Art Visual

Tribute exhibition at Galeri Petronas in honour of the “Marcel Duchamp” of Malaysian modern art, Ismail Zain!

GALERI PETRONAS has a very compelling exhibition happening at the moment which pays tribute to one particular Malaysian modern art trailblazer. Al-Kesah: Homage to Ismail Zain is set to run until 21 August and its one heck of a trip.


Among the 22 notable artists to carry on the discourse left by the late Ismail Zain (1931-1991) include one of Malaysia’s prominent metal sculptors, Raja Shahriman. Also involved are Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA)‘s Bibi Chew as well as medical imaging graduate turned photographer Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib!

Mohd Nasir Baharudin, one of selected artists contributing to the exhibition, dubs Ismail Zain the Marcel Duchamp of Malaysian contemporary art”.

Ismail Zain presented Digital Collage — his first and only solo exhibition — in 1988 during Galeri Citra‘s first anniversary.

Haron Mokhtar's Sisi Baharu: Siri Melaka II (Baba Nyonya)
Haron Mokhtar’s Sisi Baharu: Siri Melaka II (Baba Nyonya)

A man ahead of his time, he is a pioneer of digital art in a time when more traditional art forms such as impressionistic oil on canvas paintings were favoured. His artworks made us reflect on how much constitutes art in our society, shocking 80’s art scene paradigms.

Curator Badrolhisham Mohamad Tahir elaborates, “The largest contribution Ismail Zain has given to modern art in Malaysia is awareness of the importance of culture that has entirely been “decided” by modern artists of Malaysia.”

According to Badrolhisham, Ismail’s art counters the argument that we have “no early legacy of shapes or symbols that can be associated with the western model”.

His artwork Al Kesah which lends its name to the exhibition reveals just that. The juxtaposition of a traditional Malay Melaka house with the cast of American soap opera Dallas (popular among locals back then) symbolizes the presence of Western culture in our increasingly globalized society.

Haron Mokhtar builds upon Al-Kesah through Sisi Baharu: Siri Melaka I & II across which he challenges us to think of our homes as more than just shelter.

Ismail Zain’s Al Kesah

Expect this kind of interplay between Ismail Zain and his contemporaries that continue his legacy of pushing the boundaries that define Malaysian contemporary art.

Al-Kesah: Homage to Ismail Zain is a visual feast of mixed media employing everyday objects like coffee strainers for interactive headgears (Bibi Chew’s Itu Malaysia) and tissue paper (Saiful Razman’s Selepas 7.PM). It all ultimately serves an important arts and culture lesson that you wouldn’t find in our school curriculum, rather sadly.

Catch it soon, as the exhibition runs for ten more days only at Galeri Petronas!

WhatsApp Image 2016-08-01 at 11.18.22 AM
Bibi Chew’s Itu Malaysia – Biasa, O, Kaw Kaw, Kosong, Cam & Kurang
Hasnul Jamal Saido Siri 'Hijab Nurbaya'
Hasnul Jamal Saido Siri ‘Hijab Nurbaya’
Raja Shahriman's Gembala
Raja Shahriman’s Gembala

Al Kesah: Homage to Ismail Zain at Galeri Petronas runs from 1 June – 21 August. Do join one of their curatorial walkthroughs for a chance to engage with the artists themselves, happening 3-4pm at selected dates! To keep updated make sure you follow Galeri Petronas here!


  1. Digital Collage solo wasnt held at Balai Seni Lukis Negara. It was held at Galeri Citra , Hotel Shangrila in 1988. Please make correction.


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