Marini Ramlan with her niece, Eva Zahara
Marini Ramlan: When I was about five or six, I remember my mother creating little art activities for me and my cousins to do, such as batik painting in the garden. Mostly I remember her giving me a lot of art supplies to play with. I was spoilt for choice, as what she gave me was of high quality, and I was also given free access to her home studio where I could take all the yarn I wanted and cut up any fabric to turn into clothes for my dolls! Mum wasn’t a hands-on art teacher, more of an enabler. She gave us the freedom to mess around. I could paint on my bedroom walls, shoes, and clothes, if I felt the need to. She would teach me through question and answer. I have a good sense of design and colour, which I picked up listening to her critiques with students or by her actually lecturing me. The latter has not stopped! We have been talking about collaborating on a line together. It’s in the works for sure but we’re in no hurry and it’s a process I would like to enjoy and to happen naturally without force. There is a sense of peace and happiness I feel when I paint. It’s a form of meditation that leaves me refreshed. I find joy in sharing my love for art, whether it’s through sharing my work in progress, doing live paintings or conducting art lessons. Art is very important to balance your mind. I’m not saying we should all be artists, but I do believe in harnessing the imagination. One way to do that is to play and make things with your hands at an early age, and to continue this straight into adulthood.
I wanted to share this idea with people, and figured the best way to do that was to show through example. I have Mum to thank for teaching me how to teach using instinct and logic. Back in 2011, I had a strong urge to give back to society through art. So I decided to work with kids who could use a boost of art in their life. I found Yayasan Chow Kit through Dr. Tini Zainuddin whom I met at a charity event. It was the perfect place to start my #artforlife (a term I use to remind me to find time to do my art) programme. The concept is about making art fun, boosting the imagination through messing around with art.
My nephew Hakeem and I had our own little creative outlet. He loves to talk and I began recording our conversations when he was five. We would make up superheroes or discuss Transformers. This eventually led to him making his own videos, and later he found animation on his own. His first storyboard of his cartoon character Zeorge can be viewed on his Youtube channel Haksterz. Eva Zahara, my adorable niece, loves painting sessions with her Nuna (that’s me). She started making art from the age of two. A creative child is a colourful adult, and life is definitely more fun with a little imagination!
Fatimah Ismail: Growing up, my art was not on paper or canvas. It was singing. At 15, I used to sneak off to Singapore to stay with my cousin. With her help I had slots on radio, TV, and stage shows. It was only in 1967 when I went to the UK to study Art & Design that my blissful union with art was borne.
Textile design, specifically ‘Surface Pattern Design’ was my area of expertise. But in retrospect, I think I started to be more of a free-expressive artist during the tenure of my Masters at Syracuse University, where I experimented with ‘Fiber Art’ – all the rage in the ’70s. Fine artists such as Ponrin Amin, Ariffin Ismail, Zakaria Ariffin, the late Joseph Tan, and Sulaiman Esa opened my eyes to a deeper realm of textile in a fine art context. That was when I began creating ‘fiber art’ free-forms and woven tapestry. I broke free from the regimented training of textile design. A few of my works have been purchased by the National Art Gallery and Bank Negara.
My children – Ozi, Nini, Didi, and Adam – are individually creative. I merely nudged them in the right direction. You could say I was an indulgent mother, but ask them and they’d say otherwise. My oldest boy was interested in computer graphics whereas Nini dabbles in everything from drawing to sewing. Didi’s artistic expression is not on a canvas; she has a good eye for expressive and creative photography, while Adam’s art is in animated computer design. If I had it my way, they would be lawyers or even politicians! Anything but an artist or be involved in art.
I am in awe of Marini; she scares me with her boundless energy! She will say I am critical of her work, but I merely suggest a few things to enhance it. I am a trained textile designer and tend to be a bit technical whereas Marini is a free-expression artist. Naturally, we don’t agree on occasion, but that is good. Her dedication to art is to be applauded. Today if you ask me to use my fingers to draw I will confess that they have stiffened up and I can’t draw to save myself. I am passing the baton to my daughter who is now passing it on to my grandchildren, Hakeem and Eva Zahara.
Photography: Chee Wei/Yipieyaya Studio