A family that paints together stays together and that is a classic case for the seven Yusoff siblings.
Growing up, eldest child Nurhayati remembered that all she was given as toys were watercolour paints, brushes, colour pencils and paper, instead of dolls that any young girl would get.
“I was painting as soon as I was able to hold a pencil,” she said. And it was the same for her younger brothers and sisters.
For these siblings, their love for painting was not by accident but was carefully cultivated by their parents, primarily their dad, retired Sarawak Commissioner of Police Dato’ Mohd Yusoff Jaafar, and stemmed from an incident that happened to him in 1953 when he was 13 years old.
Yusoff shared, “During one of our Form One art lessons, our teacher brought a pineapple and asked us to sketch it. At the end of the lesson, he selected two pieces of art to show the class. One was by the best artist in the school, while the other was by me. The teacher claimed that my art was the worst that he has ever seen. Naturally, everyone laughed. I was so embarrassed. Even though I was the top student then, I vowed that I would improve my drawing skills, and I finally did when I was in Form 5, to the detriment of my other subjects!”
To cultivate the children’s creative talent, Yusoff made sure that there was a painting corner in their home. Over the course of his career as a police personnel in 35 years, the family moved thirteen times but that was one thing that was consistent everywhere they located to.
Yusoff’s wife, To’ Puan Hazimah Hamid, is the resident critic. When the children were growing up, she was in charge of looking out for art competitions and made sure that they took part in every one. While there were many victories among them, one of the proudest moments was probably when their second child, Ali Nurazmal Yusoff, won an art competition in conjunction with the launch of the International Olympic Committee’s Art Museum in Switzerland in 1993. Five winners were selected and Ali was the only Asian among more than 300 child artists from around the world. He is now a professional full-time artist in his own right with an art studio in Putra Heights.
According to Yusoff, he wouldn’t be able to force the children to flourish in art if it was not for their in-born creative qualities. What he did was just to enhance them, he said modestly. The family holds the Malaysian record for “Having the most artists in a family” since 2001 after they held a Family Art Exhibition to raise funds for Sarawak Autistic Association (SAA).
Painting helps to simmer down the stress that we face in our jobs. It develops our brain and boosts our self-esteem. It is an outlet to express ourselves. As such, five siblings, all of the sisters, recently established ArtSis Studio, with the objective of sharing their love for painting with neighbourhood children through weekend classes and holiday workshops. “It is basically an extension to our hobby,” said Nurhayati, 42, a full-time mother.
Her younger sisters, Nurhidayah, Nursyuhadah and Nurfarhana all hold busy 9-to-5 jobs. Meanwhile, youngest sister and baby of the family, is still studying. She is pursuing Diploma in Communication & Media at UiTM Alor Gajah.
Despite their tight schedules, when the weekend rolls around, these five women would happily get together at their home studio and be ready to teach their young pupils, some of whom are accompanied by their mothers. Yusoff’s one dozen grandchildren also regularly attend these classes.
The home studio is in Subang Jaya, in the living room of their father’s house. “We didn’t have the money to invest in our own space and hated the idea of seeking a loan. Luckily, Dad has been very supportive and allowed us to use his house, which is actually his own private studio-cum-family art gallery,” Nurhayati explained, while Yusoff beamed with pride.
“Children need an avenue to express themselves in colours and crafts while enjoying art as art is. We believe that this can help develop a balanced generation with the many benefits that art offers to the mind and soul,” she added.
Note: An edited version of this article [Painting’s what this family is about] was published on 9th September 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.