Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Return from the Sea
Return from the Sea

A group of fishermen have  just returned from a fishing trip in this painting by second-generation Nanyang artist Cheah Yew Saik. The figures are painted in a highly stylised manner typical of the Nanyang style, with the figure-types depicted to suggest human activity as part of the local landscape,  rather than seeking  to create a realistic  likeness. In 1963,  the same year this painting was made, the newly formed nation of Malaysia had come into being. Yew Saik’s fishermen, with their varied skin tones, suggest a group of men of different  ethnicities working together  in harmony, perhaps alluding to an idea of Malaysia as culturally and racially diverse, with an economic abundance shared by all.

Oil on canvas
53 × 89 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Cheah Yew Saik
About Cheah Yew Saik

Cheah Yew Saik (b. 1939, Kedah) is part of the second generation of Nanyang artists in Malaysia. He graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1961 and  from Stoke-on-Trent College of Arts, England in 1965. Upon his return to Malaysia, Yew Saik, who is passionate about art education, founded the short-lived Penang Art School in 1966. In 1968, he founded another school, the Kuala Lumpur College of Art. He served as its principal until 2002. Over his long career, he has had solo exhibitions in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia. His works are in the collections of the National Art Gallery, the Kedah Art Museum, Bank Negara Malaysia, Soka Gakkai Malaysia, and Petronas.

Further Readings
  • Nur Hanim Khairuddin and Beverly Yong, eds. Narratives in Malaysian Art vol. 1. Kuala Lumpur: RogueArt, 2012.

Learning Section

  • How many figures can you see in this image? Cheah Yew Saik uses stylised figures in his paintings. What elements of the human figures has he chosen to include? What does he not include? How are the figures different from each other? What can you tell about the mood and relationships between the group of figures? The text tells us that this artwork was painted in the year of Malaysia's formation. Does knowing this change your reading of the painting? Do you agree with the interpretation of the painting given in the text? What evidence is there in the painting for this interpretation?

  • Fishing continues to be an important industry in Malaysia. Would this scene still represent fishing today?  How has it changed since the time this painting was made? What are the advantages and disadvantages  of these changes to local communities?