Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

We can see in this figurative painting, the emergence of the vigorous expressionist energy that would dominate the artist’s works in the following decade. The cool and warm palette of dominant blue with hues of green, orange, yellow and red manifest through fluid brushstrokes to create a local scene full of energy and vitality. Payong-Payong, which translates as umbrellas, portrays a group of women going about their day with their paper umbrellas, in the manner of a fashionable parade. The umbrella  is perhaps a reflection of the era’s commodification of fashion, a signifier of impending modernity, mobility and freedom in the spirit of post-Merdeka Malaysia.

Oil on canvas
95cm x 165cm
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
  • Hasnol J. Saidon, ‘Syed Ahmad Jamal: Pelukis, 55 Years of Collecting Syed Ahmad Jamal’s Works’, Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, 2009

  • T.K. Sabapathy, ‘Merdeka Makes Art, Or Does It?’ Vision and Idea: ReLooking Modern Malaysian Art, ed. T.K. Sabapathy, Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, 1994. 

  • Simon Soon, ‘Notes on GRUP’, Gerak, Rupa, Ubah, Penyataan 1957-1973,  ILHAM Gallery, 2017. 

  • Modern Artists of Malaysia, T.K. Sabapathy, Redza Piyadasa, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1983 

  • Syed Ahmad Jamal : A Historical Overview, 1954 - 1994, T.K. Sabapathy, Nanyang Gallery of Art, 1994

Learning Section
  • Imagine you are inside this painting. How would it feel? What noises would you hear? What would you smell? How does the sun feel on your skin? Do you feel welcomed by the women in the painting? Are they nice people? What are they talking about? Where are they going? Where does the road at the centre of the painting lead to?

  • The artist has chosen not to paint in a realistic style but to simplify the figures in his painting. What details has he chosen to include? What has he left out? What colours has he used in the painting? Are they realistic? Are some colours more dominant than others? Why is this? The use of curved lines in this painting is important as it gives the painting a feeling of movement. Other than in the umbrellas, where has the artist used curves?