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Their legacy lives on 

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Muzium Negara stands as the emblem of our nation’s history, preserved for future generations (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

By Sr Dr. Zuraini Md Ali

Every time I drive past Jalan Travers or Jalan Damansara, I am always breath-taken by the sight of the iconic Muzium Negara, no matter how many times I have seen or visited it. This majestic building stands as the emblem of our nation’s history preserved for future generations. Despite the countless hours I’ve spent within its walls, its sight never fails to impress me, inspiring an inexplicable sense of profound pride every time it comes into view.

Sr Dr. Zuraini Md Ali

And without fail, two names always surface whenever I reflect on that building: Tan Sri Dato’ Mubin Sheppard and Datuk Shahrum Yub.

Tan Sri Dato’ Mubin Sheppard was a pioneer in the truest sense. His visionary work and unwavering dedication played a crucial role in promoting heritage preservation efforts in the country from the 1950s until his death in 1994.

During his tenure with the Department of Museums (DoM), under both the British colonial administration and after Malaysia’s independence, Sheppard was instrumental in shaping the landscape of museum and archives development in the country. He was a key player in the establishment of not just the Muzium Negara and Arkib Negara, but also the state museums, thereby fostering a national network of heritage preservation. He also established the National Art Gallery, as well as the Malayan Film Unit.

Sheppard’s passion for history, art and culture transcended his governmental duties. He was a founding member of the Malayan Historical Society, which later became the Malaysian Historical Society. Furthermore, Sheppard’s mooted the establishment of Badan Warisan Malaysia (BWM or The Heritage of Malaysia Trust), and as the first Honorary Secretary, showcased his commitment to grassroots heritage conservation. Under his guidance, BWM emerged as a leading non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Malaysia’s architectural heritage.

Sheppard’s hands-on approach to conservation was also evident in his involvement in the restoration of several historic buildings. Noteworthy projects include the restoration of Istana Ampang Tinggi in Negeri Sembilan, Masjid Lama Kampung Laut, Kelantan and Istana Tengku Nik, Terengganu. His work significantly raised public awareness about the importance of architectural conservation, encouraging a national dialogue on preserving our historical and cultural identity.

Datuk Shahrum Yub, on the other hand, was the longest-serving Director General of the Department of Museums Malaysia, holding the position from 1968 to 1991. During his tenure, he played the important role of rejuvenating and transforming Muzium Negara into a vibrant and popular destination for learning about Malaysian culture, heritage, and national identity.

Recognizing the importance of interactive learning, he introduced exhibits and educational programs at Muzium Negara that brought Malaysian history and culture to life. These initiatives not only enhanced the visitor experience but also ensured that the museum became a dynamic educational resource.

Under his leadership, the Department of Museums expanded its reach across the country, continuing the works established by Tan Sri Dato’ Mubin Sheppard. By continuing to promote regional history and culture, Shahrum ensured that the richness of Malaysia’s heritage was accessible to all, fostering a deeper connection between the public and their history.

Shahrum Yub’s efforts went beyond physical expansions and interactive exhibits; he was instrumental in fostering a greater appreciation for Malaysian culture and heritage among the public. Through his visionary leadership, he helped shape a sense of national identity and pride. His innovative approach and commitment to cultural education have left an enduring impact on the nation’s collective consciousness.

I had the privilege of meeting Datuk Shahrum Yub in 2009 while conducting research. At the time, he was planning an exhibition on tigers to coincide with the Year of the Tiger in 2010, according to the Chinese zodiac. Although the exhibition ultimately did not materialize, his passion for the project was palpable during our interview. That image of his enthusiasm and dedication is etched in my mind, serving as a personal proof to his commitment to heritage and education.

Both Tan Sri Dato’ Mubin Sheppard and Datuk Shahrum Yub obviously played monumental roles in conserving our heritage and creating museums as centres of education. Their efforts have provided us with invaluable resources to learn about our past, enriching our understanding of history, art and culture, and enabling us to move forward as a united and informed nation.

In conjunction with the International Museum Day on 18 May and the current school holiday season, let’s take the opportunity to visit Muzium Negara. There, we can be awed by our rich history and heritage, just as Tan Sri Dato’ Mubin Sheppard and Datuk Shahrum Yub envisioned.

Their legacies will continue inviting us to explore, learn, and take pride in our heritage, ensuring that the stories of our past continue to inspire and guide us into the future.

… The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Building Surveying Department, Faculty of Built Environment, Universiti Malaya. She is also the author of “Mubin Sheppard: Pioneering Works In Architectural Conservation In Malaysia” (Penerbit UM, 2016), which won the Anugerah Buku Negara in 2021 and Anugerah Akademik Negara (book publication) in 2022. She may be reached at zuraini_mdali@um.edu.my

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