Collector Nik M Fahmee gets his children involved in the last book of his 'Art and Stories' trilogy

'Walking Back Home' rounds up the project that began during the Movement Control Order.

From left: Ekhlas, Ehsan, Eeman and Elham (Photo: Saiful Chin)

Four siblings who grew up surrounded by artworks knew nothing of their value until collectors and artists who visited their home went “Whoa!” and asked their father, “This is so hard to find. Where did you get it?”

Eeman, the oldest, says they only realised there was something precious in the pieces around them after hearing such comments because their parent, who has been collecting for over two decades, never told them how much they are worth.

Besides, living with paintings and sculptures scattered everywhere is “our normal”. Friends say their house is like a museum but they have never thought of it as such. Also, receiving a painting as a birthday present, even one that was specially commissioned for them, was nothing unusual because their dad, Nik M Fahmee, has regularly given them such gifts over the years.

If the names of some artists seem familiar or trip off their tongues, it is because they are “uncles” and “aunts” who are friends of papa and mama, not merely signatures on a canvas.

Recently, Nik Eeman, Nik Ehsan, Nik Elham and Nik Ekhlas had to pause and think harder about art because Nik Sr got them involved in the final part of a trilogy first launched in 2022, to mark his 50th birthday. They wrote answers to three questions that he posed on Post-it notes, which then became the foreword for the book.

The first in the Art and Stories series is Ginger Biscuits, which contains images of 50 artworks and snippets on what started Nik’s journey in collecting, and why and how he acquired the pieces featured. From the stories, readers are introduced to the writer-cum-collector and his childhood, and meet his mother, wife Nora and their children.

Butterflies in My Stomach, released last year, follows the same format but is a little “edgier” as Nik shares a balance of new and old artworks that mean something to him.

Walking Back Home, which rounds up the project that began during the Movement Control Order as he gazed at the paintings on his walls, was launched on May 25 at Cult Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.


Left: 'Sekuntum Mawar Merah' (2023), a portrait of Nik M Fahmee by Anurendra Jegadeva; 'Walking Back Home' rounds up the project that began during the MCO (Photo: Hin Bus Depot)

It is fitting that this last book loops back to his abode, a sanctuary during the pandemic and where he encouraged his children to engage in journalling to pass the time, without the distractions of TV — they don’t have one — or the busyness of life.

“I love coming back to my children. I enjoy being with them and I think Walking Back Home, an art book with stories, suits how I buy art and take it home,” Nik says.

The cover features Abang dan Adik, a painting of Ehsan carrying Ekhlas, by Gan Tee Sheng. Inside are accounts of studio visits, conversations and long meals with various artists, and how art continues to resonate with him.

Nik hopes that when his children have their own homes, “their walls would not only have art, but art with stories about them too as [both] make a profound connection”.

Well, to hear his brood talk about particular pieces that they like or hold special meaning for them would bring a smile to any collector’s face.

Eeman, 24 and a computer science graduate, began to realise art is beautiful and of value as her father shared stories on the subject. Sometimes, he would ask which works the children liked and when they expressly singled them out, he would say: “I’ll think about it later.”

She remembers coming home during the SPM exams and finding a painting with a message tagged to its back: “Eeman! Do your homework.” She turned it around and was surprised to see it was by Samsudin Wahab aka Budin.

“I have three works by Uncle Budin,” she says.

“Uncle” is a prefix that reflects the ties Nik has forged with some artists, Eeman explains. “It’s not just a transactional relationship; it’s more of a genuine friendship. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I pay this, end of story’. It’s about how he acquires the works, going to meet them and becoming friends.”


Nik hopes that when his children have their own homes, “their walls would not only have art, but art with stories about them too." (Photo: Saiful Chin)

Ehsan, 21, is touched by how artists sometimes gift the family their works. Once Chang Fee Ming invited Nik and Nora to his home in Terengganu. But she, then pregnant with Ekhlas, was unable to go. After his birth, Fee Ming mailed them a pretty painting of cempaka (magnolias) as a gift for the baby.

All four of them draw too and like different subjects.

“I have my own style but am more like my father. Whenever we go to an auction or exhibition, we tend to gravitate towards the same type of art, so I see myself following in his footsteps in the future,” Eeman says.

She enjoys drawing flowers, houses and people, sourcing inspiration from Pinterest, which she then tries to recreate. She used pencils until an uncle who draws suggested using a pen, “so you won’t be afraid of your own mistakes”. At first, it was daunting to make that switch but after looking at those who can do it, why not, she decided.

Ehsan says if he were to buy a painting, it has to be something that “speaks” to him; say, a work on figures or calligraphy, because that is where his passion lies. Abstract pieces, which dad has a lot of, are not his style because he does not understand them.

He is into brush lettering and calligraphy, picking out quotes and turning them into art by writing. Regular exposure to the arts has left a lasting impression on him and “my creativity is reflected in my photography and calligraphy”.

Elham, 16, likes scenery and landscapes and mentions a beach scene painted by Zainal Abidin Musa, which hangs in her room, and another of forests. She thinks her drawings are good even if they differ from those of her siblings.

Twelve-year-old Ekhlas is not thinking about collecting for now, but likes Dzulkifli Buyong and his paintings of cats. A painting of his face by Kow Leong Kiang is his favourite.

The siblings have been encouraged to practise journalling by their father since they were young, as he himself has done over the years. While Nik Sr has accumulated a collection of over 500 short stories called Running Back Home, the children have written scary snippets as well as funny and happy ones.

“Upstairs, we have a red file that holds scripts dad has written since I was born. It’s nice to see he is now more open about showing his writing,” says Eeman. What she writes is for her eyes only and the same goes for her siblings.

Dad has helped them understand that the value of art can fluctuate over time and that he will re-evaluate his collection and decide who gets what when the time comes.

“He has told us he will leave everything to us and, if possible, not to sell them because it’s a legacy, a part of him,” Eeman shares. “But he also understands it takes a certain responsibility to preserve paintings. And if ever we need money for university or whatever, to go ahead and auction them off. The only condition is we need to consult his artist friends, whom he really trusts.”

It is wise planning by a man who, she adds, thinks outside the box. “He would walk into a room and see things 100% differently from others. I guess that is very creative.

“Dad always tells us one of the most important skills we can have is creativity.  I think a lot of people underestimate that. They always say the best tool is motivation, time management or something along those lines. For our dad, it is creativity, manners and stuff like that.”

Walking Back Home (RM79.90) is available at Kinokuniya Bookstore.

This article first appeared on May 27, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.


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