Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Bintang Pujaan
Bintang Pujaan

In this work, a digital portrait of popular 80s singer Sahara Yaacob is appropriated and juxtaposed against representations of mass media and technology to question the male gaze and the portrayal of women in popular culture. Nicknamed Malaysia’s Tina Turner, Sahara Yaacob was largely perceived as a sex symbol due to her bold persona and was a frequent topic of controversy in the public eye. Swaths of horizontal bands in faded retro colours fill the work’s background, while tiny squares cluster around the popstar like flashing lights of the paparazzi to reflect the rise of the celebrity and media during the era. Bintang Pujaan, meaning idol or superstar, was also the name of a local 1981 colourised film about the rise and fall of an aspiring female singer. Repetitive female eyes and a slide of Kodak’s Ektachrome colour film are collaged above at the top of the work, depicting the increasing presence of Western ideologies and new technologies across a modernising world. Like Ismail Zain’s other works across the Digital Collage series, the various elements of Bintang Pujaan come together to explore the penetrating influence of globalisation and popular culture on the Malay psyche and culture.

Print with collage (airbrush finish)
72 x 65cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Ismail Zain
About Ismail Zain

Ismail Zain (1930-1991) was born in Kedah, Malaysia. One of Malaysia's most respected artists,  writers and educators, Ismail Zain was a pioneer in computer art. He moved  to London in the 1960s to continue his artistic training at the Ravensbourne College of Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Upon his return to Malaysia, besides practising as an artist, he went on to hold several key arts administrative posts within the government and served as Director of  the National Art Gallery, the Director-General of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, and the Director-General of the National Film Development Corp. His interest and experimentation with new technologies would lead to a major exhibition entitled Digital Collage in 1988 which would herald the importance of new media art in the country. Following his death, the National Art Gallery held two retrospective exhibitions, one in 1995 and the other in 2019.

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Look at the woman's eyes in this artwork. What adjectives would you use to describe them? What atmosphere or mood do you think her eyes create? What are they looking at? Now look at the eyes behind her? What adjectives would you use to describe them?  What  effect do they have? Who do these eyes belong to? What are they looking at?

  • Sahara Yaacob is the star of the title. From the text, we learn that she was a favourite of the media and often the subject of controversy. Who are the Malaysian stars that fascinate the media today? Why are they famous? How are they treated by the media? How are they treated by their fans? How do they communicate or interact with their fans? Who are the international stars that preoccupy the media? Are they treated differently by the media and fans? Has the way famous women are treated changed since the 1980s?