The late Datuk Ibrahim Hussein’s family releases a special silk scarf bearing his artwork

It is limited to just 200 precious pieces.

Datin Sim Hussein wears the exclusive scarf at home in Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Patrick Goh/The Edge)

The number “11”, or once in Spanish, was of particular significance to Datuk Ibrahim Hussein.

“The number was special to Ib, as he preferred to be known, as it brought a sense of balance and completeness,” recalls prominent writer Eddin Khoo who edited the pre-eminent artist’s autobiography, titled simply IB: A Life. "Ib also said the number ‘11’ always brought good things to him.”

For now, however, “200” is the key number at hand, which is the sum total of a very limited-edition collection of scarves that bears a touch of the late artist’s genius.

Born in 1936 into poverty in the small Kedahan village of Sungai Limau Dalam, Ib lost sight in his right eye at the age of eight but did not let that mishap deter him from pursuing a career as an artist. And a most prolific one at that. His talent won him a place at Singapore’s prestigious Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts before travelling on to the UK, where he studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 1970, Ib enjoyed the great prestige of being the first Malaysian artist to participate in the Venice Biennale.


An old photo of Ib and Sim (Photo: Datin Sim)

Success and Ib’s captivating works, often featuring the human form and his trademark “printage”, his way of combining printmaking and collage together, went hand in hand thereafter. In 2009, Malaysia would be robbed of its local Picasso following an unsuccessful angioplasty.

Fifteen years on, his widow and muse Sim still mourns his loss.

“There are still so many people who miss him and his works and one recurring comment was how it is impossible to own an Ibrahim Hussein anymore due to the prices [they command]. As my daughter Alia and I are custodians of his legacy, I thought of making something that was more accessible yet staying true to Ib. Also, the idea of being able to share a piece of him while reminding people of his legacy and life seemed wonderful,” she says.

Going through all his works, Sim eventually settled on Vines, a 130cm by 1,500cm acrylic on canvas piece, which she decided to recreate on a simple and infinitely elegant silk scarf.

“If you look at it closely, you will see that it is comprised of figures. It is one of my favourites. Creating this scarf took us over a year to do, as there are so many lines … so many fine details. It wasn’t easy. But I am very happy with the end result. Some people have already messaged me to book several pieces without even seeing the final outcome. It looks great worn as a scarf but, given how fun fashion can be these days, you can even wear it as a belt or however you wish. There are others who indicated they’d love to frame it.”


The piece can be worn as a scarf or framed up as art (Photo: Patrick Goh/The Edge)

Khoo adds how Ib “is, to me and all in the history of Malaysian art, our most singular artist. An experimental yet traditional painter, he always seized the spirit of our times. Why should Malaysians remember this artist? Because this is what we always need to be as a people - nuanced and stylish. Perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is: How could we not remember him?”

Of the 200 very limited Ibrahim Hussein scarves (which measures 171cm x 42cm), one will be put up for auction this weekend as part of Mercy Malaysia’s efforts to raise funds for its ongoing humanitarian work in Gaza. “When I was approached with the idea, I thought it would be very nice to donate one towards such a good cause. It will also be very interesting for me to see how the public will respond to it. But for me and my daughter, we are happy to do this. We want to help and, of course, we want to keep Ib’s memory alive. Ib’s art was a part of him and, therefore, of us.”

The one-off Ibrahim Hussein silk scarf is priced at RM3,000.

This article first appeared on Apr 1, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.


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