Queen Elizabeth in Malaysian art: How local artists depicted her


A close-up detail of J. Anurendra’s 'Portrait Of My Mother As The Queen' (2010). Photo: Wei-Ling Gallery

According to Guinness World Records, the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died last Thursday (Sept 8), owns the most extensive art collection of any member of royalty, and the world’s largest private art collection.

This includes thousands of paintings and some 450,000 photographs.

In the spirit of her fondness for art, we look at a few contemporary artworks by Malaysian artists that feature the queen.

J. ANURENDRA
'Portrait Of My Mother As The Queen' (2010)

This work by the Melbourne-based Malaysian artist J. Anurendra (or better known as Anu) is based on Italian painter Pietro Annigoni’s 1955 portrait of Queen Elizabeth, which was commissioned by London’s Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.

In Annigoni’s work, a young Queen Elizabeth stands in a pastoral landscape, wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter.

Anu’s portrait is inspired by this famous artwork, reprints of which were hung in many pre-Merdeka colonial government offices as well as homes, including his grandmother’s house.

"Love her or leave her, Empire certainly shaped our view of the world," wrote Anu in an Instagram post about Queen Elizabeth's legacy.

Photo: A+ Works of Art Photo: A+ Works of Art

CHONG KIM CHIEW
'Malaya And British Borneo One Dollar 1953' (2020)

Chong's uses a silhouette of the Queen in this acrylic and paper on canvas reproduction of a banknote that existed during the British Malaya era. It was shown at the Ready But Postponed Or Cancelled group exhibition in 2020 at the A+ Works of Art gallery in KL.

Queen Elizabeth holds the record for the most currencies featuring the same individual – her image appears on at least 33 different currencies, including in Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

From 1953 to 1967, the Malaya and British Borneo dollar currency was used in Malaya, Borneo and Singapore.

In this artwork, Chong flips the front of a Malaya and British Borneo dollar banknote to imagine an alternative history, one filled with ambiguity to imply that not all of history is straightforward and as depicted.

By inverting the front-side of the dollar note and painting the silhouette of the back of the Queen’s profile, he explores the darker sides of our nation’s historical narrative that may remain concealed.

He pushes this concept further by distorting the border of the dollar note. In an attempt to see land from a colonist’s perspective, Chong binds its content within an abstract landscape.

Photo: Hirzaq HarrisPhoto: Hirzaq Harris

HIRZAG HARRIS
'Hidden Invaders II' (2021)

Hidden Invaders II by Hirzaq Harris is a large-scale acrylic work inspired by the humble Straits Settlement 1cent stamp, which was commonplace during the British colonial era.

As a personal backstory, Hirzaq places his own pre-artist career in this work. After finishing school, he worked as a postman to save up for university. This is the artist’s way of remembering where he started in life.

“Stamps remind me of my origins. I love anything that arrives with a postage stamp. There is just something about knowing that someone’s breath and hands were on the letter,” he says.

This work was also part of a pandemic-era group exhibition last year.

Photo: Chang Yoong ChiaPhoto: Chang Yoong Chia

CHANG YOONG CHIA
'B For Brexit' (stamp collage, 2019)

Chang Yoong Chia is no stranger to using postage stamps in his artwork. In 2010 and 2011, he made Queen E’s Solo Performance and Queen E’s Private Moment. These artworks are made entirely out of postage stamps that were cut and glued back together to form new images.

"I chose to make the images of Queen Elizabeth II because she was on many countries’ postage stamps and I saw her as a glimmering symbol of the colonial era - an era that was almost gone and transforming into something else," he says.

Lately, he has been making images of Queen Elizabeth II out of postage stamps again. But this time, he no longer sees her as a symbol of the past.

"Instead I see her as an incapable observer in the world that has already transformed into something else. In this something else, we face existential threat to our very existence, with lessening resources and diversity. We see our rights eroded away as we become data to be manipulated, to be enticed and/or attacked ... and to be replaced eventually.

"So now we all are becoming like Queen Elizabeth II, relishing in our comfort zones while peering anxiously out the window. This work was completed after a brief visit to London in 2019. Brexit hovers like a dark cloud over many people I had spoken to there," he adds.

Photo: Hakim Abdullah Photo: Hakim Abdullah

HAKIM ABDULLAH
'Her Majesty: A Pencil Point Of View From Malaysia' (2022)

In conjunction with Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee and 96th birthday, the British High Commission Kuala Lumpur held a reception here in June.

Queen Elizabeth II’s portraits - through the decades - by KL-based pencil artist Hakim Abdullah (aka Pencil Ninja) were displayed at the venue. These portraits of the Queen are featured in five bespoke albums, the first of which was presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace by the British High Commissioner of Malaysia Charles Hay, earlier in the year.

Hakim, known for his highly-detailed pencil portraits, embarked on this project during the first pandemic lockdown in March 2020. Around 100 portraits are featured in this limited edition book.

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