To mark the 50th year since Malaysia was formed as a nation, we asked Ezrena Hussain to share some of her favourite images from around 1963 from Malaysia Design Archive. Ezrena started Malaysia Design Archive in 2008 as an online resource that maps the development of graphic design in Malaysia from pre-Merdeka until the present day.

The fascinating website shows unfiltered snapshots of our historical past through posters, advertisements, photographs and more.”I wanted the project to trace and document Malaysian design legacy; to preserve, study and recognize our historical past, as well as to create a rich resource of Malaysian design work,” says Ezrena, who works full time as a Senior Art Director in a film production house.

Where does she find the artefacts? “I used to go for antique markets and junk stores to look for printed materials. After a while, it got a bit too expensive to carry on!” she explains. “I also looked for materials by other collectors and asked if they would be open to sharing their collection at the Malaysia Design Archive site. Most people have been really generous and collaborative with their knowledge and materials. There’s also the National Library, Arkib Negara and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.”

For Ezrena, design reveals much about history: “it plays a key role in three areas, namely in nation-building, embodying the spirit of the time and in dissemination of ideologies, including about socio-political and cultural relations.”


Malayan Cement Limited, advertisement
Source : Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka

This pre-Malaysia advertisement shows the spirit of nationalism through “Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka” and its famous mural by artist Ismail Mustam. The mosaic has five figures depicting a Sikh, Indian, Malay, Chinese and Eurasian reading, reflective of unity through a common language.

The Straits Times Annual for 1963, magazine cover
Source : Contributor’s collection

The Straits Times Annual publication covered various topics in Malaysia –  political events, cultural history and tradition, arts and crafts, folklore, indigenous, economy and trade. This edition was published in October 1962 and cost $3.75. It included stories about the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s daughter’s wedding, face painting in Chinese theatre, the growth of “new municipality” Ipoh and Trengganu travel.

Badang, advertisement
Source : The Straits Times Annual 1963

This advert is for a film, Badang, which was released in 1962. The story is about a man with extraordinary strength who is appointed as a warrior for the Sultan. The lead actor, Wahid Satay, gained his nickname “Satay” after playing a satay man in the film Pontianak in 1957.

Dewan Masharakat, magazine cover
Source : Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka

Dewan Masharakat, a magazine focusing on knowledge and culture, was published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and first launched in September 1963. On the cover is the painting “Bibir Merah” by Chuah Thean Teng, who is considered the father of Batik painting in Malaysia. Some of the articles in the first issue include “Angkatan Sedar Wanita Malaya”, “Muzium Negara” and “Badan Kebudayaan Kebangsaan”.


Shell, advertisement
Source : Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka

To commemorate the birth of a new nation, Shell published a book titled MALAYSIANS, published in Singapore in 1963. The book featured costumes and ceremonies in Malaya in the early 1960s and the 52 full colour pages illustrated by artist Hoessein Enas.

Mustika, magazine cover
Source : Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka

Tunku Abdul Rahman on the cover of Mustika’s September 1963 issue to commemorate the birth of a new nation, Malaysia.


AJINOMOTO, advertisement
Source : Collection of Yee I-Lann

This multilingual advertisement for AJINOMOTO depicts a map of a newly formed Malaysia as the backdrop, symbolising the common patriotism that grounds this sense of togetherness. The Jalur Gemilang was updated with 14 stripes and a 14 point star on 16 September 1963.


First Day Cover, stamped 16 September 1963
Source : Personal collection

First Day Cover
Source : Personal collection

Images curated by Ezrena Hussain; interview by Ling Low.

All images courtesy of Malaysia Design Archive.