Giving back to his community, one painting at a time

By Patricia Hului
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Zaimie (right) speaking to some of the art enthusiasts in front of his favourite painting out of the turtle series.

When quizzed about islands in Malaysia, most people think of the famous ones like Penang, Langkawi and Pangkor; Banggi Island rarely making the list.

Yet Banggi is the largest island in Malaysia spanning 440.7 km2. It is located some 40km northeast of Kudat right where the Sulu and South China seas meet and is home to about 200, 000 people, particularly the Bajau Laut.

One of the notable people hailing from Banggi Island is artist cum lecturer Dr Zaimie Sahibil who is holding an exhibition here called ‘Underwater Illusion Series 2016’ at Galleria at Wesberly House, the second one there for the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) lecturer since he took part in a group exhibition back in 2007.


Artist cum lecturer Dr. Zaimie Sahibil.

Zaimie began his career as a teacher at SMK Marudu in 1993 after he graduated from the Gaya Teacher-training College in Kota Kinabalu.

He is no stranger to Sarawak since he took his degree in fine arts at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) from 1997 till 2000. He subsequently continued his master’s degree at UMS, becoming the first Bajau Laut to hold a PhD in fine arts.


Zaimie (left) presenting a gift to Galleria director Irene Lim.

Although he started holding joint and solo art exhibitions in 1995, Zaimie shared that finding his own identity in the world of painting was difficult at first.

“A few years after I graduated from Unimas, I was confused. I didn’t know which line to pursue in my artistry,” he said.

His then-professor said to him, “Cikgu, it is better for you to focus on your roots.”

As a Bajau Laut, sometimes known as sea-gypsies, Zaimie has been a diver from birth. His journey as an artist then started focusing more on the creatures of the sea.

“I painted a lot of fish before so I focused my works on fishes.”

Every artist needs some kind of boost to push them further, Zaimie’s thrust of encouragement came all the way from the Middle East.

“When my first painting was bought by a client from Dubai back in 2000, it motivated me further to paint.”

From there, he became more persistent, producing up to 300 paintings a year.


Zaimie (right) speaking to one of the art enthusiasts came for his launching of ‘Underwater Illusion 2016’.

In his pursuit of putting his hometown environment on display in colour and textures, Zaimie also felt the need to give back to his community.

A percentage of the sales he receives from his exhibition goes back to the Bajau Laut community especially in education.

“The money that I earned from exhibitions, I use to support my community on the island,” he said. “Some people might think my community on Banggi island is poor, but I don’t see them as poor. We are rich with our culture and life overall.”

He started supporting his community six years ago and so far, he has funded six students through university.

Zaimie advised the students not to apply for education loans. Instead, he prepares around RM10K every semester to pay for the students’ university fees.

“Every time I do an exhibition, I pray to God to help me. So far, Alhamdulillah, at the end of every semester, I receive support for the students.”

He is also thankful for his friends who come from around the world to Sabah just to buy his paintings in support of his cause.

Zaimie hopes his Underwater Illusion Series 2016 exhibition and upcoming exhibitions will be able to continue supporting his Bajau Laut community, especially in their education.

“I have done ten solo exhibitions since 1995 and nine of them are Underwater Illusion series exhibitions. I once exhibited this Underwater Illusion series in Paris.”

For the Sarawak leg of his Underwater Illusion series, Zaimie presented the shark, green turtle and grouper collections.


The grouper series.


A piece from the green turtle series.


Zaimie’s favourite is this Lionfish (157 cm x 157cm) acrylic on canvas piece.

His favourite pieces from the 2016 collection are the lionfish and green turtle against a pink background.

“But I still feel my strongest series is the shark collection,” he said, adding that the shark series was also his first collection in the Underwater Illusion pieces he started during his undergraduate years in Unimas.

He explained that the shark series talked about the middleman and the socioeconomic status of the Bajau Laut people in Sabah.

Working at UMS’ School of Arts since 2006, Zaimie still needs to juggle his time both as a painter and lecturer, but he finds that he works best from 2am to 5am.


One of the pieces from Zaimie’s shark series.

Zaimie has participated in 150 group exhibitions to date and this March he is going to have another exhibition in Indonesia.

His 49-piece exhibition at Galleria at Wesberly House will be open weekdays from 9am to 5pm, and on Saturdays from 9am to noon.

Galleria at Wesberly House is located at Suite 1-3, Lot 2812, Block 195 Rubber Road West, 934000 Kuching.

For more information contact 016-8865278.


Zaimie (third left) with his friends who were mostly his former lecturers in Unimas.

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