James Ritchie

It is hard to separate the art from the artist.

– Juice Wrld, American rapper, singer, and songwriter

Fifteen years ago a senior police officer and his family held an exhibition entitled “Keluaga Seni” at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur with great enthusiasm.

It was a gathering of seven talented children of Penang-born Datuk Mohamed Yusoff Jaafar whose dream was to showcase a talent that they had developed from an early age.

Officiated by Malaysia’s veteran artist Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, it was an important benchmark because Yusoff can be proud that today his children are the only family whose skills are today internationally recognised.

It was the girls who led the way when five sisters decided to share their love of painting with the neighbourhood children by establishing the ArtSis Studio in Subang Jaya.

Their father, whose last posting was as Sarawak Commissioner of Police, was the prime mover having been an artist from a very early age.

“My mother owned a Joget Dancing outfit in Penang where I developed not only the art of dancing from a tender age but also dabble in sketches and drawings.

“My eldest daughter Nurhayati was the first to start painting as a child and before I knew it all seven children had become artists in their own right,” said the beaming 72-year-old Yusoff at a gathering as his oldest son Nurazmal’s art studio at Putera Heights last weekend.

I was the “guest of honour” because I was invited to officiate at the opening of his studio and to present a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s song My Way”.

My affiliation with Yusoff goes back to the days when we were schoolmates at the Sultan Abdul Hamid College in Alor Star in the 1960s.

At that time my father John Ritchie was Kedah and Perlis Chief Police Officer and an iconic leader in his own right, being a favourite of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

I ventured into becoming a journalist with the national newspaper New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur.

And as fate would have it, my father was posted to Sarawak as its first police commissioner in 1967.

Following in his footsteps 33 years later Yusoff’ was posted to Kuching as Sarawak’s Police commissioner in 2000.

It was in Kuching that we renewed our acquaintance and where his talented family received recognition which put them in the limelight.

In 2001, I played a small role in encouraging his family to enroll in the Malaysia Book of Records for “Having the most artists in a family”.

Yusoff’s family took part in an event to raise funds for the Sarawak Autistic Association.

Reminiscing family members said they were given water colour paints, brushes, colour pencils and paper when they were young.

Instead of holding a pencil, the children cultivated their father’s passion of holding a paint brush.

It was the second oldest Nurazmal better known as “Ali” who took his skill to a higher level when he entered an international painting competition and won the gold medal.

Ali, 40, recalled: “I was still at school when I entered a junior artists competition during the launch of the International Olympic Committee’s Art Museum in Switzerland in 1993.”

Five winners were selected and Ali was the only Asian among more than 300 child artists from around the world.

Even as his siblings fine-tuned their skills at the family house, Ali rented a small shop lot which was converted into a studio in 2009.

So it was a great honour to have not only to attend the launch of Ali Nurazmal’s studio which is open to all art lovers and those who learn how to develop their skills.

Today Ali’s five sisters Nurhayati, Nurhidayah, Nursyuhadah, Nurfarhana and the “baby” of the family Nursuraya, 20, are talented artists in their own right.

Yusoff’s brood of a dozen grandchildren have also developed musical skills while regularly attending these classes.

In fact Ali’s studio at Putra Heights which is located not far from the family home, is where they have practice sessions with a set of keyboards, guitar and drums.

His younger brother Nur Salihin, 24, who studied music at the Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan is honing his singing skills.

It may be for this reason that Yusoff invited me to “officiate” at the event because I started my life as a teenage singer for Radio Sarawak in the late 1960s.

Ali’s dream of having his own art gallery will be fulfilled in March when the Prime Minister’s wife Dr Siti Hasmah, an accomplished violinist herself, will officiate at the event in the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

Ali said the song My Way was in fact to honour his father because the initial MY also means Mohamed Yusoff.

After the launch, Yusoff whispered to me that I am to receive a surprise gift for attending his function.

Who knows?

 I may be a part of Ali’s art collection very soon!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.