Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Siri Topeng – Penghulu
Siri Topeng – Penghulu

Four ‘faces’ sit uniformly, confronting the audience head on. There is an intensity in the work, in its vivid colours and its bold, distinctive outlines, imbuing the power and potency of the masks of the penghulu, or the chieftains of a tribe. This is an early work belonging to his Topeng series, from 1992-1996. The artist developed this series after a trip to Sarawak in 1991, where he found inspiration in the ceremonial masks of the Kayan and Kenyah tribes.

In this work, the artist  studies the formal qualities of the mask as well as the social and symbolic significance it holds. In his use of ceremonial masks, he hints towards a sense of “otherness” or separation between Peninsular and East Malaysia, and conveys his disquiet with the disenfranchisement of the local indigenous communities there.The artist is also interested in masks in relation to the ambiguities of outward appearances and transformation of ones’ identity.

Mixed media on canvas
204 x 42 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Yusof Ghani
About Yusof Ghani

Yusof Ghani (b. 1950, Pontian, Johor, Malaysia) is an artist, writer, academic and curator.  In 1979, he received a scholarship to study Graphic Art at George Mason University, USA. He then obtained a Master’s degree at the Catholic University, Washington DC. His thesis focused  on ‘cultural dance’, which was to become a recurring theme in his body of work. Formerly an associate professor at UiTM, Yusof Ghani is considered one of Malaysia’s leading abstract artists. A devout Muslim, his abstract works which have remained rooted in the figurative with his Tari works and portraiture in his Topeng series, raised the interesting debate about figuration and Islam that influenced the themes and aesthetics of Malaysian art in the 80s.

Further Readings

  • From Tari to Topeng: An Artistic Profile of Yusof Ghani, T.K. Sabapathy

  • A Study of Yusof Ghani’s Artworks: The ‘Wajah’ Series Paintings from 2006 to 2010. 2010. Mozhgan Ramezani.

  • Segerak Yusof Ghani. 2004. Muliyadi Mahamood.

  • Yusof Ghani: Hijau 1998-2002. 2002. PETRONAS.

  • Yusof Ghani: Drawings. 1997. Rusli Hashim Fine Art.

  • Siri tari: topeng. 1996. Rusli Hashim Fine Art.

Learning Section

  • Describe what you see in this painting. What colours do you see? What shapes do you recognise?  Describe the lines you see. What adjectives would you use? Do you notice any patterns or textures?  How has the artist used paint? Find another painting by Yusof Ghani in the collection. Are there similarities? Can you identify any key elements of his style?

  • What is the mood of this painting? The title translates as Mask Series.  Does the title help you understand the painting? Describe the four masks that we see. How are they similar? What are the differences? Have you ever seen similar masks? What were they used for? How do think these masks were used? Do they all belong to the same person? When are they worn?

  • The wearing of masks is popular is many different cultures and many different times. Why do you think this is?  To prevent the spread of covid, we are  now all asked to wear masks. How do you feel about this? Do you think this will change or remain the custom for a long time? Why do some people in the world refuse to wear masks? What would persuade them to change their minds?