New Straits Times

Article from The New Straits Times, Malaysia’s oldest English-language newspaper:

A royal concern – Life&Times, NEW STRAITS TIMES: March 5, 2008

Selangor princess, Tengku Zatashah and her husband Aubry Rahim Mennesson are not only passionate about the environment but also feel duty-bound showcasing Malaysia to Europeans. Francis Dass writes.

Any which way you look at it, Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah’s life is a rich one. Paris-based Zatashah is a modern day princess – let us rephrase it: a modern-day working princess! – who cherishes the excitement and challenges of living in the fast-paced modern world.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of working as the international corporate communications manager with L’Oreal at the French cosmetics giant’s headquarters in Paris, the 34-year old daughter of the Sultan of Selangor still heeds the higher calling of social duties that her birth affords her.

Zatashah is now in the midst of putting together an exhibition in Paris, titled Gateway to Malaysia at the Museum Quai Branly.  Zatashah’s raison d’etre for doing this is her desire to “build bridges between France and Malaysia.” She wants the exhibition to be an eye-opener to Europeans about Malaysia.

“Museum Quai Branly is one of the top 10 museums in the world and it is the first primitive artifacts and cultural heritage from around the world – from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas,” she says.

Gateway to Malaysia will feature banners spread over the museum’s famed garden, which stretches for almost two hectares alongside the Seine riverbank. The banners, according to her husband Aubry Rahim Mennesson will have visuals, stretched over a series of two poles (to create an outdoors gateway).

The rationale behind the outdoor gateway is for visitors to look at the giant visuals overhead, then read the accompanying descriptions/explanations at eye-level, and possibly hear the corresponding sound effects (birds chirping when the banners reference the flora and fauna of Malaysia etc.)

The exhibition then moves into the museum building where priceless artifacts will be showcased to the public. The exhibition is the brainchild of both Aubry and Zatashah.

The areas of Malaysian history and culture that Zatashah is very keen to highlight to the French public are the origins of the nation through the telling of the story of Hang Tuah; descriptions of the ancient Malaccan sultanate, explaining the prominent role of Malacca in ancient trade routes; the arrival of the Portuguese; the rise of the different sultanates and royal houses throughout the land; and the multiculturalism of the country – all leading to the birth of the nation.

There will also be three interactive workshops for the public at the three-day exhibition. They are:

–       traditional batik printing

–       silat (which Zatashah hopes will be a hit with children and would be a great way of introducing Hang Tuah to visitors of the museum) and

–       traditional kite-making (wau) and designing activities

Aubry and Zatashah plan to make the exhibition a travelling exhibition, possibly taking it to Berlin, Brussels and even London. Their ultimate aim is to bring the exhibition to Malaysia as well.

“Our idea is to make the exhibition, which is free, accessible to families. We have spoken to Museum Quai Branly and Gateway to Malaysia is slated for autumn in October,” Zatashah explains.

Aubry says Museum Quai Branly currently has 1,337 primitive art objects (mostly figurine carvings and masks) from Sarawak, Malaysia, and 12 of those are on permanent display.

Zatashah says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has endorsed the idea of holding such an exhibition in France and her father will be the royal patron of the exhibition.

Enough about the exhibition, what about Aubry and Zatashah – how did they meet? Zatashah explains that a friend in Paris thought that Aubry would be the perfect match and e-mailed her about him in 2004. That was the year she was in France doing her masters degree in International Relations and Diplomacy. However, that first intended meeting between Aubry and Zatashah never took place.

Then a year later when Zatashah was mulling the idea of making a television documentary about wayang kulit for French television, another friend suggested she meet a film producer called Aubry. The two met finally and spoke about the possibility of making the wayang kulit project a reality. The project didn’t come to fruition but the two hit it off in December 2005 and have been together ever since.

A chat with the two shows that Aubry, 36, and Zatashah share a lot in common. The most significant of their shared interests is probably their love for the environment and we are all looking at economically sustainable developments,” says Aubry.

Zatashah echoes her husband’s concern: “It is not solely a government issue anymore – it is everybody’s concern now. People are becoming increasingly aware of their own carbon footprint on Earth. As we all become more knowledgeable about sustainable development, we become more innovative and eco-efficient. There are a lot of people involved in such innovations and this creates jobs and opportunities for everybody.”

Aubry also notes that Malaysia is in an advantageous position as there is an increase in demand for eco-tourism. “The Borneo rainforest has everything that people are looking for in eco-tourism,” he adds.

The two also spend a lot of time going to museums and art galleries in France during their free time. What else is keeping Aubry busy these days?

“I take Bahasa classes! It is only fair that I learn Bahasa as Zatashah speaks French. I am a beginner now and I hope to be an advanced beginner in Bahasa soon,” he says, flashing a cinematic smile at his wife.

Zatashah speaks English, Spanish, French and Malay and can understand Cantonese (she used to be fluent in Cantonese when she was a child but has lost touch with the language over the years as she spent her youth studying overseas).

Zatashah and her husband Aubry Rahim Mennesson were in town last week as the young couple were feted at a state banquet in honour of their nuptials.




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