For Love of Country: 6 Paintings that Celebrate Malaysia's National Identity
Despite the pandemic, economic instability and four different Prime Ministers in 3 years, “love of country” endures in Malaysia. In celebration of ‘Merdeka’ or Independence month, UNRESERVED curates a list of skilled local artists and we showcase the art that expresses their love and devotion for Malaysia.
1. Dato’ Mohammed Hoessein Enas
As one of the earliest generations of Malaysian artists and a member of the Fellow Royal Society of Arts, Dato’ Mohammed Hoessein Enas is known for his Malaysian royalty portraits and European realistic paintings. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya (Malaysia’s first Prime Minister), was among the inspiring portraits he painted during his industrious career. Malaysians and the world consider Tunku Abdul Rahman as an iconic figure who signified the end of the British protectorate of Malaya.
2. Azhar Arshad
A self-taught artist, he began his journey as a batik designer and painter. Throughout his years of travel and learning curves, his career steered him onto the path of abstraction and symbolism in articles and nature. His painting—‘Tanah Airku’—shows it all.
3. Ahmad Shokri Mohd
His practice emphasises texture, three-dimensionality and mixed media. Just look at his early works like the Hope, Dishonest series (1988 – 1990). It does not acquire the expressionist angst of his Matahati peers, but heightened explorations of material and form. There’s a hidden message for each of his paintings. For this one in particular, ‘Bersatu Teguh, Bercerai Roboh’ (United We Stand, Divided We Fall), it portrays a racial conflict between the Malays and Indians in the past.
4. Hamir Soib Mohamed
He began his career in the early 1990s where his work leaned towards expressionism, then slowly he developed a penchant for figures and realism in the second-half of the decade. For ‘Pilihan’ (Choice), it summarises the painting’s raison d’être: the agony of decisions inspired by his situation in that year. The artwork refers to a man’s ability to hold on to his roots, culture and values, without the influence of others.
5. Justin Lim
He was the recipient of the 2008 Malaysia-Australia Visual Artist Residency at Rimbun Dahan, alongside other residencies, both internationally and locally. The Portrait is one of Lim’s most celebrated artwork that shows a faceless ‘Agong’, the monarch of Malaysia. This head-turning piece depicts the democracy within the Malaysian monarchy that changes every five years, yet the official costume and regalia remain the same.
6. Azmin Hussein
Another artist that painted an iconic figure of Malaysia is Azmin Hussein. Considering himself as a pop artist, Hussein draws from pop icons and artists of the past for inspiration. He has been working with popular images from a young age, and continues to explore current popular issues. For instance, Pop Art Revolution uses images that are mostly associated with the contemporary, popular mindset. In one of his latest works, he illustrated Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, on the emergence of a new revolution.
Photos credit: AFK Collection