Framing a Moment in Fathers and Daughters’ Journey with Art
Nazura Rahime and Sharmin Parameswaran are the sole daughters of Rahime Harun (1954 – 2008) and Dato’ N. Parameswaran (1948 – 2022) and grew up amidst their respective fathers’ art-collecting journeys. “Bapaku Pulang” encapsulates the early recollections of both daughters as preschoolers growing up with art until adulthood. With the exhibition, Nazura and Sharmin offer a glimpse into the selection of artists and subject matters that their fathers favour with the intention of breathing new life and meaning into the artworks.
Rahime and Dato’ Parameswaran connected through art when Rahime founded A.P Art Gallery in 1983 with his late wife, Zarina Ariffin (1955 – 2010), Nazura’s mother. Initially located at the Anak Alam Space in Padang Merbok, Kuala Lumpur, the gallery opened in Equatorial Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, then moved to KL Hilton, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Rahime acquired a three-storey building in Taman Melawati, Kuala Lumpur, in 1993 that now houses Nazura’s production company, Manggis Group, which was established in 2003 with her husband, Fauzee Nasir and A.P Art Gallery since its resurgence in 2018.
Dato’ Parameswaran joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia in 1969. Between 1971 and 1981, he served the Malaysian Missions in Jakarta, New York, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi. While in New York, USA, from 1973 to 1975, Dato’ Parameswaran began visiting art museums with his wife Lyn Loh Siew Ling (1948 – 1991), Sharmin’s mother. They first met as sixth-form students at the Anglo-Chinese School in Ipoh, Perak.
“My mother was the one who was artistically inclined, and inspired my father with her appreciation for visual arts and music. I have fond memories of my childhood listening to her play the guitar singing my favourite song as a kid, ‘Angel of the Morning’. I think the start of my father’s passion for the arts came from her,” recalled Sharmin.
Sharmin was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1978. At the time, Dato’ Parameswaran was the Charge d’ Affaires for the Embassy of Malaysia in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From 1986 to 2008, Dato’ Parameswaran was Head of Missions in Switzerland, Vietnam, and Singapore.
Nazura was born in her mother’s hometown in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, in 1979. At the age of four, Nazura spent her weekends at Rumah Anak Alam – a bungalow that housed artistic activities by artists, poets, and theatre actors – and attended art lessons with resident artist K. Thangarajoo alongside artist-couple Mustapha Haji Ibrahim and Maryam Abdullah’s son, Zaihan.
Rahime was remembered as “a passionate champion of Malaysian culture” and “a highly competent art business entrepreneur and administrator”. He instilled in Nazura the greatest gift of life values, hard work, and perseverance.
When A.P Art Gallery opened an outlet in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur, in 1985, Nazura assisted her parents on weekends. Her task was to sell postcards to tourists for 60 cents. She earned RM10 a day and looked forward to spending her hard-earned income at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“My father used to tell me every time he spoke about art: ‘Paint what you see, know and feel’. Anak Alam and Central Market were my playgrounds when growing up. Art museums and galleries across the country were my holiday destinations, where most often I would be throwing tantrums in front of these museums as I did not appreciate art as a child. Looking back on these memories, I realise that this love-hate relationship I have with art is what I treasure now, each artwork a reminder of my life. For ‘Bapaku Pulang’, I am looking to pass on the artworks knowing it will give a new meaning to others.”
In 1984, Rahime Harun attended a Diploma course in Entrepreneurship Development (Art Business) in Turin, Italy, to serve the Malaysian art market. He took the opportunity to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This museum houses the personal collection of Peggy Guggenheim’s 20th-century European and American art, which inspired him to own a private museum back home.
In 1995, Rahime Harun presented an exhibition titled “Pursuing a Dream – The Collection of Rahime Harun” at Galeri Petronas, Kompleks Dayabumi, Kuala Lumpur, which featured 135 artworks by artists such as Abdullah Ariff, Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Latiff Mohidin, Siti Zainon Ismail, Khalil Ibrahim, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Rafiee Ghani, the Matahati collective, and more.
The exhibition was held in conjunction with his 42nd birthday. The launch coincided with the signing a memorandum of understanding between Rahime Harun and Perbadanan Muzium Melaka to loan his art collection to Muzium Melaka.
As for Sharmin, her parents separated when she was eight years old. Her mother raised Sharmin until her untimely demise in 1991. Sharmin then lived with her maternal uncle and aunty throughout secondary school and college. While commencing tertiary education in Australia, she travelled to Europe and America solo – a brave endeavour for a young woman, reflecting her independent and strong-willed nature. In 2000, Sharmin graduated with a BA (Hons) in Commerce, majoring in Accounting from the University of Melbourne in Australia. She began her career in the media industry in 2003 and crossed paths with Nazura.
Dato’ Parameswaran was introduced to many artists of the time by Rahime; among them was Malaysia’s foremost wayang kulit artist, Nik Zainal Abidin, sculptor Raja Shahriman Raja Azzidin and printmaker Juhari Said.
During Dato’ Parameswaran’s stint as Ambassador of Malaysia, he has hosted several excursions for Malaysian artists abroad. An example is an excursion organised by the Malaysian Artists Association led by Ahmad Khalid Yusof to Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1993.
During the trip, artists like Rahime Harun, Zarina Ariffin, Khalil Ibrahim, Long Thien Shih, Sanip Lasman, and Ahmad Zakii Anwar, among others, visited artists’ studios, art exhibitions and cultural programmes.
An exhibition titled “Titian III” by Malaysian artists was held at the Hanoi School of Fine Art in Hanoi, Vietnam.
This moment was captured by Rahime and Zarina as exemplified in their watercolour paintings titled “Teatime” (1993) and “The Passage, Hanoi” (1993) featured in ‘Bapaku Pulang’.
Although Dato’ Parameswaran spent 39.5 years working abroad, he did make time with Sharmin to do activities he loved at home, such as visiting artists at their studios or having meals with them and discussing art. Sharmin’s lack of enthusiasm as a teenager for these types of outings corresponds with Nazura’s.
For Sharmin, visiting family members in Penang will ultimately be extended to paying visits to artists like Tan Choon Ghee, Dato’ Tay Mo Leong and Penang Art Gallery’s Dato’ Dr Tan Chee Kuan.
“My father funded my first year of university by selling art, especially as I was abroad during the 1997 financial crisis where the Malaysian ringgit plummeted.” said Sharmin.
In 2015, the National University of Singapore Museum presented an exhibition titled “Vietnam 1954 –1975: War Drawings and Posters from the Ambassador Dato’ N. Parameswaran Collection”, which showcased one of the largest known singular collection of drawings and posters from the Vietnam War” on loan to the NUS Museum for a period of three years to prospect research and to facilitate teaching.”
Sharmin explained: “Inheriting an art legacy swings between daunting and exciting. My father has passed on for more than a year, and I am still going through his collection attempting to understand his reasons and passion for collecting. ‘Bapaku Pulang’, featuring Malaysian works, is just the start of this process, where I do intend for the collection to move on to where it would be appreciated and best resonate as art will mean different things to different people.”
She also shares similar views and perspectives on art with her father. Both appreciate visual arts based on sight, emotions and develop a bond with artists by talking to and working with them. “However, where we differ is in the appreciation of mediums, with my father having a preference for traditional paintings, a medium in which he is familiar and knowledgeable with. As for myself, having grown up across analogue and digital media, I have an appreciation and excitement for progressing forms and mediums of art expressions. Not to mention, being a fan of current popular culture,” said Sharmin.
The father-daughter duo worked on a project together, culminating in an exhibition titled “At First Glance” in 2012 that was held at White Box, Publika, Kuala Lumpur. The show has given impetus to impending curatorial work for Sharmin, which has surpassed 40 art events.
In 2013, Dato’ Parameswaran established Interpr8 Art Space, an art gallery in Publika, Kuala Lumpur, with Sharmin. His interest in acquiring, collecting, and deaccessioning artworks was most active during this period. Among the solo exhibitions he organised at Interpr8 were by Nik Zainal Abidin and Haron Mokhtar.
In Nik Zainal Abidin, Dato Parameswaran found lasting friendship until the artist’s demise in 1993. Dato’ Parameswaran admired Nik Zainal’s use of vibrant colours to depict the accuracy of the characters from the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
Dato’ Parameswaran also had a strong interest in Dzulkifli Buyong’s work. In 2019, Sharmin interviewed her father to discuss the talented artist’s work. His account of the published interview reads:
“It was through the late Rahime Harun, who ran an art shop at the National Art Gallery. I used to go there very often, and we became very good friends. Rahime knew of my interest in Dzulkifli Buyong (Dzul) as the National Gallery used to feature his works frequently. There was a group show in 1986, in which Dzul was exhibiting. I went there excitedly, and of course all his works had been booked already. One work, ‘Menghafal’, was of a girl walking and memorising a book, and a cat following behind. This work had been booked by Rahime, and because he knew of my keen interest, he said to me, ‘Since you like Dzul so much, I’ll transfer my booking to you.’ That was how I got my first Dzulkifli Buyong artwork. And it was Rahime who told me to go and see Dzul. He revealed that Dzul had a series of watercolour self-portraits that few had seen. Rahime was at that time one of the best art entrepreneurs in town.”
When Sharmin asked when Dato’ Parameswaran began to take an active interest in Malaysian visual art, he replied: “It was much later in 1985. I was flying back to New York one day, with a stopover in Taiwan. On the plane there was a magazine called Salam, a magazine of the Malaysian Hoteliers Association, and outside on the cover was a Tan Choon Ghee artwork. I took the magazine, and inside there were many pictures of his works reproduced, which reminded me so much of Dong Kingman. I read the article, and it said that the person who was handling the artworks was Victor Chin of Rupa Gallery, at that time located in Old Town, PJ. When I returned from that trip, I went to find and meet Victor Chin, with the intention of buying and perhaps meeting Tan Choon Ghee. Instead, I ended up buying my first ever artwork, a stone lithograph by Victor Chin at RM400. It depicted minaret tops of the KL railway station building.”
The lifelong journey of art collecting comes with excitement and grievances – the mutual feelings that Nazura and Sharmin have in common. Having left with their fathers’ legacies, Nazura and Sharmin come to terms with everlasting memories attached or detached to/from objects of desire and, in doing so, experience grieving/celebrating a loved one.
National laureate Baha Zain captures the essence of the patriarchal figure in his poem titled “Bapaku” (1979):
Dia tak memerlukan kemasyhuran atau kuasa
Dan tak memuja sesiapa
Dia bagai gunung Titiwangsa
Selalu di depan mata
Tidak memberi penjelasan
Dan tidak meminta maaf.
Sarah Abu Bakar
1 October 2023
Link to exhibition catalogue here.
Ismail Mat Hussin (1938-2015) was a remarkable artist whose batik paintings captured the attention of Malaysian art lovers with his technical mastery and representations of Malaysian daily lives. This watercolour on paperwork depicts a motherly figure with her four children leisurely lounging on the compound of their kampung house. This heart-warming scene of simple living illustrates the pleasures of family bonds. Ismail Mat Hussin was a member of the Angkatan Pelukis Semenanjung (APS) Kelantan and Persatuan Seni Lukis Kelantan (PESENI).
Ali ‘Mabuha’ Rahamad (b. 1952) spent over four decades travelling the world from Singapore, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Egypt and more. Ali captures the complexities of the modern world and the intricacies of the hundreds of cultures that span the globe, such as this oil painting titled “Egypt II”, dated 1979.
Ali was a member of the influential Anak Alam collective in the 1970s and was involved with Angkatan Pelukis Semenanjung. Ali is A self-taught artist known for his surrealistic style and masterful use of colours that invoke feelings of serenity, peace, and calmness amid worldly turmoil.
Maryam Abdullah (b. 1951) is an abstract artist most active during her years with the Anak Alam group of the 1970s. This pastel on paper titled “Kinabalu” depicts 12 multi-coloured abstract shapes and stylised icons floating against an arc demarcated by a solid colour palette of pastel pink and light blue. Her delicate and feminine interpretation of nature reflects the agenda of the time: “the desire to become one with nature”. Maryam, alongside Mustapa Haji Ibrahim, managed the premises of Anak Alam colony, Rumah 905, in the 1970s.
Mustapa Haji Ibrahim (b. 1946) is an unassuming artist who prefers to keep a low profile, loyal to the ways and views held by the Anak Alam members. In 1974, he was one of the artists who formed the Anak Alam collective. His art activities had already started before he enrolled in the Angkatan Pelukis Se-Malaysia (APS) at the Taman Budaya Studio, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, in the late 1960s. Among his solo exhibitions include shows at the British Council in 1973, Anak Alam Studio in 1979, the Equatorial Hotel in 1983 and “Mustapa Haji Ibrahim: Paintings 1968-2008 4th Solo Exhibition” at RA Fine Arts, Kuala Lumpur in 2008. His paintings reflect his passion for nature, expressed through organic shapes and forms in a harmonious colour palette.
Mohamed Zain Idris (1939 – 2000) was a gifted artist who excelled in watercolour, capturing the spectacular scenes of idyllic rural Malaysian landscapes such as “Rural Passage”, created in 1982. Born in Kampung Nail, Besut, Terengganu, Mohamed Zain Idris attended Sekolah Melayu Kuala Besut in Terengganu and was later honoured as the Terengganu state’s Guest Artist by the 10th Chief Minister of Terengganu, Tan Sri Haji Wan Mokhtar bin Ahmad from 1991 to 2000. During his lifetime, he held four solo exhibitions with Samat Art Gallery (1971 and 1972), at Hotel Equatorial (1984) and Hotel Shangri-La (1987) in Kuala Lumpur.
Nik Zainal Abidin Nik Mohamad Saleh (1933 – 1993), known as Nik Zainal, is revered for his impeccable drawings, illustrations, and paintings of the characters from the Hindu epic Ramayana. A self-taught artist, Nik Zainal moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1955 and attended informal art lessons with the Wednesday Art Group led by Peter Harris. In 1960, he was commissioned by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, to design the “Kunci Ibu Kota”, the Royal Throne for the first Yang-di Pertuan Agong and cokmar.
The late Dato’ N. Parameswaran was known to own “the biggest single collection of Nik Zainal’s works”. In 2013, Dato’ Parameswaran organised an exhibition titled “Nik Zainal Abidin: Malaysia’s Foremost Wayang Kulit Artist” that showcased more than 60 of Nik Zainal’s works in various media and wide-ranging subject matters such as figurative, Islamic calligraphy and landscape. Dato’ Parameswaran purchased his first Nik Zainal artwork through the late Rahime Harun, an art dealer and owner of A.P Art Gallery, in 1986.
Tan Choon Ghee (1930 – 2010) was an observant visual artist interested in chronicling street scenes and historical buildings. Many fine examples are manifested through his watercolour and ink renditions of daily activities in Penang, such as this immaculate work titled “Nagore Dargha Sheriff, Leboh Chulia Penang).
Constructed in the early 1800s by the Chulia community as a Muslim sacred shrine for the revered Sufi saint Shahul Hameed (1490–1579 CE), the original Nagore Dargah that houses the tomb of Shahul Hameed is in Nagore, a coast town in Tamil Nadu, India.