Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
I Can Sleep Through Even if the Bomb Explodes
I Can Sleep Through Even if the Bomb Explodes

In this hand-printed photograph, Ismail Hashim documents a familiar yet intimate scene of everyday domestic life to juxtapose little moments of the mundane and ordinary with larger events of peace and war. As an old woman and a cat sleep soundly nearby, a freestanding television broadcasts news footage of a bomb being lifted precariously out of the water to prevent it from exploding. The absence of activity in the photograph brings focus to the image on the television, which is further alluded to and elevated with new meaning by the title of the work. Beginning with a verb like other titles of Hashim’s works, Tidur Punya Ralit Bom Meletup Pun Tak Sedar places emphasis on the sleeping state of the subjects and how unconscious and unaware they are to their immediate surroundings and the bomb removal event, perhaps reminding the audience to wake up and open their eyes to their environment and the dangers of war.

Toned gelatin-silver handprint
49 x 33 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Ismail Hashim
About Ismail Hashim

Ismail Hashim (1940-2013) was born in Penang. Celebrated for his hand-tinted prints of the everyday, he was a pioneering figure in Malaysian art, and one of the earliest photographic artists in the region to experiment with different treatments and modes of presentation of the medium. He initially trained as a teacher and taught art at the Federation School for the Deaf in Penang. In 1972, he went to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) to study Fine Arts before going on to gain a Masters with a specialisation in Graphic Design at the Washington State University, USA in 1979. When he returned to Malaysia, he returned to USM where he lectured in the visual arts department and eventually became the dean of Pusat Seni (Centre of the Arts). He was also a founding member of social reform movement Aliran, where he contributed various designs, including some of its magazine’s most iconic covers and its logo. He took part in the Asian Art Biennale (Bangladesh 1992), and the 1st Asia-Pacific Triennial, Brisbane (1993). In 2010, Hashim was the first photographer to be honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the Penang State Art Gallery and Museum. Following a tragic motorcycle accident in 2013, his works were celebrated posthumously through Unpack––Repack: A Tribute to Ismail Hashim (1940-2013) at The Whiteaways Arcade in Penang and National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur in 2015. 

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Imagine you are describing this photo to someone who cannot see. What are the important elements of the photo? Describe each one in detail. Where are they placed? What are they doing?

  • An artist starts with a blank canvas and adds to it, a photographer starts with everything and decides what not to include. What has this photographer not included in the photo? Look carefully at what is included in the photograph? Why do you think the photographer included them? Is this photo staged? What makes you think this?

  • Does the title of this photograph help you understand it? Does it make you look at it differently? Do you think the artist is trying to make a point about society with this artwork? What is his point?