Self-taught Malaysian artist Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri uses art as a platform for self-expression and raising awareness about global issues
The American composer Stephen Sondheim once said that great artists find the freedom to explore their creativity and create something unique—and it's true. Art can indeed be a liberating force for individuals to express themselves and their unique perspectives.
For self-taught Malaysian artist and 2021 Gen.T honouree Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri, better known as Artjamila, art is a medium that she uses to communicate with the world that she can't with words.
Diagnosed with autism at the age of four, Jamila displayed her prowess as an artist when she was eight years old. Her mother, Noorhashimah Mohamed Nordin, discovered that she could produce a detailed sketch of her school's national day celebrations from memory.
Speaking to Gen.T on behalf of her daughter, Noorhashimah describes Jamila's art style as full of youth and purity. “As an artist painting in modern times, her art reflects the world around her including subjects like frontline workers combating the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Noorhashimah recounts recognising Jamila's talent in 2013 and began educating herself on fine art, attending sessions organised by professional artists to learn more about the industry.
Though gifted in her craft, Jamila faced many challenges in her journey to becoming an artist. Being self-taught, it was more difficult for her to gain recognition than those who graduated from fine arts institutions. Eventually, she gained the acceptance of the local art community, who saw and acknowledged her talent.
Since becoming a professional artist in 2017, Jamila has created more than 300 paintings. She mainly draws on paper by doodling and colouring with colour pencils and on canvas with acrylic paint but has also created sculptures as well as digital paintings on her tablet. Some of her older digital artworks have also been showcased and sold at exhibitions.
In addition to using her artworks for self-expression, the savant artist also uses them to illustrate global issues. In 2020, Switzerland's Viatalenta Foundation appointed her as an Impact Artist for her work in raising awareness about sea pollution. Last year, she had her works displayed across Europe and saw her first solo exhibition titled Voyage of Moments at Malaysia's Galeri Shah Alam officiated by Tengku Permaisuri Norashikin, the queen consort of the Sultan of Selangor.
“Her art is like a manuscript as she touches the viewers’ emotions of joy, tiredness, peace and sadness,” says Noorhashimah. For the mother, her biggest hope is that Jamila's art will inspire the next generation of abled and disabled individuals to view art as her daughter has: a platform for self-expression and raising awareness about issues close to their hearts.