Family reunions to satay sellers: Ilham Gallery's Malaysian art story


Yau Bee Ling's 'Home Dinner II (Family Series)' from 1995, which is part of the Ilham Gallery art collection. Photo: Ilham Gallery

A colourful painting by contemporary artist Yau Bee Ling, which will resonate with many Malaysians this Chinese New Year, is an artwork picked by Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur for its festive greetings on social media.

It is part of Yau's Home Dinner II (Family Series) from 1995, an early work which is in the Ilham Collection.

Ilham Gallery, which has launched a digital resource (using more than 500 selected works from its collection), now allows art lovers and curious individuals to explore and learn more about such Malaysian paintings.

Available on its website (click “Ilham Collection”), this digital public resource introduces the masses to a selection of significant Malaysian and regional works.

Ilham Gallery’s collection also includes 'Satay Seller' (batik, 1970) by Datuk Chua Thean Teng (1912-2008), who is regarded as the Father of Malaysian batik. Photo: Ilham GalleryIlham Gallery’s collection also includes 'Satay Seller' (batik, 1970) by Datuk Chua Thean Teng (1912-2008), who is regarded as the Father of Malaysian batik. Photo: Ilham Gallery

Artist biographies and backstories are included with images of the artworks, plus suggested reading material and discussion questions.

“During the pandemic, we started thinking seriously about the Ilham Collection and its potential. Unlike most private museums, we do not have permanent exhibitions of our collection. So how could we bring these works into the public eye, beyond our exhibition space? How could we use the collection to tell the story of Malaysian art to the public, particularly to students, many of whom have very little exposure to Malaysian art history? How do we use it as an education tool?” says Ilham Gallery director Rahel Joseph.

Over the last year, the team documented key works from the collection and put them online, allowing the public to access the collection as well as find out more about Malaysia and the region’s art and artists.

An educational tool

An important part of this digital resource is how Ilham Gallery aims to educate, inform and inspire the next generation, especially students, about artists and art history. Malaysian artworks have also been given considerable attention by the online team, from introductory texts to learning aids which includes questions/points of discussion for both educators and students.

Dzulkifli Buyong’s 'Hantu' (oil on wood, 1984) is a playful and charming work which touches on the tradition of spirits in Malay folklore and myths. Photo: Ilham GalleryDzulkifli Buyong’s 'Hantu' (oil on wood, 1984) is a playful and charming work which touches on the tradition of spirits in Malay folklore and myths. Photo: Ilham Gallery

All of the texts are in English and Bahasa Malaysia to make it as inclusive and as accessible as possible.

If you can’t get on a school tour to Ilham Gallery, at least, there is this digital gallery to keep your school in the loop.

“We are treating the collection as the valuable educational resource it is by providing information on the artworks which hopefully will serve as an entry point that goes beyond just the art historical to connect to the ideas and stories behind the works.

"As a young institution, we have the opportunity to reinvent things – to look at the collection with new eyes and think about fresh new ways to engage with audiences. As many students are unaware of Malaysian art history, we can play an important role in filling that gap,” says Joseph.

The audience may interact with the artworks by creating personalised accounts to save their favourite artworks from the collection in the form of albums. The gallery has created a few albums that highlight certain themes or references past exhibitions.

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