FOR four decades, Datuk Mohd Yusoff Jaafar was a law enforcer, a job that required a strong hand in the face of sometimes brutal criminals.
Today, his fingers are used for a more delicate task – handling a brush.
In fact, the former Sarawak police commissioner’s first passion was art, a love he had to set aside in pursuit of lawbreakers.
With time to spare in his retirement, coupled with the need to stay home given the current lockdown to curb Covid-19, Yusoff is now indulging in his renewed love affair.
Yusoff said he joined the police force “just for the fun of it”.
“I saw an advertisement in the papers about an opening for a probationary officer. Little did I expect to land the job.“
He did, and was enrolled at the Police College in Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor. Eventually, he was transferred to the Intelligence Department.
Yusoff tendered his resignation after only a month because he realised he did not like being a policeman.
“I wanted to become an illustrator,” he said with a laugh during an interview with theSun at his home in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
But he changed his mind when his superior officers labelled him a coward.
“I wanted to prove them wrong,” he said.
But he never lost his love for the brush.
Even when he was a student at Sultan Abdul Hamid College in Alor Star, Yusoff had wanted to be an artist.
“My art teachers Chooi Kok Keong and his wife spurred me on. We would practise the various styles of the old masters late into the night.”
He even won an art competition, earning praise from school headmaster Joginder Singh Jessy.
“He asked me to produce a sketch of Gautama Buddha sitting under a Bodhi tree. He liked it and engaged me to produce a series of illustrations for a history book titled Malaysia in World History. I was only 17 then,” he said, adding that he was paid RM10 to RM15 for each illustration.
After he left school in 1965, he landed a job as a civil clerk at the Religious Department, which gave him the opportunity to learn khat (Islamic calligraphy).
Yusoff’s childhood was also extraordinary. He was adopted at age five by a performer of the Mak Mah Ronggeng, a Malay traditional dance.
“She also adopted five Chinese girls who technically became my stepsisters,” he said.
Life was not a bed of roses but there was a lot of love, he recounted, pointing to a picture on a wall of a woman in a selendang, his godmother and inspiration in his art pursuit.
As a special branch officer, Yusoff had little time for personal pursuits, forcing him to temporarily put his brushes aside.
“At times, I would have to work 24 hours day. On any day, work starts as early as 5am.”
Art is now a family passion. For Yusoff’s seven children, it is a hobby to indulge in while the country is under lockdown.
They have another house that serves as their studio, named “ArtSis.”
The walls are adorned with bright tones of acrylic or mixed mediums in various sizes. One depicts a family attempt at art, a style that is almost child-like but also a reflection of their concern for the welfare of others.
Yusoff has also put his passion to good use. In 2003, he managed to raise RM120,000 for the Sarawak Autism Society from the sale of his works. They money was needed to build a home for autistic children.
The project also earned the family a place in the Malaysia Book of Records as the family with the highest number of artists.
Today, the 74-year-old former policeman wields his brush and pencil to bring attention to the need for environmental conservation.