Highlights from As We See It

14 June 2017

In collaboration with OUR ArtProjects and Reka Negaraku, Malaysia Design Archive’s exhibition, As We See It: History Through Visual Design traces Malaysian history through posters and other graphic design collaterals.

Malaysia Design Archive aims to give viewers a history lesson through visual design at its latest exhibition As We See It: A History Through Visual Design. The exhibition is divided into four different eras and looks at propaganda posters, magazine covers, and other design artefacts throughout the years.

It’s interesting to see the way graphic design was used to persuade and strengthen colonial and war propaganda, which eventually played a part in creating a Malayan identity. Done in collaboration with OUR ArtProjects and Reka Negaraku, here are five highlights from the exhibition.

1. Haji’s Book of Malayan Nursery Rhymes (1939)
While serving in the Federated Malay States Police force, Englishman A.W. Hamilton wrote a book of nursery rhymes with illustrations by Nora Hamerton. The bilingual book contains about a hundred popular English nursery rhymes and incorporated local characteristics for its Malay translations. For example, hot cross buns is translated as roti manis hangat, complete with an illustration of a Tamil street vendor selling sweet bread to an Indian community.

2. Eight-cent stamp (1943)
The Japanese Occupation saw a very controlled dissemination of information in which most of printed media were turned into persuasive propaganda. This also means that many graphic aspects of media and arts were given a facelift by the Japanese through heavy usage of strong, bold colours and lines, as well as the rising sun symbol.

To further shed Malaya’s colonial image and establish an Asian identity, the Japanese administration threw a public stamp design competition. The winning design shown here depicts the image of rice planting in a paddy field – a typical scene in Malaya at the time – to symbolise a new beginning and growth. To strengthen Japanese presence and authority, the rising sun is pictured in the background. The strong weight of lines is also similar to Japanese woodcut.

3. Berkhidmatlah Kepada Tanah Air (1951)
If this poster looks familiar, that’s because it took a cue from the infamous Lord Kitchener and Uncle Sam posters, which called for citizens to join the army. Illustrated by revered Malaysian painter Dato’ Hoessein Enas, the version here similarly features an authoritative-looking male figure, but with Jawi letters.

The Malay male is garbed in traditional clothing – kain pelikat, baju Melayu and tanjak headgear – presumably to appeal to the locals of the time and give them a figure they could identify with. Another difference between this and its British and American counterparts is that the Malayan version called for citizens to join the police force instead of the army.

4. Pembina magazine cover (1957)
The September 1957 issue of Pembina magazine featured a very interesting collage cover of the nine sultans, and it came out at a very apt time too, as Malaya had recently achieved independence. Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan is positioned in the middle, symbolising him as the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong – the elected monarch system that was a result of gaining independence. Pembina magazine is an all-rounder nationalistic magazine, and often wrote about politics, education and the road to independence.

5. Filem Malaysia magazine cover (1965)
Local cinema has always been progressive, perhaps even more so back then than it is today. Here on the September 1965 cover of the magazine Filem Malaysia, the actress Sarimah is depicted in traditional Malay male clothing – complete with a warrior posture and gaze. The cover is taken from the film Dayang Senandong by Jamil Sulong, and the seniwati is dressed as Kamal, a character who had to rescue her husband, a prince, who is locked up in jail. Filem Malaysia first started around the 1960s and covered not only local entertainment news, but also published articles regarding issues such as class and race in the industry.

Reka Negaraku: As We See It is on until 30 June 2017 at Balai Seni Negara, 2 Jalan Temerloh, off Jalan Tun Razak, 53200 Kuala Lumpur (03 4026 7000). Open daily, 10am-6pm. Closed on Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

By Nadia Rosli

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