Sarong and paint brushes: Malaysian artists have always embraced the WFH lifestyle


WFH? No problem! Malaysian artists (from left) Datuk Lat, Datuk Hoessein Enas and Fadilah Karim have shown us how they have captured the WFH lifestyle in their art. Photos: Handout

Sarong and singlet for the work day ahead. Check. Getting your job done as you carry your toddler in the studio space. Check. The loyal pet dog bringing cheer and keeping you company in the wee hours of the morning. Check.

Those routines sound familiar, enough?

The Work From Home (WFH) culture, which has been widely encouraged in Malaysia since the movement control order was implemented a year ago, is now the new normal, despite the challenges it faced during the lockdown months.

For Malaysian artists (through the generations), this “new normal” isn’t such a novelty, especially since WFH is part of the art community’s everyday routine even before the pandemic.

When it comes to those in the art scene, especially painters, sculptors, cartoonists and illustrators, their careers are tied to hours of being alone in the studio, seeking inspiration and working.

We’ve dug up a few self portraits to prove that artists have always been ahead of the WFH phenomenon. Here are some of our picks:

Self Portrait (circa 1950s) by Kuo Ju Ping

As one of the early Malayan painters, Kuo (1913-1966) was the epitome of the struggling artist in his day, and, it is believed, he never sold a single painting during his lifetime. This self portrait gives us a glimpse of the China-born Kuo working on a painting in his studio. Looking smart and comfortable in cotton shirt, this pioneer artist took the old school style seriously. Kuo's love for French Impressionism would also show up in many of his works. He was from the pioneering batch of students at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art in Singapore and a founder member of the Penang Chinese Art Society in 1936.

Self Portrait (1966) by Datuk Hoessein Enas

If only everyone could rock a singlet and sarong look like the late great Malaysian artist Datuk Hoessein Enas in this self portrait. Looking relaxed, the artist is in his element, with paint brushes in hand, at his studio in Damansara Heights in KL. His vinyl player can be seen in the background. This painting was used as the catalogue cover for the Dato’ Hoessein Enas: From His Personal Collection exhibition, which was Ilham Gallery’s first show in 2015. WFH has never looked so cool. Maybe, we can take a leaf out of the Father of Malaysian portrait painting’s book.

Lat & Gang (1987) by Datuk Lat

In this 1987 comic book, Datuk Lat shows us he was ahead of his time with this hilarious WFH scene. Here on the book’s cover, Lat is seen in his sarong (such a pandemic-era look!), working on a comic strip while his two children hung out in the room. Even his record player and array of LPs prove Lat was plugged in to what has re-emerged as a home essential now for hip cartoonists and artists. In the comic book scene later, Lat has a record by Tan Sri S.M. Salim on.

Diary Of A Work-From-Home Dad (2020) by Zid

Comic book artist Zid started documenting his fatherhood journey in Diary Of A Work-From-Home Dad, single-page comic stories (on Facebook) about raising two girls while juggling work, in 2019. With the pandemic and MCO last year, Zid’s series intensified as he created more art while being around for his family. In this work, Zid captures the long days of the same stay home routine during lockdown.

Living Room (2020) by Haslin Ismail

Remember the quiet and peace of working at your own desk? We won’t blame you if you don’t, especially if you’re a parent. After spending nearly a year working from home, with your kids running around the house, you know the distractions. That’s what contemporary artist Haslin Ismail tried to capture in this colour pencil drawing produced last year during the movement control order. Haslin might be used to working in his home studio. The difference – during the lockdown – was that his children were with him all day long.

Moment (2020) by Gan Tee Sheng

There is a certain melancholic tug to this oil painting by KL-based artist Gan Tee Sheng. The 37-year-old Gan depicts the loneliness of an artist, surrounded by nothing but his artworks. There is a longing in the artist’s face. The only “friend” he has is his loyal dog, ready to play with a red ball by its side. Gan is seated bolt upright on his bed, with a pencil and a plate of cake lying next to him. In his art subject matter, Gan is known to pay attention to inner feelings and thoughts.

Routine (2020) by Fadilah Karim

How do you juggle motherhood and a career? In this painting, Fadilah depicts what it’s like to be a full-time artist and a mother. This pandemic-era painting shows Fadilah carrying her two-year-old daughter in her studio, while working on a piece of canvas. This has become her daily routine which Fadilah has confidently embraced. This painting was one of her new works at the A Decade: Fadilah Karim 2010 – 2020 exhibition in KL last December.

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