Tutie, Las, Jun by Hoessein Enas, 1971.
Tutie, Las, Jun by Hoessein Enas, 1971.

KL’s newest art gallery, Ilham, promises some exciting things ahead. Designed by Foster + Partners, the tower is already flanked by two public sculptures at the front: one by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the other by Thai artist Pinaree Sanpitak.

With Valentine Willie as Creative Director of the gallery, Ilham opens this Merdeka month with Picturing The Nation. This exhibition includes an extensive retrospective of paintings and sketches by Dato’ Hoessein Enas, from the artist’s private collection.

Hoessein was a portrait artist much sought after by Malaysian royalty and ministers, but his portraits of his own family and ordinary Malaysians are equally captivating. The curation of his work is intertwined with the nation’s independence and formation, with many of the works reflecting the hope and optimism of the 1950’s to the 1970’s.

Picturing The Nation also includes four contemporary Malaysian artists: Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Vincent Leong, Yee I-Lann and Dain Iskandar Said. Each of these artists continues the conversation with Hoessein, with portraiture being the common thread.

Yee I-Lann’s “Through Rose-Coloured Glasses” is a collection of found studio portraits from a traditional photography studio in Malacca. Each photo commemorates a moment of personal significance, but the viewer is left to imagine the story behind the formal poses, the endearing props and the exotic studio backdrops.

Ahmad Zakii’s life-sized charcoal drawings of various Malaysian women capture an intimate humanity – each woman stands in a pose which embodies her own personality, transcending and subverting the way these women are categorised by racialised titles: “Perempuan Melayu”, “Perempuan Cina”, “Perempuan Punjabi”.

Ilham Gallery will host a range of talks in conjunction with Picturing The Nation. For more information, keep an eye on the Facebook page. Admission is free.

Ling Low

Picturing The Nation runs from 16 August – 31 December at Ilham Gallery. Admission is free.

8 Jalan Binjai (just off Jalan Ampang, opposite The Troika), 50450 Kuala Lumpur (Opens Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 7pm; Sunday 11am – 5pm; Closed Mondays)