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October/November 2011 Ridiculously Free

Malaysian e-Journal of the Arts

paul gnanaselvam

batik issue

joseph tan chuan thean tang keng wah khalil ibrahim nizam ambia yee i-lann batik park yusuf martin sandra khoo


love me in my batik - joseph tan, 1968

love me in my BAT IK Love Me in My Batik is probably Joseph Tan’s best known work. Executed in 1968, in an era still experimenting with Pop Art the painting reflects influences such as the British Pop Artist Alan Jones. Tan was born in 1941 and died in 2002. There was a retrospective exhibition of his works, at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery, in 2006.

Best of Asian Erotica 1 By Stephen Leather, John Burdett, Meihan Booey, Jonathan Lim,Yusuf Martin, Alison Jean Lester, Hari Kumar, O Thiam Chin, Erich Sysak Monsoon Books Pte. Ltd., 2011 eBook release: June 2011 ISBN: 9789814358156

Best of South East Asian Erotica 19 stories from well-known authors in Indonesia,Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.The nineteen stories presented here examine the topic from varied angles, but they all celebrate the sensual in the sure voice of firstrate writing. A welcome addition to the growing list of erotic literature in this most erotic corner of the world. Includes Amir Muhammad, Lee Ee Leen, Amirul B Ruslan,Yusuf Martin, Christopher Taylor, Dawn Farnham, Chris Mooney-Singh, Stephen Leather and others. Monsoon Books Pte Ltd 2011 ISBN : 9789810854362


October/November 2011 cover nizam ambia editor yusuf martin email Dusun TM dusun is a not for profit publication

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page 8 chuan thean teng batik master page 17 batik paintings essay page 23 keng wah batik painting page 30 khalil ibrahim selection page 34 paul gnanaselvam short stories page 40 nizam ambia batik designs/painting page 48 yee i-lann digital batik page 52 batik park upsi, perak page 58 yusuf martin digital batik page 62 sandra khoo cartoons and comics

Dusun returns with a cornucopia of goodies.


Welcome back

This issue’s theme is ‘batik’; concentrating on how that medium has influenced ‘art’ in Malaysia.

From the exquisite batik paintings of that master artist Chuan Thean Teng, who was instrumental in elevating perceptions of batik from a craft material to being a medium for loftier ambitions, to a ‘batik’ park in Perak, Malaysia - we give an overview of modern and contemporary batik innovation. Keng Wah and Khalid Ibrahim continue Chuan Thean Teng’s lead, using the batik medium for painting, while Yee I-lann incorporates symbolic batik in her large digitals works.

Nizam Ambia, fashion designer and painter, has played with new directions in batik, both in his paintings and his designs, while Yusuf Martin wrestles with essences of Malaysia in his digital batik. There are two short stories by Paul Gnanaselvam which reflect the fissures of waxen batik in everyday life and stunning cartoon material by Sandra Khoo. Now read on...........................................




chuan thean teng Chuan Thean Teng was born in 1912 (1914?) in Fukien, China. When he was 18, he travelled to Malaysia where he died in 2008. Teng, as he became known, was formally trained in art at the Amoy Art Institute, and his first successful batik painting was a self-portrait using red, green yellow and black dyes on white cloth. From then he became a master at batik making, elevating that medium beyond mere craft. Teng is acclaimed as the originator of the batik method of painting fusing traditional concepts of painting with the wax resist method of material dyeing. In September 1955 Teng held his first one-man exhibition, organized by the Penang Arts Council at the Penang Library, Malaysia. In 1965, Teng was the first Malaysian artist to have his work on the cover of a UNICEF greeting card. In 1977, the Commonwealth Institute invited Teng as Malaysia ‘ s only art representative to the “Commonwealth Artists of Fame” held in London, England. This exhibition was organized to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations.

tell you a secret

combing hair



bull head

breast feeding


image curtesy of dr farish noor The word ‘batik’ is thought to derive from the Javanese “Amba” which means to write and “Nitik” which means to point. Simply put, batik is a wax resist method of dying fabric either by using a stamp (the ‘cap’ - a copper block/die) in repeated patterns, or by using a hand held container of hot wax – a canting, or tjanting (wax pen) and ‘painting’ wax onto the cloth, or a mixture of both methods. The cloth is dipped into dye and is stained only in those areas where a mixture of beeswax and paraffin is not protecting the cloth. The cloth, generally, is subjected to numerous dipping – many colours to build colour overlays for the chosen image. Due to deliberate cracking of the wax during the dying process, spider lines/fissures of colour are formed into the cloth, giving the batik its very distinctive crazed look. There is no definitive history of batik dying. Some speculate that batik has its history in Egypt - others say that batik might emanate from the Middle East, Turkey, India, China, Japan or West Africa. In more modern times and perhaps only from the 1800s onwards, the fine cloth needed to ‘hold’ the wax and colour was available in Indonesia and Malaysia, imported from the West. Finely woven cloth such as cotton and silk is important to batik, as its tight weave is needed to produce the very intricate patterns some tjanting wielders make. Since the 1800s Indonesia and Malaysia have taken the creation and the wearing of batik to their hearts, blending it into their cultures

and using batik dyed cloth in symbolic form as well as creating new traditions in style and dress. Indonesia has continued its two hundred year old tradition of intricate batik and, in 2009, Indonesian Batik was Inscribed on UNESCO’S Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Meanwhile, a pseudo-batik was created in Malaysia, during the 1920s/30s. At first those upstart innovators used a no-wax colour stamp, then there was experimentation using screen printing methods to produce a cheap, in-authentic, batik-looking material to make batik more accessible. Since the cessation of Malayan batik dyeing under the Japanese and their subsequent departure from Malaysia, there was a re-emergence of batik making after the Second World War. The 1950s, 60s and 70s became a time of Malaysian national support for batik and fresh innovation in batik materials and techniques.

image curtesy of dr farish noor

In Penang, Malaysia, 1953, Chuah Thean Teng had began to develop a new style of batik fused with painterly ideals. Ten years later, In 1963, Frank Sullivan recalled an interview with Teng (as the artist was then known), ‘ “Suddenly I thought to myself”, said Teng, gesturing with his left hand, “as an artist I can paint like this”, and gesturing with his right hand, “as a batik craftsman I can do good work like that.” “Then I suddenly asked myself why can’t I do them both at once?” and as he spoke he brought both his hands together in a clap.’ Teng had effectively initiated the concept of using the batik medium as an art rather than craft, and subsequently became known as the father of batik painting. Teng’s fame went before him and in 1955 he had his first one man exhibition - this led to him being the first Malaysian artist to have his work (Two of a Kind) on the cover of a UNICEF greeting card. In 1977 he was Malaysia’s only representative to exhibit at the Commonwealth Institute in London. Whether Teng was the originator of batik painting, or not, he certainly amassed critical acclaim for his works and was, perhaps, the best known exponent of the art of batik painting. Teng’s works reveal his love for his country and people around him and in a medium best suited to depict the authentically other. With his use of cloth and the batik process, Teng was able to render an added dimension to his stylised works which gave those works their authenticity better than any print on paper, or paint on canvas could have achieved.

two of a kind

Teng worked in an era when it was still possible to depict a wide range of imagery in Malaysia, from the ubiquitous trishaw riders (Trishaws)in his home town of Penang, to a mother breast feeding her baby (breast feeding) and depicting the mother’s naked breast, red nippled and voluptuous.

For me, there is always something very Latin American about Malaysian visual art and some of Teng’s work is distinctly reminiscent of the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Perhaps it is Teng’s observation of ordinary people, the caught whisper in Tell you a Secret or his depiction of family love – a mother and her two children, in Harmony. Maybe it is something about the ease with which Teng captures the Malaysian idyll - gliding between the slightly comic robustness of Two Women and the Crow, to his tender rendition of emotion in Waiting. There is, of course, no doubt that Teng’s work was heavily influenced by styles and forms emanating from the West, rather than China – the land of his birth. That, essentially, is the beauty of Teng’s work – that gentle fusion of styles and mediums which so accurately reflects multicultural Malaysia back to itself.

diego rivera the flower carrier

Kheng Wah Yong (Kheng Wah) was born in 1945 and educated in Penang, Malaysia. Among others, Kheng Wah has adopted batik painting to be his medium of expression. Stylistically, his work is very different from that of Teng. Kheng Wah’s batik painting seems to teeter between the fantastic and the naive rendering of everyday Malasian life, therefore adding a fresh dimension to batik painting – that of ‘naif’ or Naïve art. Where Teng’s work, at times, appeared robust and tantalisingly teasing in form, Kheng Wah’s landscapes especially have an ethereal, perhaps spiritual, dimension about them, made even more special by being rendered through the medium of batik painting. In Fishing Village, kampong houses stand like sails beached upon the shore, echoing both the mountains in the background and the sail-less boats in the midground. It too is an idyll, a gentle depiction of kampong life adjacent to a placid sea and harmonious mountains. Kheng Wah’s fantasy/spiritual elements really come into play with The Egg and I and No End (echoed in his oil painting Where are we going). Seen together, those two batik paintings seem to reflect upon the nature of our existence – literally from egg to cosmic oneness, if not oneness then certainly caught in the warp and weave of the universe, spiralling like entranced mer-creatures in the after-life’s saline maelstrom, together with just the barest hint of William Blake and no sign of Richard Starkey’s Octopus’s Garden. During one interview, that modern Malaysian art master - Khalil Ibrahim remarked that once he had returned from his studies in the UK (1966) he had seen other’s success (with the new concept of batik painting) and thought that he would try it too. That ‘try’ was to further enhance Malaysian batik painting and bring even greater attention to Khalil Ibrahim as a most remarkable Malaysian artist.

no end

In 1968 Khalil Ibrahim produced the batik paintings – Gadis, a portrait of a young girl, A Mother and Son and Two Women, in 1969 he executed A Single Girl and continued his batik painting well into the 1980s, with works such as Pantai Timur II (1985).


Khalil Ibrahim’s batik paintings bear all the marks of a master draughtsman. His lines are clear, sharp and very graphic, showing a clear understanding of his process. Though there is the distinctive spider-web cracking of batik in the background, it is overlaid with a strong sense of line work, almost lino or wood-cut in its appearance. The later batik work is not as stark, and looses something in the process. While batiks like Pantai Timur II and Fishermen have the movement and energy that Khalil has become known for, they seem to lack the direct force of his earlier works but are, nevertheless, also masterpieces of Malaysia’s batik painting. Over time, the symbol of batik – its striking appearance, its uniqueness, took on a very different life from the actuality of the batik process. The idea of batik was reproduced by many Malaysian artists, using a variety of mediums from acrylic paint to oils, watercolours and any mixture of them. Actual, and visual, collage represented the idea of batik such as in the works of Nizam Ambia. Nizam often plays with the idea of batik, representing in his new style ‘blatiks’ – his own batik invention of overlaying batik upon batik, in new ways of staining cloth, or reproducing batik design ideas on canvas or as ‘kolams’ on the ground. Nizam incorporates fantasies of Malaysian fairytale princesses into his more flamboyant works, recalling Malay myth and pre-Islamic imagery. Yee I-Lann takes the idea of batik as a symbol and uses it in her contemporary work based upon photography and digital manipulation. Her batik backgrounds are all painstakingly hand rendered with digital computer software, hand drawn, teased into representations of batik and printed on huge ‘prints’. In her book ‘Fluid World’ Yee I-Lann writes; ‘I have long loved the mark-making aesthetic of batik “crackle”....... This technique also epitomises the concept of dye and resist. Resist; To remain firm against the actions, effects, or force of; withstand. In relation to batik techniques, resist means to withstand the stain of dyes; conceptually and aesthetically, a very powerful and poetic tool.’ p123

Batik, for Yee I-Lann, becomes symbolic of tradition, of the female and the backdrop on which all else occurs. Batik is the warp and weave of daily life, forever there despite other occurrences, interventions, layerings or impositions, batik is representational of what is left when kain panjang with parasitic kepala the veneer is finally stripped away and of what remains.

Zulkifli Yusoff, himself a renowned Malaysian artist and printmaker, has been instrumental in bringing the concept of a 3D batik project to life at his university – UPSI (Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris), in Southern Perak, Malaysia. Along with his final year students, Associate Professor Zulkifli Yusoff championed the concept of batik appearing in the real work as three dimensional objects. This was achieved via the use of concrete and tiles used in a mosaic. The overall effect of a three dimensional batik is quite stunning, and no doubt does give an extra dimension to that age old craft of batik, but falls far short of the effects of the actual dyed fabric. The concrete and tiles build a whole new entity, and while it does have representations of batik motifs and echoes of cultural history, there is also the fear that the third dimension trivialises and diverts symbolic resonance away from cultural signifiers and towards the idea of a theme park. That is not to decry all the planning and hard work that has gone into that project, assisting student art teachers overcome practical problems with sculpture, public spaces and cultural theory, but this small beginning could be seen in a much larger context and as part of a museum dedicated to the art and craft of batik, where it would be but one aspect. In his attempt to understand the country in which he now lives,Yusuf Martin has constantly researched what he refers to as being the visual essence of Malaysia. He has drawn from nature and from rural life, extracting images via digital cameras, fused these with elements used in batik design to produce his own conceptualisation of digital batik. Through the technique of ‘layering’ – and using various software programmes to adjusting ‘blending options’ and layers,Yusuf recreates digitally what batik creates in reality, on fabric.Yusuf tries to re-present the idea of batik with photo based imagery and hand drawn digital elements, revealing yet another approach to batik as a cultural and sociological concept and mirroring images of batik seen around his rural home. The idea of batik is set to grow in Malaysia, as others realise its cultural and symbolic significance for as a design idea, batik is very much of the now.

batik blue

fishing village

keng wah

Kheng-Wah Yong was born in 1945 and educated in Penang, Malaysia. He specialises in batik painting and his first exhibition was in Kuala Lumpur, 1960. Later he exhibited at Malaysia’s National Gallery, 1964, and has since exhibited around the world including the USA and Australia.

dressing up

the egg and I

no end

I always remember Saadi visiting his rose garden

traversing the songs of the universe

khalil ib

single girl


mother and son


Khalil Ibrahim was born in 1934, in Kelantan, east Malaysia. He received his art training at Britain’s Central St. Martins School of Art and Design in London. Khalil has used a variety of mediums for his work, but for some years experimented using batik as a medium. His career has spanned more than fifty years with many solo and group exhibition held locally in South East Asia, and internationally. He has had solo exhibitions in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Switzerland, and has been part of group exhibitions in the UK, US, Japan, Korea, Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Jordan, Canada and elsewhere.

two women

Paul Gnanaselvam First Day “Dumb”, Anjali chided herself. Staring back at her were two bulbous eyes, black and glittering under the cornice lights of the washroom against an oval shaped face that she had so disliked at school. Her eye bags showed blue and worry lines had curved this way and that on her powdered face. Taking a drop of water in her index finger, she let it rest on the ridge of her nose and tested the water’s coolness. “Dumb”, she repeated, looking at herself in the large mirror of the staff washroom. She bent down to rinse her hands and face, taking extra care not to splash water on her new Punjabi suit. She adjusted the little red plate that marked the center of her forehead, neatly balanced by the carefully parted hair. She looked up again into the mirror and smiled jokingly, pushing away her long plaited hair off her shoulders. “Never come late to work. If rain, call and tell. If sick, also tell. Don’t pretend don’t know anything”, the supervisor’s dos and don’ts chimed softly into Anjali’s ears as she tried to memorize the rules and regulations. She shook her head and sighed. She checked the time. The watch showed ten thirty. The office was quiet except for the clicking sound of computers, the occasional phone rings and the flat drooling noise from the fax machine. Nobody spoke much, she had noticed, except for the occasional bobbing of heads that showed that the office was inhabited. Disinterested, she turned her nose to her slender shoulders and breathed deeply, taking in the fragrance of the green apple DKNY perfume that she was wearing. It lifted her up for once from the pale morning mood and livened up her senses. She made sure that the toilet was quiet enough before she let out a whisper.

“This is a multi-national-company;” Anjali mimicked playfully at the words of her new supervisor, a slant eyed, stocky lady, in her forties. She laughed a little and took a few steps back and let her shawl fall loosely around her. She scrutinized the fine silk that made up her attire, running her fingers over the smooth unseen glass beads that gave the wardrobe its quality. “Working clothes”, Anjali told herself again and shook her head. In a witty move she folded the skirt-like bottom of the suit upwards towards her knees and tried to squat and walk at the same time. “Constipated penguin!” She snubbed at the image on the wall. Having lost interest in attempting to walk around the confined walls of the washroom, she twirled herself anti-clockwise in a dance and let the soft cloth fall freely, etching her fine shape onto the mirror. She winked at herself and smiled. “Everyone here speaks in English and do apply some make up when coming to work.”She repeated another rule. Biting her lips hard and wetting them with a blob of saliva, she recounted the words of a male colleague remarking to another. “Pretty, isn’t she? She had understood every syllable in that tiny little phrase and she could not forget the jeering approval that rose above the cubicles as she was taken around the office on the first-day-tour. If she had not mistaken, someone, or rather, some people had chorused an equal yes. The office boy had volunteered to do the photocopying on her behalf. Even the tea-lady would bring coffee straight to her table at ten. She looked again onto the mirror, lifted both hands, smiled and shrugged at the image, somewhat nonchalantly. Ah, yes, some make up, Anjali decided. She took out the eye liner, lipstick and the rogue from the handbag that her supervisor had termed as the twin and had advised mutual separation, before things get lost. She arranged them neatly on the tiled wash basin counter. There was another four minutes to go, before the mid-morning break ended but she took her time and began

to fill up the empty contours that her supervisor had wanted sorted and filled. She peered meticulously into the mirror, smocked her lips and blinked a few times. “Excellent”, she said, flattered by her own self on the mirror. The eye bags were gone, the eyebrows were thinner and defined while the lips gleamed sumptuously under gloss. She adjusted the brass earrings she had had and for the final touch, undid her lock of plaited hair that fell swirling in graceful curls around her oval face. She pushed up her shoulders, and stood comfortably on her high heels. With her handbag in one hand, she pushed open the door pompously and looked at herself again over the shoulders for the final endorsement, “Ta,” she said and sashayed out of the washroom.

Daughter’s Hand I stood at the door, clueless, as my wife helped unpack my daughter’s bags. Sarah, on the other hand was busy twittering on her mobile, chirpy and sweet with excitement drawn all over her face. She was so engrossed that I doubt she realizes the heaviness that tugged at my heart. Daughter’s stayed close to their father’s hearts and made sure that it was warm and contended, my father used to say. A sudden pang fills my heart, has she forgotten me, this soon? There were many of us in the small cramped room of the 5th Hostel. Another family had taken so much space that my wife could hardly help Sarah to move to the end of the room without bumping into the oblivion family members of her roommate. I assume that the girl who was the most solemn was Sarah’s new roommate. Unlike Sarah, she stood gauntly beside her study table and just stared while her family members did the unpacking. Sarah looks up at me every now and then and tries to smile or nod her head. I understand what it meant but I could not erase the worry lines that must be running like stitches across my aching forehead. The three traveling bags that Sarah had brought lied open on the mattress. Mother and daughter were chatty as they sat at the edge of the bed and folded clothes and stacked them in different piles. The closet beside the door was wide open and my wife compartmentalized the luggage into the official (lectures and tutorials) and unofficial (undergarments, sleeping and sports). Then it was the make-up items and toiletries stored into the two drawers, while the expensive suits were hung on hangers. I noticed that Sarah had not brought her entire wardrobe with her as I had joked a few nights ago. The closet done, Sarah turned her attention to the study table. The drawers were filled up with stationeries and test pads. From her handbag she produced a large framed family photo that we had snapped during the farewell dinner weeks ago. It was the one where

she had her hands coiled around my neck and our teeth glistened out ‘like flashes of lightning’, she had said. I thought she disapproved it, until now. It was left to stand on the right corner of her table. A large conch shell given to her by my youngest son was placed beside it with an anchor drawn on its fair side. The other family has finished unpacking and they are all impatient to leave, before I suspect, the serious looking girl would succumb to a panicky outburst. Everybody was saying everything that I had planned to tell Sarah. Exact words that she used on me- Eat on time appa, take your medicine appa, ‘yes’ appa, ‘no’ appa- the words kept jumbling up and they fell back into my throat like a huge rice ball and stayed there. Before I could summon my thoughts, the other family had gotten up and exchanged their goodbyes with us and I saw Sarah holding the girl in a handshake as they all headed towards me and out of the door. Then, in a moment only the three of us were left and my wife stood on the corridor, half smiling. Sarah looked up and smiled. “I’ll see you, appa”, she said, just as she had said it so unfailingly for the last nineteen years when I sent her to school, to tuition, to church and her first date. The lump thickened and totally blocked out my voice, and my vision frayed like the surface of a wet glass. I don’t know what I could say; I don’t know what I want to say. I am locked in the frames of the moment. I lifted my right hand, brought it to my ears and signaled Sarah to ‘call me’. With one hand on my wife’s shoulder, I took arduous, distant steps, convinced that only girls kissed their fathers and held their hands.

Paul Gnanaselvam Paul Gnanaselvam has published short stories in the anthologies Write Out Loud and Urban Odysseys and ASIATIC a literary journal. He currently teaches in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Kampar, Perak, Malaysia

nizam ambia

from the Puteri Kayangan series

fairyland princess Nizam Ambia is a fashion designer and artist, born and brought up in the royal town of Seri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia). He graduated in Graphic Design from the University of Institute Technology MARA (UiTM) and has worked in advertising agency, stage set design and as a lecturer in Lim Kok Wing University College of Creative Technology. Nizam won the Grand Prize for Piala Seri Endon in Batik design and won Gold awards, for three consecutive years (2000-2002), for the Kolam designing competition at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. In his inaugural solo fashion show, 2005, Nizam developed a new style of batik design known as blatik, a new perception of batik fusion. Blatik design portrays multi-layered depth in terms of design.

blatik cloth

fashion design

the world of nizam ambia

sirih junjung series i

sirih junjung series ii

yee i-lann

kain panjang with petulant kepala

kain panjang with carnivorous kepala

Yee I-Lann was born in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. She studied at the University of South Australia, Adelaide, and later at Central St Martins School of Arts in London. Yee I-Lann has exhibited widely in Malaysia and internationally. In 1999, she represented Malaysia at the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; and in 2002 exhibited at ARCO, Madrid.

empires of privateers and their glorious ventures

kain panjang with parasitic kepala

batik park

The Batik Park (Taman Batik) at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Perak, Malaysia was the creation of Malaysian artist Zulkifli Yusoff, along with final year art students. The ‘park’ depicts traditional games and Malay mythology and was created of concrete, inlaid with chips of tile in a mosaic style to emulate the cracks and fissures of batik wax resist printing.

batik blue

yusuf martin Yusuf Martin studied graphic design in England, practising as a graphic designer/illustrator for many years. He has held exhibitions of his works throughout East Anglian and in recent years focussed on digital art forms, and exploring creative essences of Malaysia.

batik dance

batik copper

sandra khoo

id 4 Born in 1980, Sandra Khoo studied at LimKokWing University of Creative Technology, Malaysia. She has been a lead character designer, a pre-production artist for Animation and a senior commercial artist.

from my sketchbook 02

from my Sketchbook 03

me again

me and the bimbim cat

My life as a comic 01

no milo for me

then and now

claude and chunkie strip

claude and chunkie process

64 different stories from a broad spectrum of society encompassing all the main Peninsula Malaysian races, plus Caucasians and Iban. 276 pages and a wealth of original photographs and illustrations. Together they represent Ipoh past and present. There are stories from a “Flying Tiger� who grew up in Market Street in the 1920s, Professor Wang Gungwu, a Greentown boy before the war, Lat (who has also written the Foreword) and a number of others from stage, screen and radio plus of course successful businessmen and women, housewives and mothers but, interestingly, no politicians. Our oldest contributor is 92 and the youngest 12. The book is a history of life in Ipoh through the eyes of young people.

Dusun - Batik  
Dusun - Batik  

A Malaysian Arts and Culture e-magazine