult choice of leaving his homeland and moved to Malaysia, consequently leaving behind a stable life and most of the comforts he previously had. After moving to Malaysia, he was living close to the then Biji-biji center at Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur. His interest was piqued as he noticed that the people there were constantly tinkering with metal and wood and making all sorts of things from any number of materials. So with nerves akin to that of a person about to ask someone out, he took a leap of faith and got their number. The Biji-biji team could sense that Tauqeer also had a creative mind—a maker’s mind, if you will—and so they took Tauqeer under their wing and taught him how to be an expert builder. He started working on his first project with Biji-biji Initiative: painting a diesel drum.
From then on, he started doing a lot of metalworking and woodworking. At the time, a lot of Biji-biji Initiative’s projects revolved around making sculptures and taking old materials like discarded wood, plastic, or metal and bringing new life and value to them. Tauqeer was heavily involved in these projects and honed himself into what we like to call an “upcycling artist”. As an upcycling artist and fabrication expert, he wasn’t only fixing things; he basically started a movement of taking in discarded materials and shaping them into something new. His work of upcycling and morphing something that was thought to have no value into something valuable is beautiful and downright inspiring, as he continues to show people that there are so many perspectives from which you can view something. Here, he learned that it’s not only what you saw on the outside but what you could imagine on the inside.
Fast forward a couple of years, in the 12,000 square foot space of Me.reka Makerspace in Publika, Tauqeer has hosted countless workshops on fabrication, from teaching the art of woodworking and metalworking through technical skills like welding to designing and prototyping customized projects. By sharing his knowledge and expertise with others, he’s passed on to them a treasure chest of 21st-century skills that are not usually considered important by most but have since proven to be extremely useful. The much-acclaimed fabrications lab at the makerspace is—not to put too fine a point on it—his baby. As a dedicated maker and fabricator, he spends most of his days in the lab working on various projects, from simple fixes that people around him need, to larger artistic art projects.
Before the unfortunate arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Me.reka would host programs with many different communities, with Tauqeer spearheading the fabrications and prototyping modules. He would teach kids the intrinsic value of raw materials and provide them with an avenue to exercise their creativity. From materials like discarded wood, he showed students how to make phone stands.
Both adults and kids have learned a lot from Tauqeer on the art of fabrication, and the passion he has for his work is obvious for all and sundry to see. When people come to him for design consultation, for example, he doesn’t act as just a regular consultant; he’d give them a crash course and get very hands-on with the project. When COVID-19 came about, the hardship of having to close up shop and conduct our work virtually was felt across the whole team at Me.reka & Biji-biji Initiative. Since the workshop was also closed, it heavily affected Tauqeer as he did not have access to the tools and materials required to work on his craft.
“There was nothing to be fixed, no sculptures to be made, no commissions to be carried out,” he said.
Post-MCO 1.0, when things started opening up, he had the opportunity to build again. With a sigh of relief, he managed to get back to what he does best. In doing so, one of the things he made is an impressive sculpture made entirely out of discarded metal.
When asked about what inspired him to create this sculpture, he said it was because he wanted to make something that was, at its core, his.
“Since day one, most of the work I did was for others, based on what they wanted or requested. “Clients would come to me with all sorts of items like old luggage and even bathtubs and commission me to make something new out of these things. “I of course enjoyed the work, but I never really had the chance to envision a creation for myself.“And so I toyed around with the idea of Tinman and made it happen,” said Tauqeer.
Funny enough, none of the team members knew what he was working on. One day there was nothing, and the next thing they knew, there was a glorious life-size metal sculpture in the fabrication lab. With a laugh, he continued, “who would’ve thought that a period of lockdown and sitting at home would lead to me making a whole sculpture entirely out of metal? To Tauqeer, the Tinman is so much more than a creation made of waste materials. On top of the daily battles that we have to fight, many of us are battered by the fight against COVID-19. We feel broken down, just like discarded metal pieces. But just like the Tinman, if we took the time to put ourselves back together, we can rise back up and become whole again. Ultimately, the Tinman represents resilience that is inherent in human nature. There’s much we can learn from a figure like Tauqeer. Though he holds a UNHCR Card, he still has faced countless adversities in order to find meaningful work for himself and his family. Yet, he continues to persevere to this day and pulls through during tough times with his smile intact.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, whether there is a language barrier or anything. “Through the language of fabrication, I was able to connect with so many people from all walks of life, where they themselves are from different communities and speak different languages,” he expounded.
The Tinman needs a home! If you would like to support Tauqeer and his art, you can go to the following form and express your interest. The starting price of this sculpture is RM8,000. True to his sharing nature, Tauqeer would like to see fifty percent of the proceeds go to the local refugee community he works with, and the balance for him to further equip himself with resources to work on future projects, and support more people around him.
There is relentless passion and energy that goes into everything he does. Not many people are privileged enough to say that they genuinely care about their work, but Tauqeer is definitely one of them. Armed with a perpetual smile and a mug of green tea, he brings life and love to our little family here at Biji-biji Initiative.