Long-time pals: Tunku (centre) and de Weldon (right) inspecting the monument at the Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, on Aug 6, 1965.Long-time pals: Tunku (centre) and de Weldon (right) inspecting the monument at the Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, on Aug 6, 1965.

PETALING JAYA: The much-awaited Tugu Negara exhibition to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Austria will take place as scheduled on Nov 30.

It will centre on the story of how the symbolic memorial was created by Austrian sculptor, the late Tan Sri Felix de Weldon, who shared a unique friendship with Malaysia’s first premier Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

This little known yet important nexus between Malaysia and Austria will be highlighted in the A Monumental Affair: Tunku Abdul Rahman, Felix de Weldon and The Story of Tugu Negara exhibition at Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra in Kuala Lumpur.

Austrian Ambassador Andreas Launer, who mooted the idea for the exhibition, said de Weldon’s son, Daniel, who is an actor in America, will be flown in for the opening,

He said the National Archives had discovered lots of interesting materials such as original photos that shed light on the genesis of Tugu Negara and the extraordinary friendship between the Tunku and de Weldon.

He said his officers were also involved in delivering content for the exhibition, especially on Austria and the life of de Weldon.

“It is for us to present to the Malaysian people the cultural influences and aspects of Vienna through the exhibition,’’ said Launer.

“Daniel will speak on the memories and legacy of his father and the special relationship his father had with Malaysia,” he added.

The envoy had last month met the then Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri who gave her full support for the project and expressed interest in creating a high-quality exhibition together.

Launer said despite the dissolution of the Malaysian Parliament, preparations for the exhibition had gone smoothly with help from the National Archives, adding that there were plans for an official launch next year.

He said he has also proposed the exhibition be showcased at other spaces and venues to reach a wider audience.

In addition to the exclusive exhibition, a Statesman’s Talk entitled Tugu Negara: Inspiration of YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra will also be held on Nov 30 at 11am at Auditorium Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Panellists will include Launer, Daniel, Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Tuanku Muhriz and Tunku Mohd Taufek Tunku Mansur.

The exhibition will be launched by National Archives director-general Datuk Jaafar Sidek Abdul Rahman and Launer.

The guests include Tunku’s son Tunku Datuk Seri Ahmad Nerang Putra, his wife and children as well as the children of the late Tunku Khadijah, who was the eldest daughter of Tunku.

The story of Tugu Negara began in 1960 when Tunku visited the Iwo Jima Memorial created by de Weldon in Virginia, United States, which stands as a symbol of one of the most historic battles of World War II fought by the US Marines.

Tunku was so moved by the monument that he personally met de Weldon to request he build a similar monument in Malaysia to honour more than 11,000 soldiers who died while defending the country’s sovereignty.

This was the beginning of a personal friendship between Tunku and de Weldon, who was later conferred with the title “Tan Sri” for his work in the service of the Malaysian government.

To ensure the detailing of the figures’ uniform and weaponry, Tunku arranged a photoshoot of 24 soldiers and policemen of various racial origins wearing their jungle patrol uniform and sent the photographs to de Weldon.

For full accuracy, de Weldon also worked from a model clothed in full combat uniform sent to him from Kuala Lumpur.

These seven bronze figures, which were cast in a foundry in Rome, were shipped to Kuala Lumpur in June 1965 before being unveiled to the public on Feb 8, 1966.