Artist Anisa Abdul Rahim’s sarong-clad maidens will be showing the feminine face of Malaysia in a Unesco showcase in Paris. Zaharah Othman has a chat with her
HISTORIC Canterbury, with its ancient cathedral and many other beautiful buildings, is an ideal place for architects and artists.
The legacy the Romans left this city, situated to the southeast of London, would definitely inspire the artistically inclined. But for architect and artist Anisa Abdul Rahim, who moved to the city after her marriage to Briton Sam Thomsett, it’s Malaysia that she still draws inspiration from.
In the spare bedroom of her apartment, Anisa, 33, under the pseudonym Anisa Mandahiling, puts to canvas images of Malay women in an assortment of batik sarong. Slender and alluring, these women have their batik sarong tied around their chests The stories behind them are stories we are familiar with. These paintings were displayed at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8.
“I am proud to represent Malaysia,” said an overjoyed Anisa, who days before lugging her paintings via Eurostar to Paris, had had to contend with various issues such as sponsorship. There was also the problem of adding to her collection, which would take centre stage at the exhibition. The stress was evident but the enthusiasm was infectious.
“I feel it is apt that my collection of Malay women in batik was chosen for this exhibition. The Malay woman is gentle but strong, quietly alluring but influential. So is the batik sarong — it is strong, long lasting and beautiful to look at,” gushed Anisa as she put finishing touches to the one entitled Tujuh. It showcased a batik-clad woman having a flower bath, sprinkled with seven types of petals, handpicked on the seventh day of bloom, a ritual that is believed to re-energise a woman.
Anisa was nominated and sponsored by Unesco Malaysia to display her collections in Paris, but as part of her collection was still in Malaysia, they had to be shipped over for the exhibition.
“Our country was not built by men only. Women played a big part and we have had strong women through the ages, as can be seen from history,” she added.
Tujuh is just one of many from her Perempuan Melayu Dan Kain batik series. The other is the Darjat Kepala.
“I have researched on these themes and have put together what I believe will tell the stories of Malay women and the Kain Batik as well as the status of the head (Darjat Kepala),” added Anisa who usually performs during her exhibitions, reinforcing the stories on the canvas.
A talented artist who now performs with her uncle, Abdullah Mufa, a musician in London, Anisa combines all of her talents at every exhibition and performance. She wears her own batik design, a sarong, when she sings her songs.
Lubang Dinding, an acrylic pencil etching on canvas, portrays an alluring maiden in her batik sarong who has just returned from the well, and the focus of a peeping tom from behind a wall, explained Anisa.
“She may or may not realise that she is being spied upon, but she knows she has that magnetic power that attracts people. The kain batik is a silent witness of it all.”
Another piece in the Perempuan Melayu Dan Kain Batik series entitled Periuk Nasi Leha with a story that perhaps will raise some eyebrows.
Back in Malaysia, Anisa had several solo exhibitions and performances and some of her paintings from the Darjat Kepala series, now adorn the walls of Sime Darby offices. They were also featured in the latter’s Idea House on The Art of Living TV programme and CNN news.
The Darjat Kepala is an interpretation of characters from the wayang kulit and these characters, according to Anisa, are identified by their crowns. “The size of their crowns tells their status.”
Anisa married in 2009 and only moved to Britain two years ago and while waiting for a job in the architectural field, she spends time designing. She hopes to come up with her batik collection soon.