Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
The Grass Eaters
The Grass Eaters

A versatile, multi-disciplinary artist, the last few decades of Wong Hoy Cheong’s career show a steady disembarkation from analogue works to the digital. His paintings included in this exhibition are among the paintings he produced soon after his return to Malaysia from his studies in the U.S. His influences then included Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Hans Hoffman. On his paintings, Wong reflected, “I was trying to nurture a transplanted element [painting] in a Malaysian context and failed.” He turned to collaborative and interactive mediums he felt were closer to the Malaysian context. Observers will note, however, how the two paintings included in this exhibition capture his unwavering passion for activism and his engagement with historical, political, and social influence, regardless of mediums. Both The Grass Eater and Old Tale Retold capture his deliberate choice of using the figurative as an act of rebellion, resisting abstraction in his imagery for greater political and social engagement.

In this painting, artist Wong Hoy Cheong powerfully brings to life his father’s experience interned in  a prison camp during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1941 - 1945). The painting’s image of starved emaciated men and women behind bars eating grass, references the harsh and brutal conditions his father and the other prisoners had to endure under the Kempeitai (Imperial Japanese Army).  The artist would explore this further in other works such as his 1990 installation of painting, performance, and film Sook Ching (“cleansing” or “purge”), and a film, Doghole (2010).

Oil on canvas
163 x 210 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Wong Hoy Cheong
About Wong Hoy Cheong

Wong was born in 1960 in Penang, and received a BA in literature from Brandeis University, Massachusetts, in 1982, and an M.Ed. from Harvard University in 1984. In 1986, he received an MFA in painting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Wong’s work challenges audiences to reconsider notions of ethnicity, indigeneity, colonialism, marginalised histories and community. He has exhibited widely, including at the Singapore Art Museum (2011); Eslite Gallery, Taipei (2010); the Lyon Biennale (2009); and National Visual Arts Gallery, Kuala Lumpur (2004 and 1996). He was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency Fellowship (2011), was named one of the ten art and culture Leaders of the Next Millennium by Asiaweek (1999) and Cornell University has named a scholarship after him for his work as an educator (1993).

Further Readings