JB's teenage art savant

Yap HanZhen receiving his award at the Asian Para
Art 2013 event held in Tokyo, Japan
In 2011 when he was just 13, Yap HanZhen, a savant autistic teenager in Johor Baru had his first solo art exhibition. Themed, “Of Obedience, Solitude and Beauty,” HanZhen presented an exhibition of his pencil sketches of dogs, cats and butterflies and the profits from the sale were channeled to the Kiwanis Careheart Centre school fund. 

This prolific young artist then embarked on a project to sketch creatures in our mangrove forests and in late 2012, HanZhen published a book with 30 beautiful sketches entitled, “River Biodiversity.”

Johor Ancient Chinese Temple at Jalan Trus, Johor Baru
HanZhen started sketching as a hobby in 2009 and by keeping a daily routine in drawing he filled up dozens of sketch books with fascinating images.  From animals, birds, insects and river creatures, HanZhen, now aged 15, recently started to draw Johor Baru’s charming old buildings to preserve the ancient icons’ architectural beauty for posterity. 
His sketches are so impressive that he has been commissioned by the Daiman Group to draw a series of Johor Baru’s old buildings for the new Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Menara Landmark!

Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam
Temple sketched in the inimitable style
of Yap HanZhen 
His architect parents, Yap Yew Peng and Yvonne Yap, said their son was diagnosed as autistic at age 2 and they believe that the creative environment at home helped to develop his language through drawing.  To expand his vocabulary and to communicate with him, they encouraged him to draw objects and label them.  So he drew everything he saw, from everyday items at home to things they saw while on holiday, usually with great detail and accuracy.

“It was almost by accident that we discovered he could draw while we were teaching him to increase his vocabulary for speech,” said Yvonne, who recalled that he could draw all the things at home and accurately labeled his pictures.  He has an amazing gift in starting to draw an image from the top to the bottom or from the bottom to the top but either way, his sketches would all be completed in the right proportions.  HanZhen may doodle a quick sketch in just 3 minutes or take a week to create a masterpiece and has drawn more than 500 documented art pieces in the last 2 years.

HanZhen drawing at his art exhibition held in Sri Ara
Private School's Open Day in September 2013
HanZhen, a good-natured teenager who also plays the piano, attends a local mainstream international school and has teachers and school friends who appreciate his art.  After school each day, he usually spends almost 2 hours drawing sketches with 3B pencils.  His sketches have been sold during his school’s Open Days and the profits were donated to the school’s choice of charities.

Last year, HanZhen’s sketch of the historical Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in Malacca was selected as one of the winning entries from among a pool of 1000 entries in the Asia Para Art 2013 competition in Japan.  His success earned him a special invitation to Asia Para Art 2013 held in Tokyo in October 2013 where his talent was recognised with an award.  It looks like this talented young artist will be kept busy not only with his commissioned work for the Hilton Double Tree Hotel Johor Baru but also in providing the illustrations for a children’s book with an international release.  For more info about the artist and his work, visit: www.hanzhen.org


Sketches are commissioned by Daiman Group for the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel, Johor Baru

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 30 January 2014

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