KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 : ‘Jamila’ is an Arabic word which means ‘beautiful’.
Beautiful is indeed the right word to describe everything about 17-year-old Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri from Shah Alam, Selangor, including her artworks as she is an accomplished artist in her own right.
What makes this incredibly talented girl so special is that she is autistic. During this interview with Jamila and her mother at their home cum gallery in Shah Alam, the teenager barely spoke — it is obvious that she prefers to express her thoughts and feelings through her paintings.
Boasting her own brand called artjamila and having already won a few awards, Jamila’s artworks titled Unity in Diversity (Series 3A, 3B and 3C) were recently selected by Putrajaya Corporation for the ‘PUTRAJAYA’ sculpture at Putra Square in front of the Prime Minister’s office in conjunction with the National Day and Malaysia Day celebrations.
Jamila took a month and a half to complete the original paintings on a piece of canvas measuring 152 cm by 274 cm (five feet by nine feet).
The painting, which is printed on the letters PUTRAJAYA, reflects the spirit of togetherness and is composed of images of Malaysians of different races and religions and the skylines of famous landmarks in Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur and heritage buildings of the federal capital.
According to her mother Noorhashimah Mohamed Noordin, 58, a retired architect and Universiti Teknologi Mara lecturer, Putrajaya Corporation had come across her daughter’s unity-themed painting in a newspaper article about her.
“They felt that the painting was suitable for the ‘PUTRAJAYA’ sculpture,” she said.
COMMUNICATE THROUGH DRAWINGS
Noorhashimah said Jamila, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four, has always used drawings as a tool to communicate with others and express herself.
“Since young, she did not speak (instead) she drew a lot and communicated through her drawings,” she told Bernama.
She also recalled her daughter’s primary school years when the little girl would fill her notebooks with sketches of events happening in the classroom.
One of her more memorable drawings features a teacher holding a long ruler while her students, obviously ignoring their teacher, are busy doing their own thing.
“Although Jamila has difficulty in verbal communication and social interaction, she is however fully aware of what goes on around her. She uses drawings as a way to reveal her feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and joy,” explained Noorhashimah.
When her daughter turned 14 three years ago, Noorhashimah decided that Jamila would be better off quitting school and focusing on developing her career as an artist.
In order for her daughter to learn more about the industry, she took Jamila to art exhibitions and also got her to meet renowned local artists such as Yusof Ghani.
The maestro advised Noorhashimah to start Jamila on canvas and to let her flourish on her own without formal art education so that she could retain her own unique style. Thus, began her journey on canvas and the inception of her own brand artjamila.
Jamila won her first award in July 2017 when her ‘Negaraku’-themed piece was judged as one of the weekly winners at a live drawing competition at the National Art Gallery.
In July 2018, her work received third placing at the National Abilympics Painting Competition, where she was the youngest contestant.
In conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 this year, Jamila received an ‘Autism Champion’ Autism Star Artist award in recognition for her contributions to the autism community in Malaysia.
The young artist has also participated in three mini solo exhibitions, 26 group exhibitions at the national level and three group exhibitions at international level.
She has also sold more than 90 original paintings to collectors in Malaysia and Switzerland, and recently she was appointed by a foundation in Switzerland as an artist for their Impact Art collection.
This foundation had, apparently, viewed Jamila’s fish mosaic works on her website (www.artjamila.com) and was impressed with her work.
According to Noorhashimah, some of her daughter’s fish mosaic paintings have been snapped up by top corporate leaders and companies.
“Nowadays she includes images of garbage in her fish mosaics to create awareness on plastic pollution in the sea,” she added.
PROMOTING UNITY THROUGH ART
Merdeka and unity are among Jamila’s favourite themes.
“She draws from memories of her primary school days when National Day parades were held every year at her primary school. The students would take part in the parades dressed in colourful costumes, as well as in costumes featuring the national flag colours,” Noorhashimah said.
From the parades that she had watched, Jamila had her own interesting interpretation of the assimilation of the people of Malaysia.
In her paintings of the parades, she would draw the girls dressed in traditional costumes but, instead of hair, they would have the Jalur Gemilang flowing from their heads and entwining together.
Although all is well with her daughter’s career, Noorhashimah herself is not free from concerns. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. Although Noorhashimah has undergone surgery and chemotherapy sessions, the results have not been encouraging.
Nevertheless, she is determined to continue her treatment by opting for radiotherapy.
She said Jamila’s progress has given her the strength to weather the storm she is facing. More than ever, she wants to help her daughter to make artjamila better known.
“What I want for myself is to recover from my cancer and be healthy so that I can work on Jamila until she is independent.
“My hope is that one day she will be able to manage things on her own and continue to work as an artist,” said Noorhashimah.