Ong Chin Huat recently attended the unveiling of Harta, a new space by the renowned Malaysian jewellery company Habib, which pays tribute to the country’s traditional art, culture and heritage. During his visit, Chin took the opportunity to learn more about the project from Harta Director Mirsham Meer.
Cherished Malaysian home-grown jewellers Habib recently unveiled a new initiative dedicated to celebrating and preserving Malaysian culture, heritage and art.
Named Harta, an acronym for ‘Habib Action for Revival of our Traditions and Arts’, this project aims to educate and engage the public on the richness and variety of Malaysian culture as well as preserve the fast-disappearing areas of its heritage.
Located at Habib’s headquarters in Ampang Kuala Lumpur, this private, public space comprises a heritage jewellery museum, an art gallery and a café. The Harta heritage jewellery museum focuses on the bejewelled traditions of the multi-ethnic ‘Peranakan’ or Straits Settlement culture consisting of the Peranakan Chinese, Jawi and Chitty communities.
With over 800 unique pieces of jewellery collected over 65 years, this specialised museum has been curated to transport the visitor into a bygone era which showcases the exquisite craftsmanship of Peranakan jewellery.
Accompanying the jewellery museum is an art gallery which promotes the work of talented Malaysian artists and artisans. For the launch event, an exhibition titled “Open House” presented the works of 16 artists, such as Ching Yan Chuah, Nadirah Zakariya and James Seet, among others.
Mirsham Meer (above), the Director behind Harta, talked to us about this new heartfelt mission, which honours Malaysian arts, culture and jewellery.
Luxurious Magazine: Could you tell us about Harta and how it came about?
Mirsham Meer: As a brand, Habib has always carried the Malaysian flag with pride. As this year marks our 65th anniversary, we sat to think about what we wanted from the brand in the future (beyond its financial aspirations). We decided to help drive more appreciation for our Malaysian heritage and arts to a wider audience.
After months of conversations with the family and experts, Harta was born. It’s an acronym which stands for Habib: Action for Revival of our Traditions and Arts. It’s a truly unique space dedicated to celebrating creativity and culture, combining three things – the opulent heritage jewellery museum, the inspiring art gallery, and our very own café.
Our aim is not just to curate and exhibit but to enrich and inspire those who visit us. We envision Harta as a creative space for the public as well as for our own people to explore the amazing creativity of our past and our present and to encourage new thought.
LM: Where did you source the exhibits and jewellery pieces in the Jewellery Museum?
Mirsham: All the pieces you see in the jewellery museum come from my family’s personal collections. We’ve collected over 800 pieces in the span of 65 years, including the iconic Buah Kana ring, Kerongsang Thoe, Dokoh and more.
These are pieces of our collective history, and they proudly showcase an array of enthralling motifs with amazing stories to share. Each meticulously crafted item pays homage to the rich and diverse cultural tapestry of the Jawi Peranakan, the Chinese Peranakan, and the Chitty Peranakan Jewellery.
LM: Are the artworks in the art gallery a permanent collection, or is it revolving?
Mirsham: The art gallery is meant to be a platform to showcase Malaysian artists to a wider audience. It’s not just for the art enthusiasts/art collecting community in Malaysia; it’s also a place where we can encourage and educate new groups, which will increase appreciation for the Malaysian arts.
Our inaugural show, titled ‘Open House’, was curated by a guest curator and draws from our private collection, with some pieces on loan from artists, as well as several pieces specially commissioned for the exhibition. The inaugural exhibition will be on display until 20th November 2023, after which a new show with a new theme will take its place.
Each new theme and exhibition will provide the opportunity for the gallery to stay fresh and relevant to our objectives. It will allow us to engage with a broader audience. Each time you enter the Harta gallery, we want the visitor to have a different experience. You might visit now and experience something completely different down the line.
LM: Why do you think preserving and showcasing Malaysian art and culture is important?
Mirsham: The world is changing so quickly that the next generation of Malaysians is just as quickly forgetting our rich history of arts and traditions.
Our national identity is deeply rooted in our cultural heritage and collective traditions. Simply put, we want to make appreciating our heritage and arts’ cool’ again, especially with the younger audience.
With that in mind, it is Harta’s aim to continue educating and engaging the public on the incredibly rich tapestry of Malaysian culture, a testament to Habib’s commitment as a proud champion of Malaysian heritage.
LM: How often do you plan to have exhibitions in both the gallery and museum?
Mirsham: The current exhibition in the Heritage Jewellery Museum is a semi-permanent exhibition. As for the art gallery, different and exciting exhibitions will take place at regular intervals between 1 – 3 months.
As a creative space, we have already lined up an amazing variety of culture and heritage programs, lectures and even workshops for the months ahead as well as next year, which we will be announcing soon. So follow us on Instagram @hartaspace for more updates on what’s to come.
LM: How long did Harta take from inception to becoming a reality?
Mirsham: Let’s not forget that Habib is in the business of creativity. We’ve always wanted to give back to society but in more meaningful ways. In our regular travels abroad, we have long harboured a visionary dream of building a splendid jewellery museum that serves as a resplendent tribute to Malaysia’s rich heritage and vibrant culture.
Appreciation for art has also been an important pillar for the brand, and we wanted an art gallery space that allowed us to showcase artworks that offer a fresh and innovative perspective on our artistic identity. It took our dedicated team at Harta about a year to transform this dream into a tangible reality.
LM: What’s the main takeaway you hope visitors gain from exploring Harta?
Mirsham: When visitors come to Harta, we want them to see for themselves the wealth of our jewellery heritage and the creativity of our Malaysian artists and learn about their amazing stories.
But more importantly, we want them to walk away proud and more appreciative of Malaysia’s many arts and traditions. And if just a few of them are inspired enough by all this to help raise the bar on our creative heritage, then all our efforts would be completely worth it.
For further information on Harta, please visit www.hartaspace.com.
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