Apr 2016 - Love Me in My Batik: Modern Batik Art from Malaysia and Beyond

(1) Love Me in My Batik collage by Joseph Tan. 1968

We were all ready at the Ilham by 11.30am to view the exhibition, Love Me in My Batik: Modern Batik Art from Malaysia and Beyond. Rahel Joseph and Simon Soon, curators of the show were there to welcome us. They started by giving us a brief outline, that the exhibition “ tells the story of batik painting as a distinct modern art in Malaysia and beyond, from its emergence in the 1950’s, to the present day.” They took the exhibition title from Joseph Tan’s 1968 collage piece of the same title. (1) They then led us to the 1st section to view the pioneering batik paintings of Chuah Thean Teng. Teng, recognised as a pioneer of Malaysian Batik painting was born in Fujian, China. (2) He immigrated to Malaya in 1932, where he began studying the batik techniques. Teng’s experiments transformed batik, which was traditionally worn as a sarong, into a medium used in fine art. “Teng is known for his technically sophisticated layers or colour, as well as his romantic renditions of pastoral life, which often show a fertile and nurturing Malaysia, and are a celebration of his new homeland and its people.”

(2) Chuah Thean Teng

 (4)  Blue mother and child

(3) Penang’s costal life 

Two important early batiks by Teng are Perairan Pulau Pinang, which is a panorama of Penang’s costal life (3) and the unusual blue mother and child (4) above.

We continued to view the post World War-II period where Batik painting married the indigenous cloth making tradition of batik with western painting techniques. It was “ promoted as a key Malaysian artistic expression. The endeavour was successful and sparked off a craze, with a new generation of batik painters, following on from Teng, continuing to develop batik as a fine art form.”

(5) Fabric batik

Moh Leong’s painting “Rubber Trees”

“When Malaya gained independence in 1957, and Malaysia was formed in 1963, artists tackled the concept of ‘nation- building’ from multiple perspectives, each expressing their hopes for the future through batik painting, that was seen to represent unity and diversity, tradition and progress.” The exhibition continued to show a collection of 1960’s batik and ‘batik art’ that became part of Malaysian popular culture. Eventually batik cloth and batik art became a favourite souvenir for tourists and it was often used as a ‘branding tool’ to endorse the national vision of ‘one culture’. (5) Above


Lastly in the section, Reinventing the Language: Batik and the Contemporary, we see Malaysian artists such as Yee I- Lann and Liew Kung Yu give batik a new twist by combining it with other techniques, to explore non traditional themes and create dramatic social commentary. (6) Below.


  Pink & turquoise art

MCG member Rosemary Chin adds: "This exhibition was especially meaningful and nostalgic for me as it brought back many memories of my young and student days. I remember doing an assignment after visiting an exhibition of Malaysian artists in the 60s and I actually chose Chuah Thean Teng's batik Art as one of my favourite to write about. I have always loved his work, and it is most deserving that he is now recognised as a pioneer of Malaysian Batik Art.

I am also proud to see the wonderful works of many of my artist friends hung here as well: - namely, Ismail Mustam and the late Patrick Ng Kah Onn of the Wednesday Art Group (late 60s), lecturer, Grace Selvanayagam, artists Fatimah Chik, Long Thien Shih and Khalil Ibrahim. It's incredible to think I am witness to the development of Malaysian Batik Art through the decades and including today, the contemporary and digital creations by Liew Kung Yu and Yee I  Lann."

Everyone enjoyed the special tour of the exhibition by the curators, Rahel and Simon. We were delighted to learn that it will be on until 20 June 2016, allowing time for family, friends and other MCG members to view the captivating art in the Batik story.


For more information visit: www.ilhamgallery.com


Written by Maryan Diakow Rosemary Chin

Pictures by Rosemary Chin