Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Satay Seller
Satay Seller
This batik painting by pioneering Malaysian batik artist Chuah Thean Teng features a nationally beloved dish of skewered meat known as satay. In this simplified pictorial plane, Teng’s titular satay seller looms unnaturally large,  framed by the kerosene grill he is using to cook his satay. He is haloed by a vivid red, suggesting the rising heat from the grill and the general heat of his surroundings. We can see here Teng’s skillful build up of layers of colour. A woman carrying a covered tray on her head in the background suggests that the scene takes place in a busy outdoor hawker centre in Malaysia.  Teng often used nostalgic or cultural elements in his batik paintings to promote a sense of nationhood that came with the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
56 x 42 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Chuah Thean Teng
About Chuah Thean Teng

Chuah Thean Teng (b. 1914, Fukien, China — d. 2008, Penang) is nationally acknowledged as the “father of batik art”,  being the first in Malaysia to use batik as a fine art medium. He was celebrated by influential art patron Frank Sullivan as having developed “a key Malaysian artistic expression” during a time when the newly-independent nation was searching for a cultural identity to represent itself. Chuah trained briefly at the Xiamen College of Art in China. In 1936, he moved to Penang, where he opened a commercial batik factory producing sarongs; it was here that Chuah began his experiments with batik painting. Due to the patronage he received among the wealthier Anglophile classes in Malaysia, he was able to exhibit his work at the Commonwealth Institute in England in 1959, and was the first Malaysian to be honoured with a retrospective by the National Art Gallery in 1965. A second retrospective was held by the Penang State Art Gallery in 1994. Many of his works, along with the works of his three sons and two grandsons, can be found in the family-run Yahong Art Gallery in Batu Ferringhi, Penang.

Further Readings
Learning Section
  • Hawker centres and street food continue to be an important part of Malaysian culture. Look at Chuah Thean Teng's artwork. This batik piece was made in the 1970s. How is this scene different from a hawker centre  today? How is it similar?

  • Chuah  Thean Teng uses simplified forms, bold outlines and flat colours in this batik painting. It is an illustrative style which is well suited to batik and reminiscent of cartoons or comic books. Imagine this is the first panel of a comic book or graphic novel. What kind of story will it tell? What kind of character is the street vendor? Has he had a happy life? What is about to happen to him? Could you draw the next four panels in the story using a similar style and colours as those used by the artist.