Celebrate the life of Tun Ismail Ali, the first Malaysian governor of Bank Negara

  • Arts
  • Friday, 14 Dec 2018

A photographer takes a snapshot of pioneer artist Yan Sook Leongs silver plate works called Untitled (1960s). - S.S.KANESAN/The Star

Mention Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) and one of the first things that enters the mind is its kijang (barking deer) logo.

This iconic symbol was the idea of late BNM governor Tun Ismail Ali (1918-1998), who decided the bank needed to establish an identity.

He was inspired by an ancient Kelantanese coin, which featured an animal motif instead of Jawi script. Legend has it that a 14th century queen of Kelantan was so fond of her pet kijang that she had coins minted with the kijang inscribed on one side.

In 1964, Bank Negara, with Tun Ismail at the helm, adopted the kijang as its official logo and seal.

And the rest, they say, is history.

To mark Tun Ismail’s 100th birthday, Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery is presenting an exhibition Tun Ismail Ali: Paragon Of Trust And Integrity to commemorate his life.

This exhibition follows the launch of the Tun Ismail book Paragon Of Trust And Integrity, authored by P. Gunasegaram and published by BNM, in October.

Tun ismail
A photographer takes a snapshot of pioneer artist Yan Sook Leong's silver plate works called Untitled (1960s).

Tun Ismail, the first Malaysian to assume the post of BNM governor, helped lay down the foundations of Malaysia’s central financial institution. He held the position from 1962-1980, making him the longest-serving governor.

“This exhibition chronicles Tun Ismail Ali’s journey, both personal and professional, to record his philosophy, contributions and achievements. We hope that future generations will benefit from his exceptional example,” says Noreen Zulkepli, BNM Museum and Art Gallery deputy director.

The exhibition is divided into two parts: The Memorial Section contains over 140 of Ismail’s personal belongings and professional artefacts. The Art Section, or "Tun Ismail Ali’s Pick", showcases paintings acquired by him for BNM’s art collection (from 1962-1980).

This enjoyable exhibition, in short, is a great opportunity to get to know Tun Ismail, who was born in Port Klang, Selangor, on Sept 16, 1918, into a family of 10.

Tun ismail
Tun Ismail Ali's collection of matchboxes collected from his trips abroad are placed in a vase.

On display in the Memorial Section are many of Tun Ismail’s books, certificates and even university graduation gown (he received his tertiary education, starting 1938, at Cambridge University, Britain under the Queen’s Scholarship).

His career in public service began in 1946 when he was one of the two Malays recruited directly into the Malayan Civil Service.

After Merdeka in 1957, Tun Ismail travelled to the United States to set up the Federation of Malaya Embassy in Washington and became its economic minister. In Washington, he served as Executive Director of the World Bank representing Malaysia and a number of South-East Asian and African countries.

In 1960, Tun Ismail began his BNM career, his first two years as deputy governor and then as the governor.

Tun Ismail
Long Thien Shih’s Wayang Kulit (oil on canvas, 1964). Photo: BNM

At the Tun Ismail Ali: Paragon Of Trust And Integrity exhibition, don’t miss the chance to view a collection of his very meticulously kept official diaries written while he was working in the United States.

The exhibition also reveals the man’s more personal side. On display are a set of clubs belonging to Tun Ismail, a casual golfer, as well as posters of some of his favourite TV shows. Who knew he was a fan of Dallas?

Also featured is a large glass vase containing Tun Ismail’s collection of matchboxes, acquired from his many travels abroad.

The Art Section showcases Tun Ismail’s patronage of the Malaysian art scene.

Tun Ismail
Visitors browsing the various Malaysian bank notes and coinage on display.

Classic works from Mohd Hoessein Enas, Ibrahim Hussein, Long Thien Shih, Latiff Mohidin and Syed Ahmad Jamal, which have all been the cornerstones of BNM's art collection, have been nicely tied up to this Paragon Of Trust And Integrity exhibition

Pioneer artist Yan Sook Leong's intricate silver plate works are also not to be missed.

Many of the works exhibited are steeped in the story of a young Malaysia.

They feature depictions of a new nation’s economic activities such as rubber tapping, tin mining and trading, while others are dedicated to the kijang.

Tun Ismail Ali: Paragon Of Trust And Integrity is showing at the Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery, Level 2, Sasana Kijang, No. 2 Jalan Datuk Onn in Kuala Lumpur till Dec 31. Opening hours: 10am-6pm daily. More info: museum.bnm.gov.my. Call 03-9179 2784. Free admission.

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