So Her, For Us: A Tribute to Allahyarham Yasmin Ahmad (1958 – 2009)

By Zain HD, 1984-

Every time I read something to research for this article, I am at the brink of tears. I wonder if Yasmin Ahmad was around, what would she make of the 9 July 2011 demonstrations.

When the tear gas started coming, I was fortunate to share a moment that could look like an excerpt from her work. A man in pain was near me, without asking I poured salted water into my face towel and wiped his face to relieve the chemical reaction.

I didn’t ask him his name, nor did he thank me, but we were together.

And that is probably one of the many takeouts from her works, the feeling that you are not alone. She had that much faith in society, that society grew to love something they did and did not understand. The magic she worked cut across many levels. One of her favourite quotes was after all,

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” – Claude Monet

But should we attempt to have a look at that now? Soon it’ll be two years since her passing. I still regret not saying hello to her when I had the chance, weeks before the stroke, only to say, ‘I admire your work.’

I might regret not writing here what you might already know, so I will anyway.

Today I work in communications, and at at least half of the meetings I attend to discuss and shortlist a video concept, it would not take long for someone in the room to suggest, ‘let’s do a like a Yasmin Ahmad video.’

Even if that person didn’t call it that, and went on to explain a concept, someone would just go, ‘you mean a Yasmin Ahmad concept la?’ and that would be the end of the explanation. Everyone just got ‘it.’

“Even when a rival director – who had been vocally dismissive of her “art house fluff ” – walked out of one of her showings, she just shrugged and went, “maybe my film is just bad… doesn’t mean a Yasmin Ahmad film has to be good…”

Before her, did any of us remember waiting to see advertisements for Deepavali? Did you hear anyone else saying what they wondered next year’s ad was going to be like? Advertisements, suddenly became our feature, not nuisance.

Andy Warhol was not just big for the stuff he did, but for introducing a whole new format – an approach that lives on years after him. And if you say she was not original, neither was Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk dance. To think she did it not with a glittering pair of socks, but in a basic plain baju kurung.

Now sit back a moment, and digest that.

Is she our Michael Jackson? P. Ramlee sequel? How many recognisable artists today, share half of the qualities or impact that she did? Trust me – if there were, people wouldn’t be talking this much about it now, nor would I be thinking of doing a guerrilla graffiti somewhere in KL to commemorate 2 years of her passing.

I bet that graffiti idea raised your brow a little bit. That was a strong element in her work, challenging taboos and stereotypes. I wondered if we did a poll today, how many more people would be open to hugging someone with AIDS after watching Gubra? Or would give a prostitute the benefit of doubt by at least striking a conversation. (This all assuming you wouldn’t have before!)

Such was the impact of her work, that the Singaporean government let their guard down and hired her for a number of projects to be aired for domestic audience. She was also contracted to direct a movie on Thaddeus Cheong, the 17 year old Singaporean triathlete who collapsed and died at the finish line.

What a story that would have made for Malaysians – to know that a story so close to the hearts of Singaporeans, was directed by a Malaysian. Following that, to think what and how that would affect collaborations between the two communities.

It’s already happening now as we know it, but I’m talking on a large enabling effect here. You know you can count on Yasmin to kickoff something like that.  Because as far as ego was concerned, you knew she had close to none when it came to that.

Did that have more to do with her continuous hints at acceptance and forgiveness?  Or her constant assertion of faith towards God, also often seen present in her work. I would deprive myself of the humility she embodied if I went daringly into that depth of a discussion on something I am unsure about.

So to halt an uncertain tear, let’s leave our conclusions in the air amongst the love she seeded and I will end with a quote that Yasmin told a friend of mine,

“When you’re unsure, jump with your eyes closed and legs wide open” – Yasmin Ahmad, 1958-2009

Zain is the project manager for and Wago, and has been responsible for some of the flashiest flash-mobs in Kuala Lumpur. He blogs at

The photograph for this article was taken by uhcseas.


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