Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

Metamorphosis pays homage to the canonical novel by the German writer, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), of the same title. The Metamorphosis (1915) tells the story of the travelling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning from a series of troubling dreams to find himself transformed into a large, insect-like creature. Kafka’s blend of realism and fantasy, as well as the writings and illustrations of Alfred Kubin (whose work in turn inspired Kafka to write The Castle (1926)), were formative sources of inspiration for Ilse during her early years. 

In Ilse’s version of Kafka’s story, the human-to-creature transformation is absent. Instead, her etching conjures an insect’s carcass laying limp on the composition’s ground from which emerges another insect rising vertically from its tail. Our attention is drawn to the grandeur of this floating insect, which has been etched more intensely to contrast the translucent and almost disappearing quality of its counterpart. Ilse sets this auratic scene against a sculptural arrangement of foliage and rocks in the right middle ground. An indistinguishable vertical form is placed in the far left background, perhaps a shadow of the scene occurring in the foreground, or another biological aberration awaiting definition. This etching is one example of the artist’s recurring fascination with mythological landscapes, animals, and objects.

Etching on paper
39.5 x 35 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Ilse Noor
About Ilse Noor

Ilse Noor (b. 1941, Wipperfuerth, West Germany) is a celebrated graphic fine artist, known best for her semi-autobiographical etchings. Her works typically depict landscapes, animals, buildings or objects, interwoven with her interest in the literature, histories, myths, and legends of Germany and Southeast Asia. At the age of sixteen, she studied graphic design, initially under W. M. Stucke in Bonn, then at the College of Art in Cologne, and finally at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich from 1963-64. There, she studied graphic art and painting under Professor Franz Nagel, winning her first award in painting from the Academy. It was during this period when Ilse met her Malaysian husband, later migrating to Malaysia in 1974. Apart from over 100 group and solo exhibitions worldwide, Ilse has written three books, illustrated posters, magazines, and various children’s books including one for the Oxford University Press. She has received commissions from various bodies including Shell Companies Malaysia (1985), His Majesty the Sultan of Selangor (1992), and Malaysia Airlines System Berhad (1997). Her 24 etchings of historical buildings commissioned by Shell resulted in the publication of the book, Warisan Nusa Shell Book of Malaysian Heritage (1991), where Ilse writes about her experiences in various buildings and sites around Malaysia. Her collections reside in galleries, museums and banks in several locations including Malaysia, Germany, Egypt, France, and Bosnia. 

Further Readings

  • Sharifah Shida al-Attas, SAMUDRA: Gurisan Oleh Ilse Noor / Etchings by Ilse Noor, exhibition catalogue (Kuala Lumpur: Galeri Petronas, 2002), pp. 41-5.

  • Natalie Noor-Drugan, “Enigma: Ilse Noor’s world of paradox, mystery and conundrum”, in Project Room (2004), ed. Project Room Fine Art Gallery, 

  • Ilse Noor, artist’s website, 

Learning Section

  • Look carefully at the image of the emerging insect and the carcass which has been discarded. Describe the detail of what you see. What adjectives would describe these two different bodies? What details has the artist included when drawing them? How has the artist used light in the image? What elements are brighter? Where are the shadows and dark areas in the image? What is the overall atmosphere of the artwork? Do you think this artwork is optimistic or pessimistic?

  • Metamorphosis is a common theme in art and literature. Why do you think this is? Do you think we as humans are capable of radical change? What circumstances lead to change? In your experience is change a good thing?