Tribute to artist lost in virus crisis

Nasir’s family members admiring his uncompleted painting ‘The Drunken Tiger’. Seated from right are his parents Nadzi and Fahimi.Standing from right are Fatimah, Ali, Nizom with wife Virginie Galy and Najmudeen. — JEREMY TAN/The Star

FAMILY members and friends of the late Penang artist Nasir Nadzir reminisced about the good times they shared while attending an exhibition of his best works in Penang.

Many teared up as they recalled the Kepala Batas native’s bubbly spirit, artistic talent and passion for wildlife conservation.

Nasir passed away on Jan 24 due to complications arising from Covid-19. He was just 31.

The posthumous exhibition was supposed to have been his first solo.

Held at The Art Gallery in Bellissa Row, Pulau Tikus, it is titled ‘Nasir Nadzir, In Remembrance: A Celebration of His Life and Artistic Journey’ and featured 20 pieces.

Gallerist Tan Ee Lene shared:

“It was his dream to have a solo here. We talked about it but he wanted more time to get ready. Unfortunately, he left us before we could put it together.”

But Tan and Nasir’s friends were determined to fulfil his dream.

A filepic of Nasir showing his wildlife paintings at a joint exhibition back in 2018.A filepic of Nasir showing his wildlife paintings at a joint exhibition back in 2018.

Working around the uncertainties posed by the lockdown, they organised the show in conjunction with the artist’s birthday month.

Father Nadzir Ali, mother Fahimi Naimah Ismail, and siblings Nizom, Najmudeen, Ali and Fatimah were all present for a private viewing on May 7, a day before it officially opened.

Nizom, a personal trainer, revealed: “When we were kids, we drew lots of funny and cute cartoons in our exercise books.

“Nasir always had this passion for art, and even though studies and career took him elsewhere, it was something he yearned to get back to.”

Nasir had qualifications in aircraft maintenance, a specialised form of mechanical engineering. He then worked in the oil and gas industry. But an accident prompted his switch to art full time.

While working on a pipeline in Terengganu, he fell through a crack down to a platform 4m below. Life flashed through his mind. That proved an epiphany, and he soon decided it was time to venture down a different path.

Nasir channelled his skills on wildlife and environmental subjects, producing incredibly detailed sketches, drawings and paintings of animals and their natural surroundings. Familial bonds are also a recurring theme.

Nasir loved to experiment, even using ink and coffee to paint this 2020 piece titled ‘Kaseh’.Nasir loved to experiment, even using ink and coffee to paint this 2020 piece titled ‘Kaseh’.

In the exhibition materials, Nasir is quoted as saying he decided to focus on wildlife mainly as a reaction to his previous working life surrounded by endless man-made structures, machinery and refineries.

“Painting wildlife was a distraction from my mechanical surroundings which are not concerned with environmental issues at all.

“I believe in change and the human capacity to make things better.

“I hope my artworks can help improve people’s awareness on preserving our environment and Mother Nature, ” Nasir said.

The highlight piece is ‘Tam in Remembrance’ which depicts the last known male Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.

Curator Ivan Gabriel described it as Nasir’s ‘very own Mona Lisa’.

Nasir’s ‘Tam in Remembrance’ depicting the last known male Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.Nasir’s ‘Tam in Remembrance’ depicting the last known male Sumatran rhinoceros in Malaysia.

Ivan arranged exhibits in chronological order so viewers get a narrative of Nasir’s artistic evolution.

While the artist started with pencil and ink, he would go on to experiment with mediums as unexpected as coffee and correction fluid.

One titled ‘Of Hopes and Dreams’ is incomplete. The artist has done the face of a monkey but its body remains rough pencil sketches – raising the question of what might have been.

Another incomplete acrylic piece, ‘The Drunken Tiger’, is believed to be Nasir’s last ever work. Depicting the endangered Malayan tiger, he was working on it right up to his sudden and unexpected passing.

Nizom said: “He even sent us a selfie the day before, telling us he was okay and just resting.

“It’s hard because we never got to say goodbye.

“The pandemic also prevented us from going through the normal processes of mourning. So this show is a way for us to come to terms with his passing.

‘It Wasn’t Me!’, which Nasir painted with acrylics in 2020.‘It Wasn’t Me!’, which Nasir painted with acrylics in 2020.

“My fondest memories of Nasir are all the meals we had. He was a big fan of food, especially his favourite ayam penyet.”

Ivan also offered a heartfelt tribute.

“I’ll never forget is his giant smile and his willingness to share and give. He was a kind soul who touched many in the art world and beyond.”

The exhibits also included an installation recreating Nasir’s home studio space, flanked by a painting of his mother’s cat ‘Tengku Abu’ and the koi fishes the feline loved to stare at.

The exhibition was supposed to run until May 23 but was cut short because of the movement control order.

However, art lovers can still view it virtually via

Follow the gallery’s Instagram or Facebook (@theartgallerypg) for updates on any possible extension of the show.

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