Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

With his trademark child-like sensibility, Dzulkifli Buyong captures the mischief and playfulness of childhood through the particularity and charm of the everyday. This vibrant painting, which also touches on the tradition of spirits in Malay folklore and myths, depicts three children in the domestic setting of a bedroom. Two children, presumably siblings, are portrayed lying on a bed while a third child, draped in a yellow kain pelikat with only eyes peeking through, stands above them pretending to be a ghost (hantu) to scare them. As he hovers over the two siblings, the girl peeks cautiously through her blanket while her younger brother clings to her in fright. The bright colours of their attire, highlighted through different plaid and floral patterns, draws the attention of the eye and places emphasis on the subject of children at play, against a simple, straightforward composition. Proportions are drawn slightly exaggerated to emphasise on posture and bring a nuance of elegance to the painting; this thin and elongated stylisation of human figures is an influence of the Wednesday Art Group, where stylistic similarities can be seen in the work of the artist Patrick Ng Kah Onn.

Oil on wood
135.5 x 80 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Dzulkifli Buyong
About Dzulkifli Buyong

Dzulkifli Buyong (1948-2004) was born in Kuala Lumpur. A self-taught artist and leading member of art collective Wednesday Art Group, his work mainly focuses on the theme of Malaysian children at play to celebrate the joy and innocence of childhood across everyday contexts that were often imbued with a sense of community. Buyong was hailed as a child prodigy and won several accolades across nationwide art competitions from the age of 14. From 1961 to 1965, he studied at the Victoria Institution under the tutelage of fellow Malaysian artist Patrick Ng. He participated in various exhibitions during those years under the group, the Arts Council as well as at the National Art Gallery. In the late 1960s, he was sent to Japan to train for three years. His work was also exhibited abroad twice as part of the Contemporary Art of Asia and Exhibition of Malaysian Art for Australia in 1965. In 1991, he participated in  the Open Show organised by the National Art Gallery Malaysia. 

Further Readings

  • Modern Malaysian Art: From the Pioneering Era to the Pluralist Era, 1930s-1990s, Muliyadi Mahamood.

  • Modern Artists of Malaysia, T.K Sabapathy & Redza Piyadasa, ed. Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka Ministry of Education, Malaysia 

Learning Section

  • Describe the three figures in the painting. What is happening here? How are they each feeling? What is their relationship with each other? Are they close? Are they all enjoying this game? Imagine this painting is a snapshot in time, what do you think will happen next?

  • The text suggests that this painting shows one sibling pretending to be a ghost to scare his younger siblings. Did you ever play similar games with your siblings, cousins  or friends?  Who did you play these games with? What other games did you play? Does this painting bring back happy or sad memories? Which of the three figures do you most identify with? Why?