MALAYSIAN PRINTMAKING: A BRIEF HISTORY (1930s-1990s)
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
By Jamil Mat Isa
Printmaking is the essence of a pictorial image produced by a certain process, which enables it to be multiples and this is called a print. Each piece produced is not a copy but considered as an original artwork and known as an edition. It requires designing or drawing and the surface; from as simple as a potato cut to a more complicated process such as photo etching, photo screen-printing, and digital print. Printmaking can be classified into several categories, such as relief printing, intaglio, planographic and now in the modern era, is a digital print. Printmaking is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple copies or editions, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to. Since the late 19th century, printmakers have signed individual edition to form a limited edition. The history of printmaking in Malaysia is related to the history of newspapers, magazines and book publication. At that time, in the early nineteen century, woodcut prints were included as an illustration in the publication of books or magazines. The printing industry created the history of printmaking in Europe. A similar phenomenon also occurred in Malaysia. The development of the printing industry has become a catalyst for the history of printmaking in Malaysia.
The development of printmaking in Malaysia can be viewed from the beginning of European colonial, pre-independence, and post-independence up to the contemporary era. During the commencement of the printing industry in the Straits Settlements (Penang, Malacca, and Singapore) in 1806, Bone formed a printing company with financial assistance from several unknown individuals. In Malacca, the printing started in 1815 by the representatives of the London Missionary Societies, and in Singapore in 1819 also by the representatives of the London Missionary Society. (Cecil K. Byrd, 1970).
MuIiyadi Mahamood (2003) in the Dewan Budaya June issue, describe why the process of the development of local printmaking is quite slow and marginalised, such as printmaking discipline itself need of specific equipment and workshops. Printmaking also squeezed by public tendency and art institution that are more interested regarding patronage, collection, and exhibition of the painting. The development of digital technology has also challenged the integrity of the printmaking in the face of the development of local art.
During the British colonialism in Malaya, the landscape and other activities that occur recorded in the form of black and white and also colored lithographs or aquatints. It is as a reference and to be published in the related journals. The British armada consists of the sailors and the traveler-artists in their voyage, to sketch and draw specific locations as a reference and guide their cruise. There are also a few skilled captains capable of drawing such as Captain Charles Henry Cazalet, Captain R. Elliot, and Captain Robert Smith.
The first print of British Malaya is a small black and white line engraving (11.2 x 17.0 cm) of Captain Francis Light claiming possession of Penang on behalf of the East India Company (EIC) in 1786. Engraved by Thomas Medland and was published on 26 March 1788 as the frontispiece of a small work by Elisha Trapaud entitled A short account of the Prince of Wales's Island or Palo Pinang in the East-Indies, was drawn by Captain Elisha Trapaud an eye-witness of the historic event. Prince of Wales Island (Penang): Tonjung Penoga was produced when he was working with William Byrne. (John Bastin & Pauline Rohatgi, 1977)
The printing Industry that began In 1806 In Penang, 1815 In Malacca and Singapore in 1822 also plays a role in the process of the development of local printmaking. The Straits Settlements printing operators have used a variety of carving as a decorator and to further their layout design. They have reserved blocks of woodcarving and metal plate, lithograph in various images to decorate texts published by them. The Indo-Chinese Gleaner (Issues no 8 and 9: April and July 1819) there are two rough tracings of a wood block engraving based on the painting by Munsyi Abdullah and the block been carved by a Chinese. It portrayed the ghost images in Malay belief at that time. (Ahmad Suhaimi Mohd. Noor, 2007).
Abdullah Ariff, a well-known watercolour painter, are also a graphic designer and illustrator. Penang Glorious Holidays Abroad (1935) is a piece of silkscreen prints posters that produced by Abdullah Ariff for the visit Penang campaign commissioned by the Malayan Railway. He has also created a lino print illustrations in the Anglo-Chinese School magazines in 1936, a publication published by the Anglo-Chinese School (now known as the Methodist Boys' School) in Penang. The 111 pages magazine contains some lino prints that lined with a tracing paper. The same magazine, issues (7) November 1937 also have used Abdullah Ariff 's linocut as a front cover page. Besides, there are also several other illustrations from lino prints. At that time, Abdullah Ariff was an art teacher at the school. Chuah Teen Teng began to explore woodcut and wood engraving techniques in the 1930s. He innovated his tools and explored the local guava tree as his block.
Nanyang Academy Fine Arts
The popular statement on Malaysian printmaking development was started when the immigrant from China came to Singapore in 1940's. They are from Nanyang School in China. The Nanyang graduates were inspired and intrigued by the reproductions of woodcuts in books from China entitled Woodcut Prints from the 8 Year War Against, The Invaders. They took an initiative to experiments and explored the technique, as there were no formal classes on this technique. Teachers and students made do and improvised with the basic tools, carving tools, and 'baren' are designed and created them self. They more focus on daily life as their subject matter, hawkers, Malay village scene, and people activities at the squatter area and construction workers. (Rahman Mohamed & Jane Khoo, 2012) Muliyadi Mahamood (2003) stated that the early development of Malaysian contemporary printmaking can be referred to the woodcut activities by the Nanyang Academy artists in Singapore at the end of 1940's. Unlike the previous painting activities at the end of the 1920s that focused on the theme of romantic landscapes, early prints depict daily life activities. It was related to the principle of Nanyang's artists, mass media's tendency, and the influence of Chinese woodcut prints.
Academic and Higher Institutions
In the late 1960's few Malaysian artists returned after training in various aspects of printmaking abroad. The French Ministry of Culture awarded Long Thien Shih a scholarship to study printmaking under the guidance of Professor Stanley William Hayter (1901-.1988) at the Atelier 17, Paris in 1959-1964. He also studied the lithograph print with the guidance of Professor Dayez at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1966-1968.
Abdul Latiff Mohidin received his art education at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Germany. He also studied printmaking at the Atelier La Courriere, France in 1969 and the Pratt Graphic Centre in New York, USA. While in Germany he has produced a series of prints, which include Berlin Musim Dingin, linocut, 1961, Rumbia Palm, woodcut, 10 x 4.5cm, 1961, Imago I, linocut on pink paper, 15 x 11 cm, 1963 and imago Il, linocut, 16 x 11 cm, 1963. All these prints were produced in Berlin. Abdul Latiff Mohidin very well known with his Pogo-Pogo Series, in 1963 he created a series of Pago-Pogo, lithograph, 41 x 32 cm while he in Cologne, 1963.
Kok Yew Puah (1947-1999), also received formal education in printmaking from the College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia in 1966. William K. K. Lau in England while Chew Teng Beng is in the United States. Sulaiman Esa was studied printmaking under the guidance of Michael Rothenstern at the Hornsey College of Art, London in 1962-1966 and further explored the field of printmaking at Atelier 17, Paris under the guidance of Professor Stanley William Hayter in 1968. Similarly, Loo Foo Sang previously studied printmaking at The Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris in the early 1960s he studied at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore and joined the Atelier 17 also under the tutelage of Professor Stanley William Hayter in 1967. Tay Eng Chye, better known as Eng Tay arrived in New York 1968 and studied printmaking at the Art Students League, School of Visual Arts and Pratt Graphics Center from 1969 to 1972.
Lee Kian Seng was more interested in learning the Ukiyo-e prints, beginning in 1969 until 1972 he was at the Tokyo Research Institute of Cultural Properties and Tokyo Institute of Printmaking to learn the arts of traditional Japanese woodcut prints. In 1977 Ponirin Amin has studied printmaking at West Surrey College of Art and Design until 1980. Eight years later he went to Manchester Polytechnic, Manchester to obtain his master's degree in printmaking. Ng Buan Cher also had his early education in printmaking at the Chelsea School of Art, London in 1978.
In 1980, Abd. Mansoor Ibrahim, follow in the footsteps of Loo Foh Sang and Long Thien Shih to pursue his printmaking knowledge at the Ecole Nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Bahaman Hashim was educated formally in printmaking at the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, majoring in serigraph in 1985 to 1988. After few years in Chicago, Bahaman Hashim brings back his large size of serigraphy prints, not only the size but Bahaman Hashim introduced a new dimension and style of serigraphy prints. His patience and experience in photography has helped him to produce a series of photo-silkscreen, Influenced and impressed his students at the Faculty of Art & Design, UiTM Shah Alam. His Overexposed Series (1988) comes out through a combination of contemporary ideas, images, and techniques and has given new impetus to the local arts scene and has influenced the young artists at that time. These individuals were responsible for spreading the artistic knowledge when they returned and serviced locally as art teachers. A few of them were then given the task to develop academic institutions of higher learning.
According to Mullyadi Mahamood (2003), Edward Pragasam, actively and committedly taught his students about the linocut technique at the Sekolah Menengah Aminuddin Baki, Johor Bahru in the 1970's.
Several educational institutions were established which focused on art education. The Specialist Teachers' Training Institute (STTI) set up in 1960 in Cheras Kuala Lumpur is important in the context of art teaching in the country. The first printmaking workshop was set up with tabletop presses, letterpress machine, and serigraph facilities. Students learned to produce etching techniques, lithograph and serigraph.
In the early 1970's, the Department of Fine Art, Institut Teknologi MARA offered a printmaking course led by Ahmad Khalid Yusoff and supervised by Ponirin Amin and Coral Rotsinger. Sulaiman Esa also participated in developing this area at that time and produced a series of prints of his Waiting for the Godot in 1976. At the early stage, students had experimented and explored with woodcut, engraving and serigraph techniques.
Waiting for Godot I, Etching, 62cmx76cm, 1977
The Department of Fine Art also received services from other individuals to develop this possible technique; they are Abdul Latiff Mohidin and Long Thien Shih who are responsible for etching techniques while Kok Yew Puah, Ghaffar Ibrahim, and Zafaruddin Zainuddin are focusing on serigraphy technique. The Department provided two workshops, which is intaglio and screenprint workshop. From time to time, the Department took an initiative to develop and upgrading the printmaking facilities. In term of developing human resources, the Department had offered a few academic scholarships to study abroad to potential individuals. These graduates then came back to teach the new students with updated knowledge in printmaking. (Jamil Mat Isa, 2004)
The Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) also offered the printmaking subject to complete the Fine Art course. 1988, Loh Foo Sang return to Malaysia from France and taught printmaking at the Institute in the following year until 1993. In 1989, the Fine Art Department had held their printmaking exhibition at the Art House Gallery for the first time.
Established in 1968, Kuala Lumpur Collage Art (KLCA) also offered printmaking courses, in 1960's and 1970's Lee Long Seng taught woodcut technique and did experimental printmaking with his students.
The Department of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang also established a printmaking studio by Chew Teng Beng in June 1974. It was one of the finest completely equipped studio with facilities for relief printmaking, stone lithography, and intaglio printmaking. Ismail Hashim, Othman Mansur, and Rahman Mohamed are among those who had their training in this workshop. (Chew Teng Beng, 1974) The Central Academy of Art (CM) established in 1983 offering courses in art and design. The Academy becomes the first private college in Kuala Lumpur to provide printmaking as a compulsory minor subject in its Fine Art program.
The Artist Groups and Societies
The establishment of the artist groups and societies before and after independence was encouraging, but it became gloomy around the 1980s. In the contact of prints, it was disappointing that there were almost no new printmaking group being established.
The Nanyang Woodcut Printmakers Club was established in 1955 at the Nanyang Academy by Lim Yew Kuan, Foo Chee San and See Chen Tee. They are the active practitioners of woodcut prints and support of the daily newspaper.
(Rahman Mohamad, 2006)
The establishment of Anak Alam in early 1970 made an impact to the local art scene. In the context of printmaking, Anak Alam played an important role. An Initiative by Anak Alam's founder, in 1974, Abdul Latiff Mohidin brought the press from Kampung Delek, Klang to Anak Alam in order to give new strength and inspiration to the young artists at that time. Originally the machine was a rubber sheet press which was modified two years earlier. Anak Alam's artists intensely produced prints until they are successfully held three series of printmaking exhibitions, Pameran Grafik Anak Alam in Kuala Lumpur (1974), in the following year Pameran Grafik Anak Alam in Penang, 1977, 1979 and Pameran Grafik dan Foto Anak Alam at the Alliance Francaise Kuala Lumpur in 1982. (Juhari Said, 2008)
Catalog: Pameran Grafik Anak Alam
In 1985 with his wife Zarina Ariffin, Rahimie Harun decided to set up the print workshop at the Anak Alam premises. The effort was helped by two young talented artists who have just graduated from UiTM, Jalaini Abu Hassan and Rafiee Abdul Ghani. The Involvement of these two young artists as apprentices was on a part-time basis, with allowances and accommodation provided for them. They explored and experimented with possible materials such as plastic sheet as a printing plate. (ibid, 2008)
Mustapha Ibrahim, one of the pioneer members of Anak Alam, had produced a series of prints, especially in serigraphy technique. Establish in 1996; Grafika is a group of printmakers inspired and initiated by Juhari Said with the aim to develop and explore new opportunities in the prints discipline as a contribution to the development of the Malaysian contemporary art. The first exhibition with entitled Grafika was held at the Creative Center, National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur in 1996. Juhari Said, Ilse Noor, and Jamil Mat Isa exhibited their series of prints with three area or discipline that there is an expert. Juhari Said displayed his large size of woodcut on paper and mixed media prints that he explored within the printmaking definition. use Noor migrated to Malaysia from Germany in 1974. Her sophisticated etching shows how patient she is in the process of producing her prints. Jamil Mat Isa trained to an expert in screen print displayed his medium size on paper and explored the technique on the acrylic sheet.
The courageous trio in pursuit of their beliefs, orchestrated by none other than use Noor a veteran in the field. She is a meticulous, gentle, down to earth master of poetic marks. Who sees beauty and meaning in everyday things-through the caustic travel of etching? Juhari Said through his woodblocks, carving adventurously, most often lyrical, provocative, and is sometimes full of paradox in his messages. Jamil Mat Isa was a very dynamic young artist in the making, highly experimental in his approach to screen process but ... innocent in his construction of Icons, indexes, and symbols. (Ponirin Amin, 1996) The next exhibition by the group was held at the Balai Seni Maybank, Maybank Tower Kuala Lumpur from 3rd to 15th November 1997. Other then Ilse Noor, Juhari Said and Jamil Mat Isa, Grafika II featuring works by Kelvin Chap Kok Leong. 37 pieces of prints exhibited in different techniques, forms, styles and issues.
Significant and Major Printmaking Exhibitions
The Samat Art Gallery In Kuala Lumpur took the initiative to host printmaking exhibitions focusing on etching techniques by the ATELIER 17, Paris artists, in 1968. Initiated by a Malaysian who had studied at the ATELIER 17, it launched an exhibition of 40 prints of etchings of which 30 pieces were by Malaysian artists. For the local public, it was only the second major exhibition devoted exclusively to printmaking that they had ever seen. (Long Thien Shih, 1993)
The establishment of the National Art Gallery, state galleries, commercial art galleries and galleries under the private companies are to develop the local art industry through their activities. Chew Tens Bens (1974) commented that since its formation after independence, the National Art Gallery much emphasis on promoting visual arts and hopefully to carve a distinct Malaysian identity. But, the emphasis was mainly towards paintings. One could hardly see any print in a show then. This was mentioned in research done by Ong Tiong Guan, about the development of Malaysian printmaking after independence. Not a single print exhibition since the 1st National Loan Exhibition (1958) to 3rd National Art Exhibition (1960). Then in the early 1960s, Chew Teng Beng, and his brother's Chew Kiat Lim introduced their monoprint using the only essential equipment. Followed by T. K. Karan's monotype entitled Burung Terbang, 58 x 22.5 cm, (1963), which was collected and Lee Joo For's Burung clan Ikon, 30 x 30 cm, (1959), a coloured woodcut was also one of the National Art Gallery's earliest acquisition.
Since 1960's the National Art Gallery had an initiation to bring in and organise print exhibitions at the premise to expose the local audiences with the international as well as renown artists. These included the exhibition of Dutch Graphic Art (1961), German Graphic Art Today (1966), Rembrandt-Etching & Drawing (1968) and even an exhibition of Henry Moore Prints in 1969.
In the 1970's, local audiences were exposed to a few print exhibitions from other countries. Japan very famous with their ukiyo-e prints, the National Art Gallery collaborated with the Japan Foundation Introduced two prominent ukiy-e printmakers, Hokusai & Hiroshige to exhibit their prints in 1970. In the following year, Austrian imprint and Albrecht DOrer took place at the National Art Gallery. Another exhibition initiated by the National Art Gallery was the prints by Pablo Picasso, Picasso Prints held in 1974.
Other solo exhibitions such as Selected Woodcuts by Ton Tee Chie in 1975 also revived excitement. There were a total of 57 works of woodcut which were exhibited. The shows provide an opportunity and space for people and other artists to view and study the works of the printmaking artist. In the 1970's, the prints atmosphere is quite lively as seen by the presence of a series of exhibitions and competitions in Kuala Lumpur.
The National Art Gallery held an Exhibition and Competition of Prints in 1971; Lee Kian Seng won the major award through his Image Object, Illusion of Series Mechanism. In 1973, the Printmaking Exhibition and Competition won by Long Thien Shih and Kok Yew Puah, which were an integration of ideas from eastern and western influences outshone other participants' works. The competition also attracted entries from Institut Teknologi MARA (ITM), under the tutelage of Ahmad Khalid Yusof.
The Exhibition and Competition Notional Open Graphic Prints 1974, which aims to revive interest in the graphic arts in the country, received 196 works of the 41 participants. Raja Zahabuddin Raja Yaacob's serigraphy works entitled Luar Dari Yang Tidak Diketahui won the Grand Prize. Chong Ching Seng's etching entitled Selepas Makan, Tajuddin Ismail's etching entitled Awanan 11 and Lai Loong Sung's woodcut with the title Penghidupan di Terengganu won the Minor Prize. Ismail Hashim's serigraphy entitled Muram Sirius, Mad Anuar Ismail's linocut entitled Karam, Othman Mansor's woodcut entitled Di Bawah Sinaran Bulan Sabit received the Consolation Prize.
Raja Zahabuddin Raja Yaacob, Out of Unknown, 66x74cm, Silkscreen, 1972
Few leading contemporary Malaysian artists also participated In the Open Art and Graphic Print Competition 1977. The organisers received a total of 263 works, 182 paintings and 81 prints and only 61 paintings and 23 prints were selected for the exhibition. The winner was Lee Kian with his lithograph, entitled Of Image, Object Illusion Off Series Mechanism 1. Sulaiman Esa's photo etching on paper called Waiting for Godot 1 attracts attention with the juxtaposition of nude and Arabic motif captures perfectly the dilemma of our modern society. The Fifth Month Festival 2, serigraphy by Choong Kam Kow was Impressed the judges with his uses traditional object and Image to make a quintessentially contemporary statement. (Syed Ahmad Jamal, 1977)
In 1977, Loo Foo Sang had a solo show at the AP Gallery Bukit Bintang Plaza, Kuala Lumpur. Graphic Prints Exhibition by five young printmakers held in 1990 at the A.P. Art Gallery. These five young artists are the first group of Fine Art graduates who are majoring in printmaking. (Loo Foh Sang, 1990) According to Rahime Harun (1990), these young printmakers shows their graduate works with a great sense of empirical strength. Although with the simple exercise of line etching mixed with a dry point or a mixture of few techniques into one plate but in the end, it can be appreciated in establishing forms and gesture.
In Malaysian Salon 1978/79, Ponirin Amin's etching entitled Di Pentasmu Nan Sepi and Ismail Latiff's etching; Lembah Bilut won the Frank Sullivan Award. In the 1980's another print exhibitions held at the National Art Gallery, France Contemporary Lithography Exhibition (1980) and Exhibition of Print from Japan (1983). Two years later the Graphic Prints from Thailand (1985) and Soviet Graphic Art in 1987. Almost none solo exhibition by local printmaker organized by the National Art Gallery except by use Noor in 1987.
Ponirin Amin - Di Pentas Mu yang Sepi , 37x72.5, Etching & Aquatint,1979