Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Anak Asia
Anak Asia

Anak Asia presents a dramatic montage of child casualties from the Vietnam War. The smiling face of a child soldier peeks out from beneath a helmet, while above him is printed a close-up of another child’s frightened expression. On the left, the image of a dead baby on the ground is repeated several times. Children, being the most innocent and vulnerable members of society, feature prominently in the works of Malaysian artist Nirmala Dutt. 

The images have been xeroxed from newspapers and screen-printed onto the painted canvas. Nirmala has chosen to use silkscreen printing (as opposed to collage) so that her brushstrokes would show beneath the images. While studying in the United States in the late 60s, she had been exposed to  Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, and the influence of both movements are evident in the works she created upon her return to Malaysia in the early 70s. Against the brown wash of the canvas, the faces of these children strike a sharp, monochromatic contrast. The rough xeroxed quality of their faces suggests  how as a result of  the endless reproductions of such  images in the mass media, we become  desensitised to the horrors of war. 

Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas
60.96 × 81.28cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Nirmala Dutt
About Nirmala Dutt

Nirmala Dutt (1941–2016) was a pioneering figure in Malaysian contemporary art and one of the few female artists to have emerged in the local art scene during the 1970s. Born in George Town, Penang, her practice spanned documentary photography, painting, silkscreen, collage, and public art. She began her training under renowned figurative painter Hoessein Enas and went on to pursue her studies in the United States and England. Often overlooked in favour of her male contemporaries, her art is characterised by its brutal social commentary, whether tackling war atrocities in regions as far-flung as Bosnia or the squalor of urban slums in her own country. To this end, she experimented with various techniques, such as the use of silkscreened newsprint and photographs. In 1973, her piece, Statement I won a Major Award in the National Art Gallery’s Man and His World competition, making it the first installation artwork to ever win a major art prize in Malaysia.

Further Readings
Learning Section

  • How many faces can you see in this image? How would you describe their expression? How has the artist arranged these images in the artwork? How does the composition affect the atmosphere and meaning of the artwork? Can you describe how colour has been used in the artwork? How has the artist used tone? Do you notice any particular areas of light and shadow? How do the use of tone and colour affect the atmosphere of the work?

  • The artist has used photographs from newspapers. These photographs show child victims of war. Images of children affected by war are often the most powerful and widely reproduced images of war. Why do you think that is? Can you see any ethical problems with journalists taking photos of children in a war zone and publishing these images in a newspaper? What responsibility, if any, does a war photographer have to the victims of war?

  • This artwork is by a female artist. Would you know that this artwork was made by a woman? Why are there fewer women than men represented in most big art collections? What other groups are underrepresented? What are the disadvantages of this? What, if anything, should galleries and museums do to change that?