Art, science and poetry converge in ‘Cosmic Connections Langkawi’ book, out Dec 3

The unique publication harnesses the knowledge and talent of renowned astrophysicist Tan Sri Dr Mazlan Othman, National Laureate Dr Muhammad Haji Salleh and award-winning artist Jalaini Abu Hassan.

From left: Jai, Mazlan and Muhammad (All photos: Low Yen Yeing/The Edge Malaysia)

At first glance, the worlds of art and science have little in common. After all, one is subjective, the other objective. Both are very different disciplines; science is guided and ordered by hard facts and data while art is influenced by emotion, thought and opinion. And yet the twain can — and do — meet more often than we realise. It was art — poetry, to be precise — that first planted the seed of the wonders of the universe in a curious young girl’s mind. The girl — now an accomplished grown woman — in question? Professor Emerita Tan Sri Dr Mazlan Othman, Malaysia’s first and pre-eminent astrophysicist, whose work pioneered the country’s participation in space exploration,  and who is a passionate academician.

“I first knew about the stars through poetry,” she says. “It was William Butler Yeats’ Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven where he wrote about taking ‘heaven’s embroidered cloths enwrought with golden and silver light’ … so much so that I wanted to take up literature as my major in university.”

However, the worlds of art and science are indeed interwoven. Even scientific collective nouns, such as a “stardust of astronomers” or a “filigree of galaxies” have a lyrical ring about them.

It is this philosophy that has Mazlan alluding to how we are “more closely related to the heavens than we realise”, a fact expounded by other planetary scientists who confirm that most elements present in the human body were originally formed in stars. “We are all really made up of star stuff,” she winks.


Art, poetry and photos that cover a broad spectrum of the cosmos are featured in this engaging and insightful new book

Given her poetic introduction to the universe, it makes sense that, when asked to come up with a publication that highlights photos of celestial objects taken from the Langkawi National Observatory, Mazlan objected to creating another coffee-table book “merely full of pretty pictures. I wanted the unfolding story of the cosmos to be interlaced with poetry and art to complete this convergence of the arts and sciences. After all, it was in Langkawi that I admired the Milky Way in Malaysia for the very first time. The night sky was inky black, the beach was marble white and the stars were so bright I felt I could pluck them from the sky. It was a love story I had to share with everyone, thus the founding of the Langkawi National Observatory”.

Mazlan roped in two of her closest friends, renowned artist Jalaini “Jai” Abu Hassan and old university mate and National Laureate Professor Emeritus Dr Muhammad Haji Salleh, and the trio embarked on a labour of love, the result of which is a beautiful, hardcover tome spanning 100 pages and, sadly, limited to just about 300 copies. “Limited gila,” wisecracks Jai in his trademark jovial style.

“Poets naturally write about these things,” adds Muhammad. “I work with words and language, so when this invitation to collaborate came from Mazlan, I just followed through and, luckily, some poems were produced. Besides, I’ve always liked Langkawi. I talk to the trees, seas and rivers anyway, so this is a chance for me to get crazy — or crazier — and write about the skies and planets. In poetry, we tend to use the sun and the stars — everything celestial — as metaphors for our emotions. So, of course, I said yes to Mazlan almost immediately. After all, how often do you get the universe handed on a platter to you as inspiration?”


Mazlan roped in two of her closest friends, renowned artist Jalaini “Jai” Abu Hassan and old university mate and National Laureate Professor Emeritus Dr Muhammad Haji Salleh to produce the book

For consummate artist Jai, art as his universe and vice versa were inherent. “Working a lot with materials like bitumen, thinner and polyurethane of late, you actually create little universes of your own on canvas. So, this project truly resonated on a very personal basis.”

Those fortunate enough to obtain or be gifted a copy of Cosmic Connections Langkawi would find themselves over the moon (pun intended) as they peruse page after page of stellar evolution commentary, interspersed with celestial imagery and, of course, the emotive words of Muhammad and Jai’s evocative art. There is much to learn within the book but, more importantly, there is space in which to dream, feel, imagine and, even for the slightest of moments, remember how very small we are in the vast realm of God’s creation. Perhaps it is true that the arts and sciences are even more interlinked than we thought. Just leaf through this most unique book created by a trio of titans in their respective fields for that thought to be driven home. After all, there’s more than one way to be star-struck.

Cosmic Connections Langkawi will be launched on Dec 3 at Ambong-Ambong Resort, Langkawi. For more information, visit

This article first appeared on Nov 20, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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