Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Monsoon Moon
Monsoon Moon

The moon here is seen through a thick veil of tropical rain, painted with rapid brushstrokes in rich hues of blue and green. On the right of the painting is a whitish orb, the titular moon, but the shape on the left is more obscure. It is a dark presence, mostly dominated by black with glimmers of primary colours. At its most intense points, this dark abstraction pushes the blue-green hues to the background and overtakes the moon as the primary subject of the painting, before fading back into shadow again. Syed Ahmad Jamal’s oeuvre is filled with such forms as these, forms that cannot be pinned to anything familiar but which nevertheless hypnotise viewers with their ambiguity.

Oil on canvas
70 x 126 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Syed Ahmad Jamal
About Syed Ahmad Jamal

Born in Johor, Syed Ahmad Jamal (1929 - 2011) is considered a pioneer of the abstract expressionist movement in Malaysia. An all-encompassing artist, art educator, arts administrator, writer and cultural observer, his immense contributions to the nation’s development of modern art spanned over four decades.. He was awarded the Sultan Ibrahim scholarship to study architecture at the Birmingham School of Architecture (1950-1951) and later studied painting at the Chelsea School of Art in London (1951-1955). He then spent a year at the Institute of Education, University of London studying art education from 1955 to 1956. In 1963, he was awarded a Fulbright grant to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, specialising in sculpture. He left again for the United States in 1973 to obtain a Masters in Art History from University of Hawaii, Honolulu and studied Philosophy of Islamic Art in Harvard University, USA. Upon his multiple returns, he taught at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute for more than ten years, where he was subsequently appointed Principal of the Institution. He later served as Director, Culture Centre, University of Malaya and then as Director, National Art Gallery from 1983–1991. He is the only visual artist to date to be awarded the accolade of Seniman Negara (National Artist Laureate).

Further Readings

  • Sabapathy, T.K. “Consolidations and Transformations”. In Syed Ahmad Jamal: A Historical Overview 1954–1994, 38–76. Singapore: Nanyang Gallery of Art, 1994. 

  • Sarena Abdullah. “Syed, Ahmad Jamal (1929–2011).” The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism: Taylor and Francis, 2016. Accessed Sep. 14, 2021.

Learning Section

  • Describe what you see in this painting. What colours has the artist used? Are there any dominant colours? What other colours are used and where? What shapes do you see in the painting? Are there any shapes that you recognise? How has the artist used light in the painting? Are there areas which are darker than others? Where are the brightest areas? How has the artist applied paint to the artwork? Can you see the marks of his brush? What patterns do they make?

  • What is the mood of the painting? How does it make you feel? What does it remind you of?

  • Do you consider this painting to be a landscape? What kind of landscape do you see? What time of day or night is it? What is the weather like? How would it feel to be in the painting? What noises would you hear? What smells would you notice? How would your skin feel? Does the title of the painting change your reading of the artwork?