Category Archives: Editorial

The Sophisticated Art Patron


A gentleman with an immense appetite for collecting works of art, Zain Azahari Zainal Abidin, also known as Pak Zain, has amassed an incredible number of artworks — over 1,000 paintings and sculptures by notable Southeast Asian and international artists. Now 84, he began his lifelong journey of art collecting in the 1960s.

If one wonders where all the paintings are kept, well, they are spread out systematically — on the walls of his office, his children’s homes and his private museum, Galeri Z. A great number are in secured storage — not in a state of neglect but rather, stored in a climate-controlled environment and cared for by a professional conservator who inspects them periodically.

When Pak Zain was a law student in London in the 1950s, he played the saxophone and began collecting jazz records,amassing about 8,000 records,which he keeps till this day. Also an avid reader, Pak Zain immerses in the poetry of Rumi, and his rotational reads include the same books by the revered poet.

His interest in arts and culture was nurtured as a student. “On weekends, besides visiting art galleries and museums, I also attended art lectures organised by institutions like the Royal Academy of Arts and British Council. I was aroused not just by looking at paintings, but understanding them too. I would pick up a copy of What’s On in London, a weekly magazine, and attend the art events in my free time,” recalls Pak Zain.

Pak Zain has built an illustrious career in law,founding Zain & Co in 1970.Today,his law firm is a member of Dentons, one of the world’s largest law establishments with presence in 78 countries, and is the sole representative for Malaysia.

Nowadays, he takes pleasure in viewing and coordinating his enormous art collection, playing with his grandchildren and teeing off to a game of golf with friends on weekends.Occasionally,he attends art openings as a guest of honour.A monthly lunch gathering with friends across the Causeway is also penned in his calendar.

But one of Pak Zain’s latest endeavours that has kept him occupied for the past year is the publication of Hati & Jiwa: The Zain Azahari Collection Volume 3, which was launched on April 20.

Featuring over 500 artworks from the region and beyond,and acquired between 2015 and 2019, volume three comprises four books, exquisitely designed and packaged as a box set. Thematically categorised as Landscape,Figurative,Abstract and Other Regions,the publication’s concept is influenced by the weight of contemporary artworks by emerging artists and the commissioning of a new editorial team that embody the freshest of The Zain Azahari Collection.

Led by Galeri Z manager Haslinda Hussein, the project members of Hati & Jiwa Volume 3 include Singaporean curator Syed Muhammad Hafiz Syed Nasir,writers Anita Kandhavel and myself,photographer Puah Chin Kok and designer Lim Oon Soon.

“Haslinda is a chartered accountant by profession. Brilliant and professional, she has played a pivotal role in this project. Lucky for me as she is also married to my youngest son, Zain Azmir,” says Pak Zain.


In Hati & Jiwa Volume 3, Pak Zain starts off by quoting Rumi: “When you do things from your soul,you feel a river moving in you,a joy”,aptly encapsulating his emotions from the pleasures of art appreciation.

The contemporary appeal of Pak Zain’s recent acquisitions provides an insight into his collecting method.Apart from significant paintings by modern masters such as Latiff Mohidin, Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, Yeoh Jin Leng, Khoo Sui Hoe and Jolly Koh, a majority of the artworks in volume three are by established and up-and-coming regional contemporary artists.

“At this juncture, I would like to have major artworks that can enhance my collection.The procurement process requires me to explore my inventory and conduct a comparison with what I regard as my best of that artist. I will ask myself: ‘Is the artwork comparable to, equal to or better than what I already have?’

“A classic example is Noor Mahnun Mohamed’s Lanterns. The artwork complements the other painting that I already have, Girl Skipping. Both are from The Edge Auction. I felt the need for not just one painting to represent the artist in my collection. I would like to have a couple and it must be quality work. This particular artwork, for instance, is finely executed and meaningful because it promotes peace. Also, both styles are different. Each painting shows the artist’s capability to render landscape and figurative [elements]. So, in that sense, it elevates my collection,” explains Pak Zain.

Noor Mahnun’s Girl Skipping graces the cover of Hati & Jiwa Volume 3’s Landscape book.This painting was also featured on the cover of Noor Mahnun’s exhibition catalogue during her sixth solo show in 2002. It was offered at The Edge Auction last year.

Also in Landscape is a set of mixed-media work by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, acquired from the artist’s solo exhibition Made in Malaysia: Works by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed from 2010 to 2017 at The Edge Galerie in 2017.

“Certain works by promising young artists in my collection may not necessarily advance my collection, but that’s my way of supporting them so that they don’t disappear off the radar. Some of them have found success while others may have gone astray from the art scene,” says Pak Zain.

Contemporary artists whose works are featured in Landscape include Anisa Abdullah, Syed Fakaruddin, Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj, Samsudin Wahab, Yeoh Choo Kuan, Aely Manaf, Gan Tee Sheng and Ilham Fadhli Shaimy aka Kojek.

Among the modern artworks in this segment are Yong Mun Sen’s watercolour painting titled Batu Caves, dated 1943; Khalil Ibrahim’s oil on canvas painting dated 1955; Abdullah Ariff’s Misty Morning, dated 1960; and a suite of watercolour paintings by A B Ibrahim, circa 1960s.

In the Figurative book, Dzulkifli Buyong’s Kucing Sakit is featured on the cover. Within the pages of this book, an eclectic range of styles entices Pak Zain, from artworks by Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Nadiah Bamadhaj, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Anthonie Chong, Chong Siew Ying, Chang Fee Ming, Hamir Soib @ Mohamed, Yusof Majid, Umibaizurah Mahir @ Ismail and Eng Hwee Chu to paintings by Chong Ai Lei, Fawwaz Sukri and Amy Nazira.

In selecting superior artworks, Pak Zain looks for technical complexity and intricacy before procuring them. Other factors include contextual meaning and visual appeal.

“I recently purchased an exceptional batik painting by Ismail Mat Hussin that was finely executed. Its background hue is blue, which is unique because Ismail typically uses earthy tones like brown. It’s twice the size of another painting, Kilang Batik. It makes a good addition to my collection by the artist,” says Pak Zain.

Measuring 96cm by 186cm, the 2008 untitled work depicts a coastal view of fisherfolk returning from sea. It fetched RM140,000, a record for the artist at an auction.

Latiff, a long-time friend of Pak Zain’s, has written an introduction for the Hati & Jiwa suite. His painting, titled Yellow Seascape, is depicted on the cover of the Abstract book.

“When I returned from my studies in the late 1950s and began practising law, I attended an exhibition by Latiff Mohidin at the foyer of the AIA building in Jalan Ampang. I acquired my first Pago Pago for RM150. It seems very little now, but in those days that was a lot for me,” recalls Pak Zain.

Among Latiff’s artworks in his collection are a stainless steel sculpture, titled Khat 2, and a resin sculpture, Object 1, acquired from Latiff Mohidin: Modern Sculptures 2007-2015, a solo exhibition curated by T K Sabapathy at The Edge Galerie in 2016.

Other heavyweights in this category include paintings by Datuk Sharifah Fatimah, Datuk Tajuddin Ismail, Sulaiman Esa and Zulkifli Yusoff.

The next generation of abstract painters whose works have found a permanent home in The Zain Azahari Collection include Fauzul Yusri, Sabri Idrus, Zulkifli Lee,Haffendi Anuar,Roslina Lyne Ismail,Khairul Izham,Saiful Razman,Wong Perng Fey, Hasanul Isyraf Idris and Faizal Suhif.

For Other Regions, a set of insect drawings by Walter Spies, dated 1922, is the oldest in Hati & Jiwa Volume 3. The drawings signify the artist’s early record of entomology created before Spies settled in Bali in 1927.

An untitled painting by leading Indonesian contemporary artist Yunizar — known for his stylised pictograms and coretan or scribbles — graces the cover of this book.The large-scale and vibrant painting defines Pak Zain’s fresh palate.

Among the international artists whose works are in The Zain Azahari Collection include Natee Utarit,Sinta Tantra,Sun Xun,A D Pirous,Kemal Ezedine, Harlen Kurniawan, Ketut Karim, Jamie Tan You Kean, Ruben Pang, Melissa Tan, Min Wae Aung and Tricia Gillman.

The latest addition to the ever-growing collection is a group of exquisite paintings previously owned by his brother, the late Tan Sri Zain Azraai. Purchased from his brother’s family last year, the remarkable works are by modernists Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Yeoh Jin Leng, Khoo Sui Hoe, Jolly Koh, Dzulkifli Buyong and Brazilian artist Calasans Neto.


The first two volumes of Hati & Jiwa began in the 1960s when Pak Zain received his first artwork — a wedding gift by a former classmate in 1962. Dated 1961 and titled Batu Caves, the watercolour painting is by Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal.

This prized artwork was among a selection of 40 paintings from Pak Zain’s private collection that was exhibited at The Edge Galerie’s inaugural collector’s show, Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection in October 2013.

“I don’t usually loan my artworks to art galleries or institutions. My collection is my personal joy and the experience of collecting has been extremely rewarding in so many personal ways,” says Pak Zain.

The only other occasion that he allowed his artworks to be loaned was for the seminal show, Latiff Mohidin Pago Pago (1960-1969). Six of his eight Pago Pago masterpieces were carefully packed and shipped to Centre Pompidou in Paris last year.

Presented by the National Gallery Singapore in collaboration with the National Museum of Modern Art, the survey exhibition showcased some 70 works from the modernist’s celebrated Pago Pago series.

Pak Zain’s contribution to the arts is beyond economic. The beneficiary of his patronage is not just the arts and culture ecosystem but also the general public, through his generosity in loaning invaluable masterpieces, displaying his art collection in his private museum,which can be viewed by appointment, and publishing his collection for art students and researchers.

When The Edge Galerie invited Pak Zain to partake in a survey for Southeast Asian Art: Auction Benchmarks & Market Insights — a publication to track the Southeast Asian art market last year — he accepted with earnestness.

The Zain Azahari Collection, which began as a diversion, has matured into a family heirloom. In Hati & Jiwa Volume 3, Pak Zain wrote a heartfelt dedication for his 11 grandchildren: “Since they arrived, I have begun to contemplate the role that art may play in their lives and conversely the roles that they might play in preserving these works, which have so enriched my life. My message to them is simple. In art and in life, approach everything that you do with your heart and soul and in so doing, the truth will inevitably chart your course. Finally, be sure to know that you are the most perfect works of art bestowed on me from above by the greatest Artist of all.”

Link to pdf

Exquisite Art Coming Up for Sale

The Edge Auction 2019 has on offer highly desirable and collectible artworks by top Malaysian artists as well as leading contemporary artists from Southeast Asia

The seventh edition of The Edge Auction will see 105 lots comprising modern and contemporary Southeast Asian artworks go under the hammer on March 17.The cover lot,Kambing Hitam (2009), is a painting by Malaysian contemporary artist Hamir Soib @ Mohamed and has an estimated price of between RM80,000 and RM150,000.

Measuring 198cm by 300cm, the mixed media on canvas depicts a trio of goats floating in a mountainous landscape. The treatment of the background in layers of bitumen and black oil and acrylic paint in a rectangular layout is reminiscent of Chinese ink-and-wash landscape paintings.

Hamir and fellow founders of the Matahati collective — Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Ahmad Fuad Osman, Bayu Utomo Radjikin and Masnoor Ramli Mahmud — presented their artworks in a group exhibition entitled Matahati ke Mata Dunia (Matahati in the Eyes of the World) in Los Angeles, the US, in 2009, the same year Kambing Hitam was painted.Hamir’s experience as a theatre-set artist enabled him to execute large-scale paintings such as this lot but his style of painting has evolved over the years, making Kambing Hitam a desirable work from this period.

Also on offer are three paintings by Matahati co-founder Shukri, entitled Barcode Series: White Haze (1998), Progeny 3 and Progeny 4 (2001).

Progeny 3 and Progeny 4 feature an egg in positive and negative space. Inspired by a bantam breed of chicken called Serama and a lucrative pageant industry revolving around the fowl in Kelantan where Shukri was born, Progeny is the artist’s response to the local environment.The complexity of the pair of works — a collage on canvas created using layers of silkscreen on fabric — is a feature of Shukri’s early work.

Estimated at between RM18,000 and RM30,000 each, the artworks were created before Shukri’s residency at Rimbun Dahan, where he conceived his celebrated Incubator series. At the end of his residency, he exhibited two installations based on the concept of incubation.As described by Stephanie Ho on Rimbun Dahan’s website, they comprise “structures filled with hundreds of white and black plaster eggs,drawing on the yinyang concept to suggest the inevitably heterogeneous nature of the world. As Shukri puts it, within a hundred white eggs there will be a black egg, and vice versa”.

Established artists

Also up for auction are artworks by veteran artists Khoo Sui Hoe, Jolly Koh, Datuk Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir, Datuk Tajuddin Ismail and Yusof Ghani.

Khoo’s Lake Merah (2002) was exhibited in his retrospective, The Painted World of Khoo Sui Hoe, at the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery in 2007. Estimated at between RM35,000 and RM50,000, the abstract painting is also featured in the exhibition’s catalogue.An earlier painting, Two by the Sea (1981), with an estimated price of between RM22,000 and RM30,000, gives buyers an opportunity to bid for the artist’s classic rendition of abstract figures.

Yusof Ghani’s Assembly I – Wajah Series measures 182cm x 182cm and is estimated at between RM115,000 and RM150,000
Conceived in New York, Fan Shell by Jalaini Abu Hassan is an important work that led to his iconic Re-Found Objects series

A Touch of Yellow (1996) by Koh depicts a vibrant abstract landscape in blue, green and yellow with a hint of red. Priced at between RM26,000 and RM48,000, it features the artist’s hallmark gestural brushstrokes in effervescent colours.

Sharifah’s Celebration 18B (2018) comes from an ongoing body of work called Celebration that began in 1996. It depicts a kaleidoscope of colours in several layers to form a floating scene of shapes in various magnitudes. The multi-coloured artwork in Sharifah’s distinctive style is estimated at between RM65,000 and RM75,000.

Assembly I (Wajah Series) (2007) by Yusof was exhibited in a solo exhibition at National Gallery Indonesia in Jakarta in 2010.The show featured works from his Wajah series created since 2006. Illustrating a group of anonymous faces hovering against a backdrop of gestural brushstrokes of bright red and yellow, the enigmatic painting radiates a strong sense of dynamism.

Tajuddin’s Blue Windrift (2001) is an example of the artist’s skilful combination of colour and shape in abstract form. His current body of works — as seen in his recent solo exhibition Ambiguity that featured abstract works in structured geometric shapes — is a departure from his early style of painting, making Blue Windrift a collectible artwork. It is priced at between RM29,000 and RM45,000.


Among the contemporary artists whose iconic works will go under the hammer next month are Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Jalaini Abu Hassan,Amron Omar,Noor Mahnun Mohamed,Wong Perng Fey, Chong Siew Ying, Kow Leong Kiang, Tan Wei Kheng and Anthonie Chong.

Ahmad Zakii’s Kecak under the Dark Moon (1994, estimated at between RM60,000 and RM80,000) was created during one of his many visits to Bali. According to the artist, he had traded the painting with its current owner in 1995 in exchange for two Ethiopian swords due to his personal interest in ethnographic arms and armour. The owner, who is a long-time friend of his, had served in the diplomatic corps in Addis Ababa in the late 1970s and had acquired the swords for their beauty and craftsmanship.

Khoo Sui Hoe’s tranquil Lake Merah depicts the horizon that can be seen either at dawn or dusk with a multi-coloured geometrical border to enhance the composition
Sharifah Fatimah Syed Zubir’s Celebration 18B is an interpretation of the joy of life

Ahmad Zakii had experimented with a special oil paint to produce the iridescent quality of Kecak under the Dark Moon to emulate the spiritual notion of the trance ritual. His fascination with Bali is conveyed through his paintings of the island’s traditional dances, such as Legong,which is also on sale in two sets of sketches estimated at between RM6,000 and RM10,000 for each set.

Jalaini, or Jai as he is popularly known, is represented by one of his early works, Fan Shell. Conceived in New York in 1995 when Jai was completing his master of fine art at Pratt Institute, this work was completed in Kuala Lumpur and displayed in a solo exhibition entitled Lifeform at Gallerie Taksu in 1996.

Noor Mahnun’s Lanterns (2013) depicts a young girl holding a bouquet of Japanese lantern flowers. Standing on a hollowed platform — with a deliberate arrangement of symbolic objects such as a pair of scissors, a glass vase containing three marbles and a pink perfume bottle — the female subject is a portrait of Noor Mahnun’s relative. Also seen in the painting are the artist’s characteristic geometrical shapes that form the floor tiles and shoji doors as well as a figurine of Disney’s Bambi placed at the edge of a table.

Lanterns was displayed in a charity exhibition at the Nalanda Centre in Selangor to raise funds for a documentary on Buddhism. Entitled A Journey of Self Discovery, the show was curated by the late Syed Nabil Syed Nahar of NN Gallery.

Estimated at between RM65,000 and RM75,000,Lanterns is expected to attract the interest of collectors due to its painterly quality and scale.Paintings of this size — 182.5cm by 121.5cm — have rarely been executed by the artist in recent years. Her paintings in her solo exhibition, Disco Lombok Still Life by Noor Mahnun, at The Edge Galerie in 2017 were relatively small.

Progeny 4 by Ahmad Shukri Mohamed was first shown at a solo exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in 2001
Lanterns by Noor Mahnun Mohamed corresponds with Zen Buddhism and was first displayed at the Nalanda Centre in Selangor

Alternative media and regional artworks

In this sale, an exciting segment of fabric and batik art will feature works by contemporary artists Azam Aris, Anne Samat and Fauzin Mustafa as well as veteran artists Datuk Tay Mo Leong, Lee Long Looi and the late Ismail Mat Hussin.

Nanyang-style artworks will include paintings by Tan Choon Ghee, Tew Nai Tong, Datuk Tang Hon Yin, Peter Liew, Lui Cheng Thak, Lee Weng Fatt, Eston Tan, Alex Leong and more.

Also on offer is a diverse selection of regional art, including works by Indonesian artists Jeihan Sukmantoro,I Wayan Sujana (Suklu), Gede Putra Udiyana, Yunizar, Besta Bestrizal, Dedy Sufriadi, Indra Dodi, Harlen Kurniawan; Singaporean artist Anthony Chua Say Hua; Vietnamese artists Thanh Chuong, Nguyen Thanh Binh and Bui Huu Hung; and Myanmar artists Win Pe and Myint Soe.

The Edge Auction 2019 will again offer live online bidding through for its growing international clientele, alongside the conventional absentee and telephone bidding options.

Link to pdf

Symbol of Harmony

Distinguished Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin has created a monumental steel sculpture in Singapore at DUO, a contemporary twin building designed by German architect Ole Scheeren.

Inspired by nature, Harmony is a freestanding modern sculpture by top Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin. Standing at nine metres, the outdoor artwork is located at the central plaza of the DUO building in the Bugis district of the city state.

The design, which was inspired by the interlocking motif of plant leaves, reflects the yin and yang concept of two forces coming together and complementing each other — reflecting the harmonious relationship between Singapore and Malaysia.

In conjunction with the launch of DUO, there will be a special showcase of Latiff’s modern sculptures. Entitled, Latiff Mohidin: Painted Steel Sculptures, the exhibition will be held at the DUO Galleria art space unit from now until Jan 19. Visitors will be able to view the six steel sculptures in various forms and finishes.

DUO is an integrated development by M+S, which is jointly owned by Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. The development spans 1.73 million sq ft and has a gross development value of about $4 billion. DUO comprises premium apartments called DUO Residences, DUO Tower offices, DUO Galleria retail space and the luxury-class Andaz Hotel.

In an email interview, Latiff, 76, explains, “Harmony was shipped to Singapore and erected at the DUO Galleria central plaza at 7 Fraser Street on Sept 26 last year.

“I was asked to design a freestanding sculpture to be placed at an area near Arab Street in Singapore. It should be tall enough as a landmark to be seen from different angles. So I proposed and submitted a simple design with a few drawings and a small-scale model. Once accepted, then it was all work until it was completed.

“There [were] several important stages during the making of Harmony. Firstly, the fabrication stage. This is the stage when the designer/sculptor is challenged aesthetically; the builder is challenged architecturally; and the engineer is challenged by its mechanism. This is followed by the transportation stage, from Xiamen in China, where it was fabricated to be brought to the actual site in Singapore. Finally, comes the most ‘crucial stage’ of erecting it for good at DUO. Meaning, the sculpture should be standing solid, intact and safe for many, many years to come.”

When asked, what he aspires to achieve when creating outdoor sculptures, Latiff says: “If one could enjoy its appearance, its physical presence in a selected space, location or environment — particularly when light falls on its shape or form or volume, then I think I have achieved an important aspect of the creation.”

The response from the public is certainly one of Latiff’s concerns when designing an outdoor sculpture. He says: “The sculpture as a freestanding artwork is created for public pleasure. They are free to feel and to react as they like, enjoying its beauty and its durability. That is the reason why, when designing an outdoor sculpture, I am very concerned [about] its regular maintenance.”

Latiff first embarked on creating sculptures as an art student in Berlin in 1961. “A friend who was a student of Prof Karl Hartung taught me how to build up shapes/forms from plaster of Paris. Later in 1967, in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I made a series of small sculptures with Pago-Pago shapes or pagopago-esque. In the early 80s, I did about 50 pieces of soldered brass,” says the artist, in reference to his famous Pago-Pago series of paintings and drawings from the 1960s. Incidentally, Latiff will be honoured with a retrospective show of his Pago-Pago works at the Centre Pompidou in Paris from Feb 28 until May 28 next year.

“I will be displaying six sculptures in Latiff Mohidin: Painted Steel Sculptures. Two sculptures are entitled Isfahan 2 and Isfahan Green and were done in 2015. Yin Yang is a new work (2017) made of stainless steel and another sculpture entitled 3-in-1 was created in 2016. Two other sculptures, Growth 1 and Growth 2, were completed in 2011 and were exhibited with my other ‘modern sculpture’ works at The Edge Galerie in Kuala Lumpur in 2016,” explains Latiff.

Originally published at:

Embracing Domesticity Through Still Life

Noor Mahnun Mohamed, 53, may be petite but she has held many roles, including that of a painter, curator, writer and educationist.

Born in 1964 in Kelantan, she graduated with a Master of Fine Art from the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Braunschweig, Germany in 1996.

Popularly known as Anum in the Malaysian art scene, her latest solo exhibition, Disco Lombok Still Life by Noor Mahnun, will be held at The Edge Galerie from Nov 23 until Dec 10. Over 50 artworks comprising oil on linen paintings and drawings on paper will be on display.

Still life

Trained in Western painting techniques, Noor Mahnun adopts domestic objects as her  subject matter to reflect her notions of femininity and domesticity. Her depiction of home life, although presented in a small rectangular format, is skilfully rendered.

One example is Fish Head, a composition measuring 30.5cm by 30.5cm. Her brushstroke techniques can be seen in the head of the sea bass, particularly on its scales, mouth and fin, lying on a white plate. The flesh, in tinges of pastel pink and lilac, is slightly exposed. The plate sits on a blue-and-green tartan background.

“I chose basic homewares as subject matters because I enjoy domesticity and doing house chores like cleaning, sewing and ironing. I like being at home, perhaps that is why [incidentally] my work studio is located above my apartment, which is convenient,” says Noor Mahnun.

Another familiar kitchen essential is the coffee moka pot. Moka Pot — Single (30.5cm by 30.5cm) and Moka Pot — Family (45.5cm by 31cm) in oil on linen are Western still-life compositions.

Noor Mahnun’s obsessive fascination with geometric patterns, inspired by the grandeur of European architecture, is evident in her works.

“When I first arrived in Berlin in the early 1980s and visited the Neue Nationalgalerie, I was awed by the architecture of Mies van der Rohe … the iron pillars, beams, columns. The building is much better seen and experienced in real life. My interest in patterns and tiles started [then],” she explains.

“My master’s degree paper was about Leon Battista Alberti and his idea on ‘Disegno’. He is definitely a typical Renaissance man. A humanist, author, artist, architect, linguist, mathematician, poet, priest, philosopher and cryptographer,” recalls Noor Mahnun, who is a fan of the Renaissance period.

In Postcard from Tumpat (40cm by 120 cm), Noor Mahnun illustrates the iconic sleeping Buddha sculpture at Wat Photivihan in Kampung Jambu, Tumpat, Kelantan. Spanning 40m, the statue is said to be the longest in Southeast Asia.

“I was trying to capture the naivety of the sculpture. Of being at peace or resting, which brought to mind Francisco Goya’s Sleep of Reason, a favourite artwork. I was also thinking of a painting I saw in Tokyo by Takanobu Kobayashi. But of course, the ‘recline’ theme recurs in the arts, the Etruscan (tomb) murals and the figures on top of their sarcophagi, for example. I find it all intriguing,” says Noor Mahnun.

Disco, Lombok

“All of my solo exhibitions have been associated with a musical performance. I like singing and dancing. Music does play an important part in my life,” says Noor Mahnun.

Thus, disco in this show represents her student days. “The mid-1980s through to the early 1990s were spent in Germany at the height of the rave culture.” Noor Mahnun adds that she witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In the spirit of egalitarianism, techno music unified people from East and West Berlin, she says.

The significance of Lombok in this exhibition relates to her collaborative effort with Dina Zaman, the writer of the book, I Am Muslim. Their collaboration involves The Very Clever King of Lombok, a short story based on a folk tale about the legend of a king on the Indonesian island of Lombok. A number of Noor Mahnun’s drawings are displayed in this exhibition but the compilation is a work in progress and Noor Mahnun is still documenting visual research or images to correspond with the text.

“I am hoping to use the sales proceeds of the Lombok series to visit the island as I continue to research illustrations of the short story. The Very Clever King of Lombok got me deeper into wanting to know more about the Wallace Line between Lombok and Bali. I have always been a fan of Alfred Russel Wallace (a British humanist, naturalist, geographer, and social critic), so it was a good and happy coincidence when Dina approached me with the project. In Volume One of Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-utan and the Bird of Paradise, Chapter XII is solely about how the Rajah took the census. The book itself was dedicated to Charles Darwin,” chirps Noor Mahnun.

Measuring 57cm by 76cm, Postcard from Delhi is a graphite drawing with a watercolour wash on paper based on a postcard from her friend Lim Oon Soon, a graphic designer. Noor Mahnun impeccably illustrates the front of the card as well as the message written at the back in watercolour. The front of the postcard — a reproduction of an old miniature painting — is depicted on the left side of the paper, composed at the centre of a laborious grid pattern in graphite. On the left side, she immaculately illustrates the reverse side of the postcard, complete with a handwritten message, a little drawing and stamp.

Also featured in this show are six watercolour paintings of herself in six personas complete with different hairstyles and flowers either in her hair or in her hand. The artist jokes that “my model was always punctual”.

Another quintessential theme in Noor Mahnun’s oeuvre is squids and insects such as beetles, wasps and moths. Insects have been a favourite subject of hers, alongside geometric patterns, since her days in Berlin.

In Disco Lombok Still Life, Noor Mahnun showcases eight drawings of squids on paper. “The squid, against a repetitive pattern rendered in pencil, works on paper. My obsession started when I took part in My Story, My Strength: Doodle for Change, an exhibition in aid of the Women’s Centre for Change in George Town, Penang, in 2015. At first, I wanted to convey the perseverance and patience of women whose lives are affected by abuse,” she explains.

“But in the process of doing the work, the rendering became an obsession, and I got addicted to drawing not only cuttlefish but also the patience-testing, long attention span this series demanded. I have always done patterns but not in minute detail. What was supposed to be an arduous and challenging task became a delightful preoccupation. I could go on rendering for hours. The squid backfired, I suppose. It was chosen because it is languid in the way it moves. It’s smooth, slippery. But it can also swim speedily. Passive. Aggressive. The phallic shape has connotations. Being a printmaker, I have always admired Katsushika Hokusai’s work and one of them featured an octopus and a woman. It is sensual, and I think ‘sensibility’ is the right word to describe it.”


After returning to Malaysia at the end of 1997, Noor Mahnun kicked off her career in the arts as a graphic designer. In 1998, she staged her first solo exhibition in Malaysia and participated in group shows. In the following year, she taught in several local institutions and continues to lecture on art theory today.

From 2000 to 2001, Noor Mahnun was an artist-in-residence at Rimbun Dahan in Kuang, Selangor. She concluded the programme with an exhibition of paintings inspired by the location and produced on site. Later, she would return to work as an arts manager from 2006 to 2012.

In 2002 and 2003, she took up a scholarship offered by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a printmaking course at Il Bisonte, Florence. Noor Mahnun returned to Kuala Lumpur and ventured into curatorial work at the Valentine Willie Fine Art gallery until 2005. During her stint there, she organised 10 exhibitions by Malaysian and Southeast Asian contemporary artists and wrote the text for the shows.

Noor Mahnun has written over 30 essays and reviews for numerous art shows in Malaysia. She also wrote a paper — Printmaking Archive for Reference, Research, and Regional Link — for a publication by the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for the Asian Public Intellectuals called Encountering Asian New Horizon: Contesting and Negotiating in Fluid Transitions, The Work of 2012-2013.

She is proficient in Bahasa Malaysia, English and German, which allowed her to participate in German-Malay translation workshops organised by Goethe-Institut Malaysia with Holger Warnk and Hedy Holzwarth, lecturers at the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main Institute for East Asian Philology, Southeast Asia Science.

Noor Mahnun has curated fundraising exhibitions such as Artaid16 ‘Love for Sale’ in 2016 and Artaid17 ‘Bebas’ (Freedom) in 2017 in support of the Malaysian Aids Council.

This month, Noor Mahnun will curate and participate in a group exhibition of 21 artists, Hell Heaven, at Cult Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. This project is in collaboration with Sisters in Islam, an organisation that promotes women’s rights “within the frameworks of Islam and universal human rights”.

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Kenny’s Labour of Love

Newly-opened KEN Gallery at Menara KEN TTDI boasts 20,000 sq ft of art space that houses Ken Holdings Bhd chairman’s private art collection and will also feature exhibitions of local and foreign artists.

“I have had the idea to open an art space for more than 10 years,” says KEN Holdings Bhd chairman Datuk Kenny Tan, 60, at a sneak preview of his spanking new KEN Gallery that opened on July 7.  “I have been collecting art for a very long time,” says Tan, as he sat upright at the edge of a plump, leather sofa at his penthouse office.

He recalls that his early artwork acquisitions began in the 1980s. Besides collecting Chinese ink paintings and ceramics, Tan is also an avid supporter of Malaysian contemporary art including the works of Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Chong Siew Ying, Eston Tan and Gan Chin Lee.

“The first time I saw Ahmad Zakii’s painting was at an art dealer’s house in Damansara. And I have never forgotten that painting until today. That was in 1995. It was a painting of two figures in front and back (positions),” says Tan who has modelled for the artist in a painting executed by Zakii two decades ago.

Today, Tan has amassed over 200 artworks by various artists. “It is not about the quantity but the quality of the works, which is why collectors should only buy the best,” points out Tan, who has had a long relationship with international auction house experts dating back to the 1990s.

And he can recall auction room battles for works by Fu Baoshi and other Chinese masters plus a fight or two for prized Chinese porcelain, such as a “Chicken Cup” that got away. But major works by Ding Ying Yong and Bo Yuan, among other ink masters, are now in his collection.

“My aim is to share my personal collection with the public through a rotation of displays at KEN Gallery. It is a small contribution to the community,” adds Tan, who also makes it a point to support and collect local Chinese ink works by Chung Chen San, Cheah Thien Soong , Huang Yao, Datuk Chuk Mor and others.

Housed at Menara KEN TTDI in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur, the gallery space spans about 20,000sq ft in total and is open to the public. Incidentally, the building has a total of 350,000 sq ft of net lettable space. The art space layout comprises a main gallery and three other halls which can be reconfigured with movable wall partitions. It even has a conservation room to restore and repair artworks.

Tan, a prominent property developer and equally passionate art collector, aims to offer his pet project to allow people who own significant artworks but without the space to display them, to hang or install their works at his gallery.

Housed on the mezzanine level of the 13-storey Menara KEN TTDI, the main gallery showcases Tan’s private art collection, which includes modern and contemporary works by distinguished Malaysian artists as well as Chinese calligraphy, paintings and ceramics. Besides Zhongnanhai (Central and Southern Sea) ceramics, there are also Ming and Qing period porcelain exhibited at the Oriental Pavilion, which is laid out as a long corridor of built-in display cabinets that face a panoramic view of the neighbourhood. It even has a private Chinese tea room.

The meticulously-designed gallery space is equipped with sensor lighting and temperature control to keep the artworks in optimum conditions.

For the inaugural exhibitions, Hall 1 features a solo exhibition by Chinese artist Duxi Chen in collaboration with William Fine Art Taipei. Hall 2 showcases acrylic works by Malaysian artist Teh Yew Kiang. Artworks from both solo exhibitions are available for sale.

Kenny Tan Collection

Among the 100-odd artworks selected for display at the main gallery are paintings by Malaysian artists, namely Latiff Mohidin, Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein, Yong Mun Sen, Patrick Ng Kah Onn, Dzulkifli Buyong, Chia Yu Chian, Khoo Sui Hoe, Yeoh Jin Leng,  Khalil Ibrahim, Datuk Sharifah Fatimah, Juhari Said, and more.

Curated by Syed Nabil Syed Nahar of NN Gallery, the inaugural exhibition of the Kenny Tan Collection promises to “provide an insight of who we are as a society, of the people and places, our customs and traditions, our rituals, way of life as well as our environment as expressed in various medium such as oil, acrylic, watercolour, mixed media, pastels, etching, charcoal, ink paintings and batik”, which aptly aligns with KEN Gallery’s theme: “Space that Tells Stories”.

Art conservation

“Collecting good artworks is not easy, maintaining the artworks is also difficult, which is why there is a dedicated space for art conservation here,” says Tan, who believes in the importance of initiating an art conservation programme through KEN Foundation, which offers scholarship programmes to underprivileged students in selected courses. The foundation was established in 1995 to provide financial assistance to undergraduate students.

“I’m thinking of including art conservation as a course in our scholarship programme for those who really like this direction. Besides becoming an artist, they can further their studies in art conservation — a university will enrol them and a professor will train them. They will then have an opportunity to intern here. That way, there will be more art conservators,” explains Tan, who aims to encourage the development of such professionals in Malaysia.

The KEN Conservation Centre at KEN Gallery is led by Prof Lin Huan Shen from the Department of Cultural Heritage Conservation at the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, Douliu City, Yunlin County, Taiwan. The centre provides, “consultation and specialises in the conservation of works on paper, paintings, sculptures, decorative objects and artifacts”.

The Kenny Tan Collection at KEN Gallery is ongoing while the Duxi Chen and Teh Yew Kiang solo shows will end on July 30.

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Eternally Beautiful Blooms

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts alumnus Tang Juey Lee can claim the rare honour of being taught by distinguished Singapore artist Georgette Chen,but his painting style is quite distinct from his late teacher’s.After 40 years of painting, Tang’s rare solo show in Kuala Lumpur encapsulates all that he has learnt and more.

Called “Singapore’s Orchid Artist”, 63-year- old Malaysian painter Tang Juey Lee is better known in the city state — where

he graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in the 1970s — than he is at home. Since the 1970s, Tang has been more active exhibiting in Singapore,where his meticulous style of painting has earned him many acco- lades. He took a 23-year hiatus in the 1990s to establish his own art school and only resumed exhibiting in 2014. Collectors welcomed him back by buying up all of his works.

His exquisite paintings of orchid blooms — typically matched with parrots, geese, roosters and ducks — can be categorised under the flower-and-bird genre of Chinese paintings combined with a Western sense of realism.These works have a following among collectors who, in particular, favour the gongbi style of Chinese art that focuses on a realist technique.

Initially working with watercolours on rice paper, Tang has progressed to using acrylic paint diluted with water to achieve a more vibrant and colourful composition. In only his second one-man show in Kuala Lumpur since 1986,Tang will showcase about a dozen paintings at The Edge Galerie. Prices range from RM5,000 to RM21,000 for each painting.

“I paint what I see,” says Tang in an interview with The Edge at the gallery in Kuala Lumpur, dismissing the notion of downloading images from the internet, a common practice among today’s artists.

Breaking Dawn, 2017, 68cm by 90cm, acrylic on rice paper
Fluttering Grace, 2017, 68cm by 106cm, acrylic on rice paper

The veteran artist says he prefers to observe flowers in full bloom, particularly at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where he practises life sketching to hone his skills in creating liveliness in his compositions.

Tang’s body of work comprises a variety of orchids, such as Dendrobium, Cymbidium or boat orchid, Oncidium (commonly known as golden shower orchid or dancing-lady orchid) Renantanda, Phalaenopsis Blume or moth orchid and more.

“I have painted over 300 different orchid species in the past 40 years,” says Tang.

In addition to the blossoms, he incorporates creatures like carp, squirrels, kittens, chicks as well as insects, including bees and butterflies, in his artworks. “I recently included animals in my paintings to complement the orchids,”says Tang, who began pairing his works of flora with fauna in his in 2013 and using acrylic in 2015.

In Blooms by Tang Juey Lee, the artist is show- casing 20 paintings on rice paper, created in 2016 and 2017.


Employing the traditional bird-and-flower theme, Tang enhances his approach to his subject matter by using acrylic paint on rice paper instead of the conventional ink or watercolours. “I use high quality acrylic paints by Daler-Rowney and imported rice paper dusted with gold flecks from China,” says Tang.

“I choose acrylic over watercolour because of its lasting quality.Its fast-drying effect,which is similar to watercolours, allows me to work on several paintings at a time. The vibrancy of acrylic paint works best for my subject matter.”

Tang’s expressions convey a sense of enjoyment to his viewers.He creates pleasant compositions by carefully placing his choice of flowers with the selected animals.

In Lazy Afternoon (86cm by 96cm), created this year for this show, the red Renantanda orchid is dispersed across the picture plane in harmony with kittens playing with chicks in the foreground. One of the kittens, near a strawberry plant, is depicted in the act of catching a fish in a net.A snail is seen slithering on the ground.

Joyful Bliss, 2017, 90cm by 68cm, acrylic on rice paper
Prosperity Koi, 2017, 90cm by 68cm, acrylic on rice paper

These unique details distinguish Tang as an imaginative and meticulous painter, who does not just focus on portraying orchids in their truest form but adds simple touches to exude happiness and positive vibes. The yellow-green leaves that frame the deep red blooms, which dominate the picture, offer a balanced configuration.

“One of the important elements in my work — besides colour — is composition.My aim is to create harmonious paintings that make people happy,” says Tang.

Prosperity Koi illustrates a school of nine carp, which in Chinese culture is of symbolic significance. The offering of nine koi to new parents is considered one of the best wishes and most meaningful gifts one can give. It signifies success for your children because they possess the two secrets of achievement — determination and flexibility — which are traits believed to be found in koi. The meaning of nine koi extends beyond the story of success and harmony to include luck,wealth and protection.The number nine represents completeness and eternity in Chinese culture.

Fluttering Grace depicts an intriguing combination of the Vanda “Miss Joaquim” orchid with banana trees and a flock of macaws perched on tree branches. Measuring 68cm by 106cm, the artwork, which features Singapore’s national flower, illustrates the landscape of Southeast Asia.

Apparent in Tang’s body of work are visually stimulating lines and shapes. Illustrated in Joyful Bliss is the alluring Phalaenopsis Blume orchid with a company of budgerigars either fluttering in the air or perched on a tree branch. In the 90cm by 68cm work, the common pet parakeets are illustrated in pastel blue and green.

Traditionally,owning or giving such paintings reflects a cultured mind or a person schooled in Chinese aesthetics and customs. It goes beyond displaying something that is symbolic of prosperity or merely wishing good luck.


Born in Johor Baru,Tang was enrolled in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, from 1974 to 1976 and graduated with a diploma in Western Art. Under the tutelage of renowned pioneer Singapore artist, Georgette Chen (1906-1993), Tang learnt to incorporate Eastern sentiments with Western techniques in his paintings.

Paris-trained Chen, a post-Impressionist painter, taught Tang the fundamentals of Western composition. A former educator himself, Tang taught at the college he founded, Raphael Academy of Art, in Johor Baru from 1991 to 1998.

“I was the principal of the now-defunct college and taught watercolours to diploma students for seven years. At the same time, I was creating artworks to sell to collectors in Singapore and Australia,” says Tang. Although his passion for producing orchid paintings is immeasurable, he says he does not have any emotional attachment to his artworks.

“All of my paintings are sold upon completion. I do not keep any of my old works,” he says,when asked if he has an inventory of artworks created over the years.

This is in contrast with Chen, who kept most of her paintings until her death in 1993. Her collection was under the custodianship of the Lee Foundation after her death. Most of her paintings were donated to the Singapore Art Museum in 1994.

Global presence

According to Tang, his artworks are well received in Singapore,Australia and Taiwan and he has exhibited internationally since 1977.

“My first and only exhibition in Kuala Lumpur was in 1986. Now, 30 years later, I have returned to show my new works,” says Tang. Held at Shangri-La hotel, the artist says the 1986 exhibition was supported by Joyce Kuok, the then wife of business tycoon Robert Kuok. Titled The Dream Landscape Series, Tang’s first one-man show in Kuala Lumpur, which showcased over 30 watercolour orchid paintings,was opened by the then Urban Development Authority chairman Tan Sri Murad Mohd Noor.

Tang has produced commissioned works for hotels and restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. His artworks are in the collections of public institutions and corporations, including the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Changi Airport, Citibank, Gulf International Bank, the Shangri-La Group and Royal Holiday Inn in Singapore as well as various private collections abroad.

Link to pdf

Remembering Michael Sullivan

Distinguished Southeast Asian art historian T K Sabapathy remembers his late lecturer, Michael Sullivan, a pioneer in the field of art history in the region.

“No other teacher in my undergraduate years employed language as Sullivan did,” said T K Sabapathy, 78, at a public lecture, “Studying and Writing Histories of Art: A Beginning”, on March 18. Held at Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, in collaboration with University of Malaya, the two hour event, complete with slide presentation, attracted about 100 artists,curators,gallery owners, students and lecturers.

Sabapathy described Michael Sullivan’s impact as an educator, art historian, curator and writer.From 1954 to 1960, Sullivan taught history of art at the then University of Malaya in Singapore. He died in September 2013.

Sullivan’s research and writing on art in Southeast Asia, and how he inaugurated the academic study of art and its history in Malaya and Singapore, was recounted by Sabapathy, an adjunct associate professor with the Department of Architecture of the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore.

The art history teacher examined Sullivan’s role as a curator of archaeological artefacts and art at the University of Malaya Art Museum when it was established in 1955.

“I remember seeing pictures painted in oil and ink by artists from Malaya and Singapore, hung adjacent to ceramic vessels and partial images of Buddha cast in bronze. It was exhilarating. There was nothing like it anywhere else in Singapore, or in Malaya, as far as I can recall. It was part of our daily student life. I felt Sullivan intended to convey relationships between these distant objects forcefully. He may well have intended to provide an environment that was visually stimulating and provoked curiosity,” said Sabapathy.

Life and times

Born in Toronto, Canada, and raised in London, Sullivan studied architecture at Oxford University. Upon graduating, he worked as a volunteer in China during World War Two, delivering medical supplies for the International and Chinese Red Cross organisations.

In 1943, he married Wu Baohuan, a biologist who gave up her career to help him with his scholastic and collecting pursuits. Wu, fondly known as Khoan, died in 2003. “She was his partner professionally. Virtually all of his publications were dedicated to Khoan,” said Sabapathy.

He also offered a glimpse of Sullivan’s personal life. “Khoan and Michael were inseparable. He repeatedly acknowledged how important she had been in his professional life.She made connections,she built bridges, she persuaded patrons to donate artworks to consolidate collections while he was the curator of the art museum in the then University of Malaya in Singapore.

“She was his assistant, dabbling as his secretary, protecting him. She sat at a table in a connecting space between the study and his office. As students, if anyone wished to meet with Sullivan,we had to furnish Khoan with a reason.And convince her of our need to see him. She never denied entry, or access to him.”

Sabapathy quoted Jerome Silbergeld, currently professor of Chinese Art History at Princeton University,as saying,“He (Sullivan) has a wonderfully relaxed disposition, he’s perhaps even a touch shy,very much a gentleman,and always gracious.” Silbergeld was a student of Sullivan’s during his stint as a lecturer and Professor of Oriental Art at Stanford University from 1966 to 1985.

Malayan art

Well-known Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng (1917-1983) famously painted Khoan in a work called Portrait of Khoan Sullivan, 1959.

“Sullivan installed Cheong Soo Pieng on a register apart from other artists,bragging about him more frequently than any other artist, regarding him as the most innovative,imaginative …and as having immense effect. He said: ‘Soo Pieng’s influence on the younger painters of Singapore and Malaya has been powerful and direct. Perhaps too direct.His angular figures,formalised portraits and his expressionistic colours are the mark of a highly sophisticated painter, whose consistent style has given rise to a school of young painters who copy his forms and colours’. And wait for this: ‘Just as the painters of Paris have copied (Pablo) Picasso and (Georges) Braque’.”

Sabapathy added: “I have not come across a published opinion on Soo Pieng [given] in the 1950s that is comparable to Sullivan’s …in such sharpness and in such an exalted tone.”

He highlighted the fact that Sullivan never made any reference to “Nanyang” art. “When he names artists from Singapore, he envisions and represents their creative work not as Singapore art but as Malayan art. Not as Nanyang but as Malayan. I have, by the way, not encountered the term ‘Nanyang’ in any of Sullivan’s writings. That is a matter that could be treated separately.”

Sabapathy: I bid Michael Sullivan adieu. I also salute a wonderful guru who introduced me to the world of art

The Khoan and Michael Sullivan collection

Sabapathy said Sullivan spoke highly of contemporary Malayan art, by referring to it as “the state of our cultures”. “His view was that the students should not only know what was before but be aware of what is culturally and historically (significant).”

He also said that Sullivan was “actively involved with artists and art in Singapore,with organising exhibitions of their works”, just as he did when he was residing in Chengdu, China, in the 1940s. “Hence,works by artists such as Soo Pieng, Chuah Thean Teng and Suri Mohyani were acquired via donation and purchase.”

More than 400 works from the collection of Khoan and Sullivan,acquired over seven decades, have been donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England. The collection includes books, photographs as well as artworks by Chinese painters Qi Baishi (1864–1957), Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Pang Xunqin (1906–1985), Ding Cong (1916-2009) and so on.

Among Sullivan’s significant publications produced during his long and illustrious career as a historian of Chinese art are The Birth of Landscape Painting in China (1962), Symbols of Eternity (1979), The Birth of Landscape Painting in China: The Sui and Tang Dynasties (1980), The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art (1989), Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China (1996), The Arts of China (1973, 1984), Modern Chinese Art: The Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection (2001).

“I bid Michael Sullivan adieu. I also salute a wonderful guru who introduced me to the world of art and, in incalculable ways, sustained me all my life. I thank you,” said Sabapathy, concluding his lecture.

Link to pdf

Contemporary Art That Stands the Test of Time

Highlights of The Edge Auction 2017 to be held on March 5 in Kuala Lumpur includes serious works by some of the most desirable names in Malaysian contemporary art.

Young artists from the 1980s onwards tend to experiment with human figures to express socio-political situations, more than the modernists of the Sixties and Seventies, in response to the era of modernisation and political developments in Malaysia. Since then, the leading contemporary artists who have emerged and are widely recognised today include Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Ahmad Shukri Mohamed, Zulkifli Yusoff, Chong Siew Ying, Kow Leong Kiang, Shia Yih Yiing and rising star Chong Ai Lei.

Thirty of the 118 lots on offer at The Edge Auction 2017 are contemporary artworks by 20 Malaysian artists and dated as early as 1983 up until 2015. On offer are an array of genres from batik art and “Nanyang” style to traditional landscape watercolour paintings, as well as abstract work and contemporary art that encapsulates the country’s current socio-political landscape. The contemporary segment features 30 artworks comprising a number of exceptional figurative paintings as well as non-representational works of art.

Artistic development

At an auction with a range of desirable works, collectors can observe the progression of established artists in terms of style and technique.For instance,Ahmad Zakii is represented in the sale by two distinctive artworks: a pair of paintings illustrating the traditional Balinese dance titled Legong 5 and 7,which are dated 2004 and priced at RM7,500 to RM10,000 for the lot, and a male figure executed in charcoal and acrylic medium on Canson paper. Titled Reclining Figure 6 and dated 2015, this work is 76cm by 182cm with an estimated of between RM48,000 and RM60,000. Both works demonstrate the artist’s ability to observe and render his subject matter with grace and precision.

Similarly, Jalaini’s early work, titled Alam Benda, illustrates his meticulousness as a student rendering still-life objects when the work was created in 1983. The more recent Dolah Ayam, from 2015, reflects his fascination with industrial space following his solo exhibition, Painting Industry, held in Singapore in 2015. Measuring 183cm by 183cm, Dolah Ayam, a nickname used in rural Malaysia to identify cockfighting champions, is estimated at between RM38,400 and RM48,000.The artist is considered one of the early adopters of bitumen in his artistic oeuvre. The discovery of this alternative medium occurred during his student days in New York in the 1990s.According to the artist, it is interesting to note the similarity of the colour tone in both artworks. His attraction to sepia-toned effects seems to have been subconsciously instilled from the treatment of colour in Alam Benda. Dolah Ayam, among a string of his other works, is executed in bitumen and acrylic. Both artworks highlight the artist’s creative progression from 1983 to 2015, preceding the discovery of bitumen and afterwards.


The secondary market provides an opportunity for art collectors to acquire early artworks by mid-career artists. For instance,Chong’s Cattleya is derived from one of the artist’s seminal series from the mid-2000s. The body of work represents a very private chapter in her life. Dated 2007, the work measures 113cm by 120cm and is estimated at between RM20,000 and RM25,000.

Similarly, Ahmad Shukri’s Barcode series 10 and Barcode series 11 were created in 1997.The artist employs butterflies and other insects to represent nature in his creative oeuvre, as a symbol of freedom, beauty and harmony.Ahmad Shukri has always been concerned about the environment and its exploitation, especially the challenges that stem from human greed. Measuring 24cm by 25cm, the works are estimated at between RM4,000 and RM7,000 each.

Raduan Man’s Manusia (2002) oil on canvas, 130cm by 210cm is estimated at between RM18,000 and RM20,000
Zulkifli Yusoff’s Ahmad and his Shadows (1996) is estimated at between RM6,000 and RM8,000. The Ahmad series highlights the duplicity of people

International recognition

Almost all of the contemporary Malaysian artists featured in this sale have participated in exhibitions abroad. One of them, whose presence across the Causeway has been consistent since 1997, is Zulkifli. Going under the hammer in this sale is a charcoal on paper work from his provocative Ahmad series. Dated 1996, Ahmad and His Shadow III,which measures 75cm by 55cm, is expected to fetch RM6,000 to RM8,000. Zulkifli was Malaysia’s sole representative at Modernities and Memories, Recent Works from the Islamic World at the prestigious Venice Biennale, Italy, in 1998. His large-scale installation, titled Rukunegara 2: The Voice, was displayed at T.H.E.O. Arts at Art Stage Singapore in 2013. Another installation, titled Pendita, was exhibited at the Singapore Art Museum’s The Collectors Show — Weight of History that same year. A six-piece suite of installations, titled Rukunegara 1 Belief in God, which occupied a space on the ground floor of the Singapore Art Museum, was featured at Singapore Biennale 2013, themed If the World Changed.

More recently, an installation titled Hujan Lembing di Pasir Salak (2008) is being exhibited at Artist and Empire: (En) countering Colonial Legacies (until March 27) an exhibition presented at the National Gallery Singapore in association with London’s Tate Britain.


Collectors will have a chance to rediscover talents whose early artworks are rarely found on the market, including Fauzan Omar, Yeoh Kean Thai and Choy Chun Wei. Fauzan’s Luminosity series, from the Nineties, consists of a quadruple panel of fabric collage and oil on canvas. Measuring 51cm by 245cm, the artwork is estimated at between RM7,000 and RM10,000.Fauzan obtained his Master’s degree in Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, the US, in 1984.

A solo exhibition was held at the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in November 1990 and in the catalogue, Wong Hoy Cheong — who participated in the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003 — wrote: “They left me an indelible impression — I was at once repulsed and mesmerised.These paintings compelled me to reconsider my earlier opinions.They were hardly formal.They appeared provocative and [too] serious to be dismissed. I needed and wanted to see more.”

Ismail Zain expressed his thoughts on Fauzan’s work in the catalogue, writing: “My feeling is when the dust of demystification finally settled on Abstract Expressionism and its derivatives in this country, some of Fauzan’s works, especially his latest, will emerge as the most significant works to appear at this point in time.”

Anthonie Chong’s figurative paintings from the Nineties are sought after by seasoned collectors. On offer is Seated Nude Figure (1995), measuring 122cm by 91cm and estimated at between RM9,000 and RM15,000,as well as Morning (1998),127cm by 105cm,and set to go under the hammer at the lower estimate of RM14,000.

Choy Chun Wei’s Shredding (2007), mixed media on canvas, 122cm by 122cm is estimated at between RM9,000 and RM12,000
Detail of Reclining Figure 6 (2015) by Ahmad
Zakii Anwar. It measures 76cm by 182cm and was exhibited at the Maritime Silk Road Art Festival 2015, Shanghai, China

Market demand

The regular appearance of an artist’s work at auction may denote demand in the market. For instance, Kow Leong Kiang’s Facescape of Bali 9, dated 2015 and measuring 150cm by 120cm, is estimated at between RM28,000 and RM35,000. Known for his portraits of a young local beauty of the East Coast in idyllic landscapes, Kow has advanced from his rustic and soft treatment to a more gestural approach through his application of brush strokes, as seen in Facescape of Bali 9.

Raduan Man’s early abstract work, Manusia, dated 2002, offers an opportunity for collectors to enhance their collections to include one of his early endeavours in abstract expressionism. Measuring 130cm by 210cm, the artwork is priced at between RM18,000 and RM20,000. Known for his printmaking on canvas technique, the artist has recently re-examined gestural and abstract works with a solo exhibition titled Raduan Man: The Ascension to Abstraction, which was held at White Box @ Publika Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur, last year.

One-off works

One of the advantages of acquiring art at auction is that collectors are able to bid for project-based artworks such as Bayu and Shia’s. Both works on offer were created for The F Klub’s inaugural exhibition, Seated, in 2013. Bayu’s Sitting Waiting Still, dated 2012, measures 133cm by 163cm. Executed in charcoal on canvas, the work is estimated at between RM29,000 and RM35,000.

Shia’s Return Home with Splendour (Brain Drain) is also dated 2012 and is 101cm by 138cm.The oil on canvas work will go under the hammer at the lower estimate of RM10,000.

Buying the works of younger contemporary artists gives collectors the opportunity to track their artistic development as well as the intrinsic value over time. An example is rising star Chong Ai Lei. As a young artist, her works are well-received and widely collected. On offer is Hair Storm 1 and Hair Storm 2. Both artworks are painted in oil on canvas and dated 2015. They measure 120cm by 120cm and estimated at between RM12,000 and RM15,000.The works were exhibited at the Maritime Silk Road Art Festival 2015, in Shanghai, China.

The Edge Auction will also be offering artworks that may appeal to a younger group of collectors due to their attractive price points, namely Simon Ong, Kelvin Chap, Stephen Menon and Calvin Chua. Smaller artworks such as Wong Perng Fey’s mixed media on paper Abstract, dated 1999 and measuring 26cm by 35cm, as well as Wong Chee Ming’s acrylic on paper dated 1996, with the same title, and measuring 45cm by 69cm, are some of the options available for artworks under RM5,000.

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Painting the Southern Seas

The ‘Nanyang’ style, one of the genres that characterises Southeast Asian aesthetics, goes beyond literature and is popular among art collectors in the region.The style is still practised among artists of the current generation.

The history of Nanyang art in Malaysia can be traced to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, there was an increasing number of Chinese arrivals in Malaya, especially in Singapore and Penang, due to the New Culture Movement of the mid-1910s and 1920s, the May Fourth Movement in 1919 and the Sino-Japanese War in China. Encouraged by the “literary intelligentsia” of the time to visualise the words that describe the fertile soil and beautiful people, artists began depicting their newfound home in the style they knew best — by combining Eastern sensibilities and Western techniques — to produce a unique genre known as “Nanyang”.

The term,which means “Southern seas”,was coined in the late 1920s by writers to describe contemporary Chinese narratives based on local subjects. Many of the genre’s artists were art educators and graduates of the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art in Shanghai, Xiamen Academy of Fine Art or Fuzhou Provincial Art Teacher’s Training College. Graduates of the Xinhua Academy of Fine Art included Khaw Sia and Lee Cheng Yong.

The Fuzhou Provincial Art Teacher’s Training College was the alma mater of Lim Hak Tai (1893-1963),founder and principal of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) in Singapore. Established in 1938 as Singapore’s pioneer art institution, Nafa has produced many notable creative professionals and artists over the years, including Kuo Ju Ping (1913-1966), Tan Choon Ghee (1930-2010), Tew Nai Tong (1936-2013), Khoo Sui Hoe, 78, and Seah Kim Joo, 78.

Nanyang art

While Nafa’s categorisation of “Nanyang artists” is debatable,some scholars such as Emelia Ong, programme coordinator of Universiti Malaya’s visual art department, refer to them as “those who taught at Nafa, those who graduated from the academy,and those who shared close relationships with them and played important roles in the shaping of an eclectic approach to art-making”.

Khaw Sia’s Orchids watercolour on paper (1983, 62cm by 26cm) is priced between RM8,000 and RM10,000
Tan Choon Ghee’s Malay Satay Sellers, Penang (1998, 9cm by 15cm), one of three artworks that were painted for the current owner as a greeting card, is estimated at RM1,000 to RM2,000

Going under the hammer at The Edge Auction on March 5 are rare works of art in the Nanyang style as well as paintings influenced by the genre. Priced from RM1,100 to RM5,000 are works by Chee Eng Heng, Loo Hooi Nam, Tan Peng Hooi, Cheung Pooi Yip, Tan Choon Ghee, Yong Look Lam, Choo Beng Teong, Teh Siew Joo, Alex Leong, Ng Woon Lam, Fung Yow Chork, Koh Teng Huat, Tew Nai Tong, Lee Choon Kee, Kuo Ju Ping, Lee Long Looi and Eng Tay.

Paintings in the Nanyang style include picturesque seascapes or landscapes,drawn in the style of Chinese ink paintings or French Impressionism by using either watercolours on paper, oil on canvas or batik techniques.

Tew Nai Tong’s Landscape, which depicts stilt houses, is dated 1988 and measures 37cm by 45cm. Executed in watercolour on paper, its estimated price is between RM4,000 and RM6,000.A similar river scene with stilt houses created in the same medium by Yong Look Lam, dated 1994 and measuring 106cm by 76cm, is estimated at RM8,000 to RM10,000.

Some art in the genre capture the vibrant atmosphere in markets or on the street,showing shoppers and vendors in their traditional attire. Tan Choon Ghee’s Malay Satay Sellers, Penang (1998; 9cm by 15cm) is estimated at RM1,000 to RM2,000.The artwork is one of three created by the artist for the current owner.

Alex Leong’s Campbell Street, Tong Chit Tang (2015; 39cm by 74cm) will go under the hammer at RM4,000 onwards.Cheung Pooi Yip’s Penang Scene (2011; 47cm by 35cm), executed in ink on paper, is estimated at RM1,100 to RM2,100.

In the mid-range segment and estimated at RM6,000 to RM15,000 are artworks by Wan Soon Kam,Khaw Sia,Zhong Pai Mu,Lee Cheng Yong, Tang Juey Lee, Tay Hooi Keat and Chia Yu Chian.

A selection of Lee Cheng Yong’s artworks, including two oil paintings entitled Lucky Toad (circa 1950s; 30cm by 42cm) and Landscape (Banana Tree) — dated 1952 and measuring 44.5cm by 59.5cm — are estimated at between RM15,000 and RM25,000.

A bust sculpture of a man — believed to portray Lee Cheng Yong’s father — made of plaster of Paris,will also be going under the hammer.It is estimated at RM5,000 to RM8,000.According to the current owner, the sculpture is one of a pair — the other, perhaps, depicts the artist’s mother and is said to be in the collection of an institution.

Batik painting

Known as the “father of batik painting”,Datuk Chuah Thean Teng (1914-2008) first incorporated the technique into his artistic endeavours after World War Two, when the batik factory he was operating closed down. On offer at The Edge Auction is a romantic artwork entitled Kampung Scene (circa 1960s; 87.5cm by 59.5cm). It is estimated at RM30,000 to RM40,000.

Estimated at RM10,000 to RM15,000, Chia Yu Chian’s Bukit Tinggi oil on canvas (1972, 45cm by 32cm) comes from a private collection in Penang
Khoo Sui Hoe’s Over the Red River oil on canvas work laid on board (1990, 89cm by 101cm) has an auction estimate between RM35,000 and RM45,000
Lee Cheng Yong’s Lucky Toad oil on canvas painting (circa 1950s, 30cm by 42cm) has an estimated price of RM15,000 to RM25,000
Ismail Mat Hussin’s Farming batik work (circa 2000s, 71cm by 71cm) has an estimated price of between RM15,000 and RM18,000

His grandson, Chuah Seong Hooi, 43, is continuing his legacy.The eldest son of Chuah Siew Teng, Seong Hooi painted Mother and Son, dated 2011 and measuring 85cm by 59.5cm. It is estimated at RM15,000 to RM19,000.

Patrick Ng Kah Onn (1932-1989) first attracted attention when his Batek Malaya, dated 1957,which illustrates a group of Malay womenfolk hanging their sarongs on a wash line,was awarded first prize at the First Southeast Asian Art Conference and Competition 1957 in Manila. On offer at the sale is a mixed media on fabric executed by him in batik technique, entitled Nude Female (circa 1960s; 42cm by 90cm). It is estimated at RM28,000 to RM30,000.

Another batik artist who championed the dry brush and pointillism technique is Toya Lim Khoon Hock, 74. Sunrise (2005; 63.5cm by 102cm) and Gathering (2006; 104cm by 51cm) — two batik paintings mounted on silk scroll — are priced between RM24,000 and RM26,000.

Born in Singapore in 1939 and raised in Terengganu,Seah Kim Joo is recognised for the use of the dye-and-resist batik technique. He won the first prize for two consecutive years at the Malayan Federation Open Art Competition. On offer is an abstract batik work by him entitled Disintegration (circa 1980s; 58cm by 43cm) that is estimated at RM3,500 to RM5,000.

Datuk Tay Mo Leong,79,learnt the wax-fixing technique in Japan and created a breakthrough in the traditional method of “double dye”.He is also known for his Balinese-inspired artwork, one of which is on offer. Entitled Offering Girl, the batik painting (2005; 91cm by 60cm) is estimated at RM8,000 to RM10,000.

A unique batik painting by Ismail Mat Hussin (1938-2015) entitled Farming (circa 2000s; 71cm by 71cm) is estimated at RM15,000 to RM18,000.

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Collecting Southeast Asian Art

The consumption of transnational culture has become an appeal in post-modern society. How and why does one collect regional works of art?

In Southeast Asia, cross-cultural works of art have been circulated regionally and internationally since the mid-1980s and throughout the nineties. It started with the “boom” in Indonesia and the Philippines’ art markets; Malaysia and Singapore’s economic growth; Vietnam’s Đoi Moi reform period; and Thailand’s flourishing commercial art galleries in the mid-nineties,until the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997.

Malaysian art collectors have expanded and diversified their portfolio to include Southeast Asian works of art due to close cultural connection, historical significance and,perhaps, for lucrative investment returns.

At the forefront of Asia’s art market today is Hong Kong, since the inception of Art HK in 2008 until its merger with Art Basel — the organiser of art fairs in Basel and Miami — inaugurating Asia’s first edition in Hong Kong that took place in May 2013.The art fair showcases the best of Eastern and Western art.

In 2011,Art Stage was established in Singapore, focusing on contemporary Asian art and was first held at Marina Bay Sands’ Sands Expo & Convention Centre. It is now into its seventh edition (Art Stage Singapore 2017 will take place from Jan 12 to 15 at the centre),with a branch installed in Jakarta last August, elevating the status of the Art Stage brand into Southeast Asia’s boutique commercial art fair.

Other art fairs in the region include Art Jog in Jogjakarta, Art Fair Philippines in Manila, Art Expo in KualaLumpur,andAffordableArtFair in Singapore. But one of the oldest fairs of Asian contemporary art is the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) at the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane. It showcases contemporary art series, which started in 1993.According to its website, “the APT series has drawn more than three million visitors with its unique mix of visual spectacle and cross-cultural insight” for more than two decades. Although the triennial fair is mainly educational rather than commercial, it is a significant occasion for the participating artists representing their respective countries to increase their professional artistic merits, just like the world’s most prestigious Venice Biennale, which was founded in 1895.

Other important biennales (biennials) and triennials in Asia are the Taipei Biennial (founded in 1992), Gwangju Biennale (founded in 1995), Shanghai Biennale (founded in 1996), Yokohama Triennale (founded in 2001),and Singapore Biennale (founded in 2006).


Ever since the world’s two main auction houses — Christie’s and Sotheby’s — relocated their sales of Southeast Asian arts from Singapore to Hong Kong in 2002 and 2008 respectively, the gap in the market has been filled by local regional auction houses such as Borobudur Auction, 33 Auction, The Edge Auction, and Henry Butcher Art Auctioneers.

In the fifth edition of The Edge Auction on March 5, an exciting range of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art will be featured. Representing Indonesia are the likes of John van der Sterren,78; Josephine Linggar, 73; Heri Dono, 56; Ugy Sugiarto, 48; Hudi Alfa,47; Agus “Baqul” Purnomo, 41; Riki Antoni, 39; I Dewa Ngakan Made Ardana, 36; Hendra ‘Blankon’ Priyadhani, 35; Saman and Hardi Marsono. And from Vietnam are Hong Viet Dung, 54, and Phuong Quoc Tri, 40, who will be offering artworks for the first time.

The appeal of Indonesian art stems from cultural and historical values,where artistic expressions are influenced by the people and natural landscape of the archipelago, external exposure to China, the Middle East and Europe, and contemporary social and political climate. Most of the modern Indonesian artworks contain elements of romanticism as pioneered by Raden Saleh, the 19th-century Arab-Javanese painter renowned for his romantic-naturalistic works during the Dutch East Indies period in Indonesia.

A popular genre called “Mooi Indie” (Dutch for beautiful Indies) was developed during colonial Dutch East Indies, depicting the quixotic scenes of the colonial Indies. Echoing the style of his ancestors, John van der Sterren, who was born in Sukabumi,West Java,in 1938 created an Impressionist-style landscape oil painting on canvas circa 1990s, measuring 60cm by 70cm. Priced at about RM13,000 to RM17,000, this work will make its debut at The Edge Auction in March.

Another work that captures the nostalgic scene of yesteryear is award-winning Hudi Alfa’s oil painting Old Batavia II. Painted in 2015 and measuring 60cm by 80cm, the monochromatic streetscape of Jakarta pre-1949 carries a price tag

of about RM6,000 to RM8,000. An illustrator by profession before becoming a painter, Hudi Alfa is also known for his figurative paintings as represented in two other works on offer: Winner Takes All (dated 2006), measuring 130cm by 93cm, and featuring a cockfight scene, and Three Dancers (2015), measuring 80cm by 100cm. Both oil on canvas works are priced at RM6,000 to RM8,000.

Vietnamese artist Hong Viet Dung’s Summer Morning (dated 2011) will make its debut at The Edge Auction, priced at RM30,000 to RM50,000

In the contemporary segment, collectors will have an opportunity to acquire an abstract expressionist work on canvas by Agus “Baqul” Purnomo,Twilight #2. Painted in 2013 and measuring 200cm by 180cm, this vibrant painting depicts “random numeric sequencings that collide with colour and brushstroke to create a rich and dynamic tapestry of various skies throughout the day”,according to the text written by curator Eva McGovern for Agus’ solo exhibition, Numbers in the Sky,held during Jogja Contemporary at Sangkring Art Space in 2012.By using purple hues as a base and yellow to accentuate the roman numerals on the foreground, the effervescent aesthetics of Twilight #2 is priced at RM7,000 to RM10,000.

A member of the Ace House Collective, an artist collective based in Jogjakarta, Hendra “Blankon” Priyadhani is a contemporary visual artist who incorporates found objects from flea markets in his two or three-dimensional mixed-media works. On offer is a quartet of wall sculptures Re-United of Post Power Syndrome created from 2014 to 2016 and priced at RM1,300 to RM2,600 each.

Similar to Indonesian art, Vietnamese art had evolved since the beginning of the 19th century when French artistic influence spread into Vietnam. In the early 20th century, the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine (Indochina College of Arts) was established to educate students on European artistic methods. The college exercised its influence mostly in Hanoi and Saigon.

A graduate of the Hanoi Industrial College of Fine Art in 1984, Hong Viet Dung has exhibited his works in countries like Russia, Germany, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Norway, the US,Australia and the UK.A devout Buddhist, Hong’s works capture the calmness and serenity of nature. Up for sale at the upcoming auction is Summer Morning (dated 2011). The yellow landscape, measuring 135cm by 155cm, depicts the soft silhouette of a mangrove forest by the river and a solitary boat. It is tagged at RM30,000 to RM50,000.The current owner acquired the oil painting from an art gallery in Hong Kong.

Another Vietnamese work on offer is a portrait of a young woman by Phuong Quoc Tri, whose main themes include women from the minority tribes,nudes and women in traditional ao dai dresses. Measuring 130cm by 110cm, Highland Lady (dated 2011) depicts the beauty of a Degar woman.Also known as Montagnard, the Degar are indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Executed on a large scale but with minimal palette, the artwork is estimated to be sold at RM15,000 to RM20,000 at the auction.

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