'Bapaku Pulang' exhibition: evoking memories through art


At the Temu House gallery in Petaling Jaya, Nazura Rahime (right) and Sharmin Parameswaran are showcasing works by 39 Malaysian modern and contemporary artists in ‘Bapaku Pulang’, an exhibition that revisits selected pieces collected by their late fathers Rahime Harun and Datuk N. Parameswaran. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

It's not easy to carry on the legacy of one’s parents. But it’s a little less intimidating when you have a close friend to do it with, like with Nazura Rahime and Sharmin Parameswaran, daughters of the late art collectors Rahime Harun and Datuk N. Parameswaran.

Working with independent art curator Sarah Abu Bakar, a total of 53 artworks from their private collections were carefully selected for the Bapaku Pulang: Growing Up With Art – Selected Works From The Collections Of Nazura Rahime And Sharmin Parameswaran exhibition, currently on display at Temu House in Petaling Jaya.

“The exhibition’s title is adapted from the classic Malay nursery rhyme Bapaku Pulang Dari Kota to symbolise familial memories. The essence of Bapaku Pulang is the father-daughter relationship anchored by art,” says Sarah.

“This project is personal, because I have built friendships with Datuk Param, Sharmin, as well as Nazura, though I did not have a chance to meet the late Rahime Harun, whom I learned about in Malaysian art history,” she adds.

As the only child in their respective families, when their fathers passed, Nazura and Sharmin’s fathers’ extensive art collections were passed on to them. “Inheriting a collection is quite a big responsibility,” says Sharmin.

“You have to ask yourself what you are going to do with it. It might be scary to do it on your own, but doing it together was natural and we’re glad to have each other’s support.”

The exhibition features modern and contemporary artworks by 39 Malaysian artists, offering a glimpse into the artists and topics and themes favoured by Rahime and Parameswaran, who actively participated in the local art scene from the early 1980s.

‘Everyone still refers to the collection as ‘your father’s collection’. So when we were coming up with the title for the show, we asked ourselves whether we were ready to say it’s our collection,’ says Sharmin. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin‘Everyone still refers to the collection as ‘your father’s collection’. So when we were coming up with the title for the show, we asked ourselves whether we were ready to say it’s our collection,’ says Sharmin. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

The exhibition’s works range from Wednesday Art Group contemporaries Peter Harris, Grace Selvanayagam and Dzulkifli Buyong to the Anak Alam artists of the 1970s with Mustapa Haji Ibrahim, Maryam Abdullah, and Ali “Mabuha” Rahamad. Visitors will also be able to spot some early works from Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Eric Peris, Juhari Said, Nik Zainal Abidin and Yau Bee Ling.

Growing up with art Sharmin and Nazura’s backgrounds are similar in many ways – they both grew up surrounded by their fathers’ love of art, which defined their childhood.

“The Anak Alam art collective and Central Market were my playgrounds when growing up. Art museums and galleries across the country were my holiday destinations. I was often throwing tantrums in front of these museums, as I did not appreciate art as a child,” reminisces Nazura.

“Everywhere we travelled, my father would insist that I sit for a portrait. Can you imagine how torturous it was for a young child to be told to sit still for a long period of time?”

In 2018, Nazura embarked on her own journey to restart AP Art Gallery, which her parents had founded in the 1980s. Photo: The Star/Kamarul AriffinIn 2018, Nazura embarked on her own journey to restart AP Art Gallery, which her parents had founded in the 1980s. Photo: The Star/Kamarul Ariffin

As for Sharmin, she shares that her father, who was a career diplomat, loved to visit Penang whenever he returned to Malaysia.

“That’s where all his favourite artists were based. So when I was a child, he would placate me by taking me wherever I wanted to go, like the Snake Temple, and when we were done, he would take me to visit an artist’s house, where I would have to keep myself entertained while my father and the artist would talk the afternoon away,” says Sharmin with a laugh.

Despite their fathers knowing each other through the arts scene, Nazura and Sharmin only met and became friends much later, as both were pursuing careers in the media industry. Nazura, 44, founded the production company Manggis Group, while Sharmin, 45, has 17 years of working in media.

This was likely due to the fact that as soon as they were old enough and became independent, they each strived to distance themselves from the art world – for a time.

“My dad always had this dream of having a private museum of his own. But back then, having his dreams and ambitions placed on me – it scared me,” says Nazura.

A young Nazura with her father Rahime Harun, a passionate champion of Malaysian art. Photo: Nazura Rahime A young Nazura with her father Rahime Harun, a passionate champion of Malaysian art. Photo: Nazura Rahime

“I wanted to escape from that and do my own thing. But as I grew older, I realised that no matter how much I wanted to detach myself from it, that love of art had already been implanted in me. I just had to find my own way back to it.”

A chance to reconnect

After her father passed away in 2008, followed not long after by her mother, it took Nazura a decade to process the loss and grief. In 2018, she embarked on her own journey to restart AP Art Gallery, which her parents had founded in the 1980s.

But it was the pandemic lockdown that forced her to face the collection – and legacy – that her father had left behind.

“I realised that until I accepted the collection as mine, I wouldn’t feel free to do what I wanted to do with it, so I finally returned to the shophouse where my dad’s collection was kept and started the work of getting to know each and every piece,” says Nazura.

This involved the tedious work of documentation, which took her two years to complete, but in the process, she met with the artists whose works populated the collection.

“In our conversations, they would share stories of my dad, which changed the way I saw some of the pieces,” shares Nazura.

“With Zainal Abidin Musa’s Lullaby At Perhentian Besar, it was hanging in my dining room for the longest time, but I didn’t think much of it. When I met him, he told me that the reason why my dad picked up the piece was because he loved island hopping and relaxing in his hammock. I had totally forgotten about it, but now that I know the meaning it had to my dad, it has its own meaning for me. For Bapaku Pulang, I’m looking to pass on the artworks knowing it will give a new meaning to others,” she says.

Coming into their own

When Sharmin’s father passed in 2022, she was at a loss as to what to do with his collection, which spurred her to reach out to Nazura.

A young Sharmin with her father Datuk N. Parameswaran, a career diplomat and avid art collector of Asian art. Photo: Sharmin Parasmeswaran A young Sharmin with her father Datuk N. Parameswaran, a career diplomat and avid art collector of Asian art. Photo: Sharmin Parasmeswaran

When they asked others who had inherited art collections what they did with theirs, the majority of them answered that they had sold off the entirety of their collection.

That didn’t quite sit right with Sharmin and Nazura.

“We both agreed that art doesn’t have meaning if it’s just kept in a storeroom,” says Sharmin.

“But just throwing it into the market and selling it, you don’t create relevance for the work and you don’t get to ensure that it goes somewhere that it can be appreciated.”

Through their talks, the idea for the exhibition came about. Deciding the title for it was a bit more tricky, however.

“Everyone still refers to the collection as ‘your father’s collection’. So when we were coming up with the title for the show, we asked ourselves whether we were ready to say it’s our collection,” explains Sharmin.

And ready they are.

Bapaku Pulang: Growing Up With Art – Selected Works From The Collections Of Nazura Rahime And Sharmin Parameswaran is showing at Temu House in Petaling Jaya until Oct 29. In conjunction with the exhibition, there will also be additional programming, including 'H3ROpulang: Storytelling, Short Films And Songs' at AP Art Gallery (Oct 20 and 21) and a panel discussion with art collectors at Temu House (Oct 22).

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