To the center of the painting lies a still figure embedded by multiple arrows, a somber imagery closely reminded me from the story of Benkei Musashibo, who, according to legend, died standing full of arrows piercing through his body to protect his master, Yoshitsune Minamoto. On the left-hand side of the painting is a figure of a man, illogically afloat using a child bicycle while adorning a red cape, akin to that of popular fictive superhero, Superman.

His face, however, were made non-distinguishable due to the light reflected from a classical nako glass window, a common sight of a Malaysian flats, and of lower- and middle-class home. Lastly to the left, an easel can be seen with an undiscerned painting overlooked by an undiscerned portrait. Interpretively through these arrays of characters, Kok Hooi had brought upon many distinct character and story of many possibilities which encompasses emotional values from different narrative, settings and distinctive history both mythological and based on object of reality within one thematic, which can perhaps be connoted to the theme of sacrifice, expectations, drama and dilemma.

 On the bottom left of the painting is an almost hidden book called Art Competitions for Dummies with a picture of the National Art Gallery building on the cover, perhaps a critic on the judging process of national competition.

The manifestation of an artist struggle with competition & recognition, with the leaning of art styles, ideologies identity, history and geo-cultural acceptance, an important thematic prevalent to Malaysian art from the 70s to early 2000s. Alike to contemporary art, it is a constant struggle of devotion, sacrifice, the pursuit of distinctions, worldview and aesthetics that defines ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art to the masses, whether you are well read or otherwise, in the introductive phase.


Link to the reference painting

The Intervention of the Sabine Women – Wikipedia

Artist: Jacques-Louis David


Dimensions: 385 cm × 522 cm

 (152 in × 206 in)



Roskhalida Sabihan had wrote a statement for this work that was made for the SAKSI exhibition.

According to the catalog:

‘’ on 12th April 1956 communist terrorist had blown a railroad in Tapah, Perak. By using classical colors this painting is rendered with such a mood as such for the documentation of history in the future’’ (SAKSI – suatu apresiasi kisah sejarah melalaui seni, 2003)

Based on the statements and visual rendition, it can be deduced that Rosekhalida reframed the event under the title Darurat Di Tanah Melayu, which translates to Emergency in Malaya/ Malayan Emergency. And that the painting was made in 2002 in conjunction to an exhibition & competition program called SAKSI held in 2003 by the National Art Gallery. Rosekhalida artworks were part of the exhibition catalog and are also one of six collected in 2006, four years after the program, alongside Awang Azmi Awang Bakar, Mohd Rizauddin Romainor, Suhaidi Razi, Ismail Kadir, Haron Mokhtar and Kang Ah Sim.



 Info Peristiwa : Letupan landasan keretapi oleh pengganas PKM – The Malaya Post (Retrieved 31/01/2022)

‘’Pada 12 April 1956, sebuah landasan kereta api di Tapah, Perak telah diletupkan oleh pengganas Parti Komunis Malaya (PKM).

Letupan itu menyebabkan kepala sebuah kereta api bersama lapan gerabak barang yang sedang melalui landasan tersebut tergelincir. Pihak PKM telah menggunakan dinamit untuk meletupkan landasan tersebut dan ia merupakan kejadian kegelinciran kereta api paling dahsyat dalam sejarah darurat negara.Meskipun tiada kehilangan jiwa dan hanya tiga individu dilaporkan cedera, namun negara terpaksa menanggung kerugian lebih RM100,000 atas segala kerosakan yang berlaku. Tindakan PKM itu sebagai sabotaj bagi melemahkan sistem ekonomi dan perdagangan pemerintah, di samping menimbulkan rasa takut dan bimbang dalam kalangan rakyat dan pekerja awam. (THEMALAYAPOST. 1956)’’



SANUBARI was the title for a photography exhibition celebrating photographer Nirmala Karuppiah back in 2015, a graphic designer from 1996 to 2005. Nirmala was noted to be a freelance photographer from 2005 up to 2015 (SANUBARI – portraits in motion, a solo exhibition by Nirmala Karuppiah, 2015)  In the preface of the catalog, The chairman, Dato’ Mahadzir Lokman noted the exhibition of the collection of works are an exhibits of Nirmala’s works that at least spanned two decades of passion and efforts in pursuant of the subject of dance through photography.

In the catalog, Nirmala covered three distinct characteristic and types of dance, namely labeled Odissi, Main Puteri and also Cantonese Opera. It was noted that only some of the works within the documentation was exhibited. SANUBARI was given additional context in regards to Nirmala’s journey through curator Sarah NH Voegler, whom had managed to distinctly written about Nirmala’s process and concerns involving the documentation of the three major subjects in the exhibition showcasing her concerns from past exhibitions and how it entails her aesthetical approach for her concurrent projects.

Nirmala had multidisciplinary practices before she was a photographer; a designer, and enthusiast of dance culture and photography artist. Nirmala’s recent works were covered in a 2018 News Strait Time (NST) article entitled ‘’To Papa With Love’’ by NST journalist Intan Maizura Ahmad Kamal covering Nirmala recent exhibition works of photography narrating her experience with her late father who lost a battle with Parkinson, pneumonia and stroke. The exhibit, according to Intan, the article thoroughly covered the exhibition, inclusive interview and highlighted three of her major exhibition, which is FLUID LUCIDITY(2006), CAPTURING TWILIGHT(2010) and SANUBARI: Portraits in Motion (2015).



Muram Serius is among the early 70s Malaysian modern & post-modern work in the collection which had applied photographic elements. Based on the inventory of the national permanent collection, the works entered the collection alongside Statement I by Nirmala Shanmughalingam, followed by an etching with a negative print by Abdul Latiff Mohidin entitled ‘Keluarga”, and another etching piece that combines two photographs into one composition entitled” Menanti Godot I” by Sulaiman Esa.



KELUARGA by Abdul Latiff Mohidin is one among two of the earliest printmaking works by Abdul Latiff Mohidin that was acquired into the collection. The artwork visualized a negative photographic print consisting of 3 figures at the bottom of the work that was composed with long totemic rectangular structure that at first glance, resembled embedded patterns alike to scribbles of writings, divided by a fine line of negative space.

Abdul Latiff Mohidin was born on 1941 in Lenggeng, Negeri Sembilan. He attended Kota Raja Malay School in Singapore, and held his first ever exhibition at said school and since known as “the magical boy with the gift in his hands” due to its success. He later flew to Berlin to further his study at Academy of Arts on full scholarship (Deutscher Akademischer Austrauschdiesnt) from 1960 to 1964.

He found his passion in writing and birthed his writing career that mainly focused on Southeast Asian art after returning from Germany and travelled throughout Indochina. His first establishment as a poet was via his collection of poems Sungai Mekong which published in 1971.

Abdul Latiff Mohidin is considered as one of Malaysia’s most successful modern masters with regional and international acknowledgement for his contribution toward the Abstract Expressionism movement within the South East Asia Region.



This work was first exhibited in 1973 and had won the Major award for the show entitled ‘’Manusia dan Alamnya.  It is also one of the earlier social commentary works based on environmental issues that was acquired for the collection, a juxtaposed effort and pre-cursor towards contemporary art that is universal in its context.


In 1981, an article by Redza Piyadasa chronicled context of the work Statement 1 by Nirmala Shanmughalingham as followed:

 ‘’Pada tahun 1973 juga Pn Nirmala mengemukakan satu karya konseptual yang kompleks untuk pertandingan Man and his World anjuran Muzium Seni Negara. Ianya memaparkan dokumentasi fotografi tentang satu tempat di Kuala Lumpur yang dikajinya untuk beberapa bulan. Juga dikemukakan rajah, carta dan lain-lain maklumat berkaitan tempat tersebut, dahulu dan sekarang. Lebih penting, beliau membawa bersamanya ke galeri contoh-contoh tersebut untuk dimasukkan sebagai sebahagian dari ‘pernyataan’nya. Karya yang mendedahkan keterlibatan pelukis sepenuhnya kepada karyanya itu telah dianugerahkan Hadiah Utama. Bagi Pn Nirmala, penerimaan anugerah tersebut meyakinkan bahawa senilukisnya harus mencerminkan isu-isu sosial.[1]

– Redza Piyadasa, 1981

(Redza Piyadasa, 1981, NIRMALA SHANMUGHALINGAM Diperkenalkan oleh Redza Piyadasa, SENILUKIS TANAHAIR, BINDER 2, NIRMALA SHANMUGHALINGAM, p2, pgh 3, line 1-15, PUSAT RUJUKAN SENI’’



Quoting from Piyadasa (2002); in regards to his Malaysian Series:

“This mixed media work produced by the artist belongs to the series of images that have come to be collectively known as the Malaysian Series. It was produced in 1982 and was one of the very first of the series of art works that were initially begun in that year. The artist, who had been involved with Conceptual art practices until then, had decided to move toward figurative art concerns and had embarked on a new series of art works depicting the different multi-ethnic communities that make up to the complex Malaysian social matrix. The decision had been motivated by the artist’s personal need to counter the overt Malay-Islamic ethnocentric proclivities prevalent during that period. The series, undertaken over the next several years, would go on to encompass the social histories of the different ethnic groups such as the Malays, the Baba Chinese, the Sinkeh Chinese, the Tamils, the Eurasians, the Indian Muslims, the Punjabis, the Sinhalese and yet other Malaysian communities.

A feature of the artistic experiments had involved the artist’s use of carefully chosen old, period photographs as the starting point of his image-making pursuits. These imaged reproduced in the artist’s works are thus twice removed from reality. Photographs are the modern age’s most visible historical records and they record the stories of ordinary men and women today. The artist’s work is thus about actual persons who have lived and died. There is an element of realism here. The resultant works, imbued with specially worked-out colouristic effects, enable the projection of nostalgic moods that highlight the period quality of the works, as well as the peculiarities inherent in the particular person or ethnic group. This particular work depicts two upper class Malay women, derived from a photographic image made in 1908.

The Malaysia art historian Zainal Abidin Shariff has described the Malaysian Series thus: “They offer us reminders of the historical background of present-day Malaysian social make-up; of multi-cultural realities, of migration and cultural assimilation; of traditions and heritage; of political and social history. They beckon Malaysian to confront their past.”

– Masterpieces from The National Art Gallery of Malaysia, 2002. National Ar Gallery Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur.

 Further information in regard to the Malaysian series and other body of work by Piyadasa can be done through PIYADASA An Overview 1962-2000 (Sabapathy, 2001)


Among the titles in the series set by Piyadasa are:Baba Family, Mamak Family, Sinhalese Family and Malaysian Indian Family. Two of the Malaysian series made acquisition in 2007, they are titled ‘’Sikh Mother and Children’’ and ‘’Malay Couple’’.Reframing & reconstructing a picture or idea has always been the task of writers, curators, artists, photographer, policy makers, even frame maker.

The art and curatorial practices of Piyadasa put high importance in knowing the context, bridging the importance for audience to understand the relation between archive and contemporary arts,The artworks signify the importance of artist statement, curatorial writings & documentation to help audience better understand issues, given the importance of the objective and message behind them that the artist is trying to convey.



‘’After effectively rejecting Western-centric art, Sulaiman was in an impasse. However, it was during this period he produced a controversial pieces Waiting for Godot- a series of open plate intaglio prints. It was a critical moment in his life now that he had negated western art that he had been obsessed with for more than two decades. Complex questions “Is he a Malay, Muslim and a Malaysian?

How would he reconcile his Islamic roots and Islamic elements in art?” assail his conscience and consciousness. It was within this soul-searching period he produced Waiting for Godot series. The provocative combination of female nude underneath the Islamic architecture is a metaphor for western art tradition as distraction that impede proper contemplation of the Divine.

Islamic ornamentations as background represent Islamic art and the grace brought by His blessing. Controversial as the work was, he won an award in the ‘Printmaking Competition’ organised by the National Art Gallery.

To Sulaiman, waiting for Godot series could be regarded as his self-portrait reflecting his predicament then. During these intense soul-searching periods, he could not but became deeply moved by the new bearing specifically Islamic worldview on Malay art tradition.’’’

-Writings from the website of Sulaiman Esa. Retrieved 15 May 2022.

Copyright © 2021 Sulaiman Esa · All Rights Reserved- link:


Sulaiman’s composition in Waiting for Godot visually clarified the identity crisis in the combination of both Eastern and Western values; making prominent Malaysia’s collision of cultural subjects, beliefs system and values. The artwork was severely criticized for imposing a polarity of subject, tiptoeing between beliefs, critical assessment of reality & cultural sensitivity.

This piece was only acquired 3 years later, perhaps because it played a clear role in signifying a real and major visual polemic of identity politics in the development of Contemporary Malaysian Art.


Dr Sulaiman Hj Esa was born on 12 September 1941. He received his art education in Hornsey College of Art, London from 1962 to 1967 for both Diploma and Post-graduate studies. He later on proceeded to pursue an MA in Fine Art from Maryland Institute College of Art between 1979 to 1981. Sulaiman Esa received his Ph.D in Islamic Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia (1986-1996)


The National Art Gallery had held a solo retrospective show for Dr. Sulaiman Esa, curated by Nur Hanim Khairuddin an artist and curator.

According to Nur Hanim Khairuddin (2011):

‘‘Only in 1977 he felt called to produce a new series, Waiting for Godot. These photo etching express the severity of not only the crisis of art identity but also socio-psychological predicament encountered by Sulaiman. This series could also be read as the portrayal of cultural conflict in modern Malaysia, particularly among the Malay-Muslim community. In each of these works, the pictorial plane is divided into two spaces filled with two diametrically opposing iconic symbols: first, an image of nude woman in different sensual poses – Sulaiman proclaims it a representation of his psychological self; Niranjan interprets it as ‘’a symbol for the Western tradition of art as for the distractions that impede the proper remembrance of God’’-; second, arabesque patterns and Islamic calligraphic texts copied from a mosque in Cordova or Alhambra. ‘’After I hung it on my office wall… one day my Head of School came in… he was shocked and exclaimed, ‘What is this?’ I said, What’s wrong? He replied, ‘It’s the ayat Quran and you put nude woman there!’




This painting was documented in 1986, in Ibrahim Hussein a Retrospective held at the National Art Gallery. It was collected 5 years before the retrospective alongside 3 other work the same year. The first painting in the collection that was made in 1969 was donated by Dunlop Malayan Industries, Entitled Tumult. The National Art Gallery began collecting works by Ibrahim since the mid-1960s to the 80s, totaling of 8 artworks both from acquisition and donation.



 ‘’Spanning twenty-three years (since 1963), Ibrahim Hussein has been exhibiting in solo exhibitions, group shows, national exhibition and representing Malaysia in international Biennales and Triennale. Ibrahim Hussein hails from Kedah, a state which has produced a number of artists who have made pronounced mark In the development of art in Malaysia—among them are the late Ibrahim Abu Bakar, Ismail Zain, Joseph Tan, Khoo Sui-Hoe, Sharifah Fatimah Zubir,Amron Omar,Anuar Rashid and Lye Yau Fatt. In the context of the Malaysian art scene, Ibrahim Hussein is a successful artist with a single-minded sense of purpose, involvement, dedication. His name has become popularly known in Malaysian society. In the social scene, Ibrahim has achieved a measure of success—making him a standard by which young artist aspire to reach’’

– Dato’ Azman Hashim.

Chairman, Board of Trustee National Art Gallery. FOREWORD. IBRAHIM HUSSEIN A RETROSPECTIVE, 1986.



Today, coloring and desaturating of photograph can be done digitally on the computer, making this work, after the fact uniquely resemble two period of time within the past. Alex Moh exploration regarding photography began as early as 1997, throughout his career, Alex is an avid researcher, critic, curator and also photographer. Over the years, Alex had coordinated many photographic projects & activities. Among Alex Moh major contributions to the National Art Gallery was for the curation of the publication History & Beyond Malaysian Photography from 1900 to the Present Day (2004) and Loke Legacy (2005). In 2004, Alex Moh donated 2 photograph titled Single & Couple Pair. In 2005, In line with the History & Beyond project Alex Moh facilitated the way for 149 Lambda prints of historical photographs to be donated to the National Art Gallery as the permanent collection.