Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Datuk Mohammed Yaman Ahmad Mus, Sabah's father of arts

Below are among items being exhibited at the Sabah Arts Gallery in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia.

This is an excellent article on Datuk Mohammed Yaman Ahmad Mus, Sabah's Malaysia, grandmaster of arts.

Article by Bernama, the national news agency of Malaysia

Yaman: Sabah’s Art Legend

One civil servant that deserves public recognition for his many contributions to Sabah is the state's first and present Art Gallery Director Datuk Mohammed Yaman Ahmad Mus.

Mohammed Yaman, who turns 72, on the 29th of this month, and affectionately called Yaman, is the prime mover in the development of art and state paraphernalia in Sabah.

In fact most people, even Kota Kinabalu city dwellers for that matter, do not know Yaman is the designer of historical paraphernalia like the Sabah flag, state crest, emblem, state medals, state ceremonial attire, including the local mayor’s outfit.

"He is soft spoken. But he expresses his ideas very clearly and has done a lot to develop art and the work of craft artisans in Sabah," asserts Sabah Art Gallery Curator Jennifer Linggi.

He designed the mayor’s robe including the headgear that was donned by the first mayor Datuk Abdul Ghani Abd Rashid on Feb 2, 2000 at the proclamation of Kota Kinabalu as a city.


The mayor’s medallion, chair and stand, KK City Hall (KKCH)’s flag, crest and logo were all designed by Yaman, who was thickly involved albeit behind the scenes, in the preparations leading to the historic event.

He designed the arch to the City Hall entrance, which was made of steel at a cost of RM170,000 and the city’s street monuments. Yaman is also the man who designed and constructed a special mural for Wisma Sime Darby in Kuala Lumpur.

And based on his proposal, the casuarina sumatrana/casuarina nobile was chosen as the city tree, which he said was easy to maintain, has abundant green foliage and although slow-growing could live up to 70 years.

The Man Behind the Sabah Flag

Now how many times has Sabah changed the design of its flag? Three times and Yaman designed all three. The first one, in 1963, as assigned by (Tun) Datu Mustapha Datu Harun, who was to become Sabah’s first governor of the independent state and member of the Federation of Malaysia along with Malaya, Singapore (which opted out two years later in 1965) and Sarawak.

The second was in 1976 during the Berjaya government and the third, in 1985 during Parti Bersatu Sabah's (PBS) term.

"It took me a few months to design the first two. The third one took the longest, about a year, he said. This was because the chief minister Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan (now Tan Sri) could not decide on the colour.

Yaman who has a son and a daughter, now both grown up and living in England with his former English wife was also given the responsibility by the late Datu Mustapha to design the four state medals, namely the Bintang Kinabalu (BK), Ahli Darjah Kinabalu (ADK), Ahli Setia Darjah Kinabalu (ASDK), Panglima Gemilang Darjah Kinabalu (PGDK) and Seri Panglima Darjah Kinabalu (SPDK).

This is the SPDK Award, worn by Beaufort Member of Parliament, Datuk Lajim Ukin.

Oops! While recollecting this, he inadvertently revealed that he is working on a new State recognition for this year, and when pressed, let slip that it ranked higher than the current highest honour SPDK and it is meant for specific recipients. “It’s not for me to say anything,” he said, smiling.

One Unfavourable Design

Neckties, badges, decorative buttons and accessories adorning the ceremonial attire that the head of state, ministers, assistant ministers, other public figures and senior civil servants wear are all his designs.

Incidentally, these outfits have been re-designed four times with the last one in 2004.

But one design, Yaman admits, did not make the cut – the unpopular standard brown uniform that state officers were made to wear for work in the early 80s.

In those days you couldn’t tell, for instance, a division one officer from a division three officer unless you were more informed that the former’s uniform is of better quality fabric.

It was in 1982 that Datuk Harris asked me to design and coordinate the implementation of the official uniform for the different categories of civil servants," recalled Yaman, who acted precisely on instructions.

The disdain for the uniform was particularly obvious among upper scale officers and eventually the uniform was scrapped.

How Much was He Paid for the Designs?

Nothing. He did it all for free. He was even surprised by the question. It did not occur to him to request payment for the timeless hard work not to mention countless other nitty-gritty such as logo designs for governmental as well as non-governmental organisations. He simply felt it was his duty as a government servant to do what was asked.

This is not to say that he has not been appreciated and rewarded for his efforts. Reading his demeanour, you can tell he is not calculative, rather someone who gives happily and sincerely without expecting anything in return. As what one young artist, Sabrina Majuakim, 28, had to say: "He is like a caring father – you can pour out all your problems to him and he’ll try to help out if he could."

Says another Sabah artist, Charles Mawan, 31, who regards him as a father and mentor, he loves art so much that he would sacrifice his time for it! And he never ceases to give encouragement and motivation to budding artists."

More About the Man

Having served under four governments, he is a historic figure himself and deserved to be acknowledged.

A versatile artist whose current passion is geometrical art, Yaman hails from Putatan, now a thriving district about 15-20 mins from the city centre, Kota Kinabalu.

Yaman’s parentage is so mixed - Bajau, Dusun, Chinese, Iban, Javanese, that he admits he could hardly decide what race he really is. But officially he is a Bajau/Dusun.

His early education starting 1945, was in Buit Hill Primary School, Putatan and Sacred Heart Primary School, Jesselton. He went on to study in All Saints Secondary School, Likas.

Yaman eventually managed to get to England on student sponsorship. He has been actively involved since 1954 in producing cartoon, comic strips, illustrations and paintings.

After completing his studies in Graphic Design at Hornsey College of Art (UK), he continued Art Education at the London University (A.T.C. London) until 1969.

In 1970 he was appointed art lecturer and head of art department at Gaya Teachers Training College. He re-activated the Sabah Art Club and was elected as its new President.

He returned to the UK in 1974, resided in Blackpool, and worked as a freelance graphic designer.

In 1980, he returned to Sabah and since then held many important positions in the state's arts and culture sector.

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