A true inspiration
Yasmin Ahmad (7 January 1958 – 25 July 2009) was a film director, writer and scriptwriter from Malaysia and was also the executive creative director at Leo Burnett Kuala Lumpur. Her television commercials and films are well known in Malaysia for their humour, heart and love that crosses cross-cultural barriers, in particular her ads for Petronas, the national oil and gas company. Her works have won multiple awards both within Malaysia and internationally. However in Malaysia itself, her films are highly controversial since they depict events and relationships seen as forbidden by social conservatives, especially hard-line interpretations of Islam.
Early life and career
Yasmin was born in Kampung Bukit Treh in Muar, Johor on 7 Jan 1958. A graduate in arts majoring in politics and psychology from Newcastle University in England, she worked as a trainee banker in 1982 for two weeks then working for IBM as a marketing representative while moonlighting as a blues singer and pianist by night. Yasmin began her career in advertising as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather and in 1993 she moved to Leo Burnett as joint creative director with Ali Mohammed, eventually rising to executive creative director at the firm's Kuala Lumpur branch.
Her first feature length film was Rabun in 2002. Mukhsin won an international children's best feature film award and special mention under the children's jury awards. Most of her commercials and films have been screened at the Berlin, San Francisco, Singapore international film festivals and the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival (not to be confused with the other Cannes Film Festival). Her films were featured in a special retrospective at the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2006. An April 2007 retrospective of her feature films was sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Hawaii, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. In Singapore, Yasmin is best known for the pro-family commercials she did for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. Yasmin was inducted into the Malaysian Advertising Hall of Fame by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia in November 2008. Yasmin was working on her first feature film to be filmed in Singapore titled, "Go, Thaddeus!" when she died. This was to be an inspirational film for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, based on the book, "Running the full distance: Thaddeus Cheong" by Belinda Wee about Singapore's 17-year-old National triathlete who died after completing the 2007 SEA Games time trial.
On Thursday, 23 July 2009, Yasmin suffered a stroke and remained motionless, seated, she was resting her head on the table, with her hands cupping her face, while attending a meeting with local artist Siti Nurhaliza and her husband Khalid Mohamad Jiwa, and Media Prima representatives for an undisclosed project at Sri Pentas, TV3. Before the meeting, she spent some time with Media Prima's group creative director, Peter Chin and was reported to be in a jovial and relaxed mood.
She was rushed to the Damansara Specialist Hospital where she underwent a neurosurgery procedure to reduce the swelling in her brain. The operation was a success however her condition was critical but stable. Bernama quoted her brother-in-law, Zakaria Zahari, as saying that Yasmin had suffered a stroke and haemorrhaging in the brain.
On Saturday, 25 July 2009, more than 48 hours after the surgery, Yasmin Ahmad succumbed to her injury and was pronounced dead at 11.25 pm. On Sunday, 26 July 2009, Yasmin Ahmad was laid to rest at the USJ 22 Muslim Cemetery in Subang Jaya, Selangor. Her husband, Abdullah Tan Yew Leong, their immediate families, hundreds of fans, friends, industry colleagues and personalities gathered to bid her farewell.
In 2010, a year after her death, visual artist Kevin Bathman remembers the life and legacy of Yasmin Ahmad with a new digital art exhibition and film screening called 'In Her Own Words: A Celebration of Humanity and Universal Love'. Using Yasmin’s own blog as inspiration, Kevin had blended her own words with striking visual images to create an art series as progressive as Yasmin’s own thoughts.
Kevin Bathman, a Malaysian citizen who resides in Sydney, was so inspired with Yasmin’s outlook on life and her inspirational body of work, that he devoted his expertise to paying tribute to one of Malaysia’s visionary figures.
Being a big fan of her work and a keen follower of her blog, Kevin felt there were ‘gems’ that he wanted to share with others. The exhibition is an interpretation and a celebration of her words – words which serve as a reminder to us to continually strive to celebrate humanity and universal love.
It was launched in Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (5–18 July 2010), The Arts House, Singapore (27–31 August 2010) dan Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne (2–6 October 2010).
CausewayEXchange has worked closely with Orked Ahmad (Yasmin’s Sister) in our past installations of CEX in Singapore. In 2010 CEX showcased a Poster Exhibition entitled “in Her Words” by Kevin Bathman as well as a 120 minute screening of a compilation of all advertisements produced by Yasmin Ahmad. This was followed by a talk by Orked Ahmad.
Again In 2012 CausewayEXchange showcased Yasmin’s movie Rabun, Yasmin’s first telemovie. In conjunction, CEX and Orked Ahmad launched a book entitled “Yasmin, How you know?” in Singapore. Both the movie screening and the books were sold out.
On 7 January 2014, Google remembers Yasmin Ahmad by publishing a doodle with her image. This is the first time a Malaysian figure is honoured on its search engine www.google.com
In October 2014, a commemorative museum, Yasmin at Kong Heng space, opened in Ipoh, Malaysia. It features Yasmin's photography, filmography, as well as creations devoted to her by other artists. There are plans to create an augmented reality series for the museum, using the city’s landmarks where Yasmin shot her films.
- Rabun(My Failing Eyesight) (2003)
- Sepet(Slit Eyes) (2004)
- Gubra(Anxiety) (2006)
- Muallaf(The Convert) (2008)
Commercials and Short Films
- Petronas TV Commercial (for Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali & National Day)
- Yuzy(2000) Petronas Road Safety Campaign
- Vas Dentures(2000) Celcom
- Tan Hong Ming In Love(2007) Petronas Merdeka Day commercial
- Family(2008) for the Singaporean Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports
- Funeral(2009) for the Singaporean Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports
- Chocolate(2009) for 15Malaysia (released posthumously 19 Aug 2009)
Awards and nominations
- Malaysia Video Awardsfor Best Director (1999) – Forgiving Petronas commercial
- Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia's Golden Kancil Award for Best Advertising Agency (1999/2000)
- Malaysia Video Awardssilver award for Best Scriptwriting (2000)Yuzy Petronas Road Safety Campaign
- Malaysia Video Awardsbronze award for Best Scriptwriting (2000)Vas Dentures Celcom
- Malaysian Film Festivalawards for Most Original Story and Best Film (2005) Sepet
- 18thTokyo International Film Festival Best Asian Film Award (2005) Sepet
- Malaysia Film Festivalawards for Best Screenplay and Best Film (2006) Gubra
- Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival2008 Gold Winner for Petronas advertisement Tan Hong Ming In Love
- Malaysia Film Festivalawards for Best Director (2009)Talentime
- Berlin International Film FestivalInternational Jury of Generation Kplus – Grand Prix of the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk for Best Feature Film and Generation Kplus Children's Jury Awards – Special Mention (2007) Mukhsin
- 54th Asia Pacific Film FestivalBest Director (2010) Muallaf (The Convert)