Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
The Marriage of Sultan Mansor Shah
The Marriage of Sultan Mansor Shah

Completed days before Ismail Zain’s untimely death, this large figurative painting portrays one of Sultan Mansur Shah’s five marriages during his reign in Malacca from 1459 to 1477. Strategic matrimonial alliances were common at the time to strengthen state control and the Sultan’s unions included those with the Princess of Majapahit as well as with  Hang Li Po, supposedly a princess from the Ming dynasty in China. In the painting, the royals are depicted in front of an ornate pelamin, or wedding dais, as part of a traditional Malay wedding ceremony alongside kompang players and bunga manggar. Floral and decorative elements can be seen throughout the rest of the work, a recurring feature of the artist’s paintings in the 1980s. Using the technique of silkscreen and collage, he juxtaposes photographs of morning glory flowers and lace-doily motifs against geometric symbols of cut-out grids and controlled paint stripes, reflecting traditional culture in collision with the modern condition.

Acrylic on canvas
152 x 121 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Ismail Zain
About Ismail Zain

Ismail Zain (1930-1991) was born in Kedah, Malaysia. One of Malaysia's most respected artists,  writers and educators, Ismail Zain was a pioneer in computer art. He moved  to London in the 1960s to continue his artistic training at the Ravensbourne College of Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Upon his return to Malaysia, besides practising as an artist, he went on to hold several key arts administrative posts within the government and served as Director of  the National Art Gallery, the Director-General of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, and the Director-General of the National Film Development Corp. His interest and experimentation with new technologies would lead to a major exhibition entitled Digital Collage in 1988 which would herald the importance of new media art in the country. Following his death, the National Art Gallery held two retrospective exhibitions, one in 1995 and the other in 2019.

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Describe the composition of this painting. What is in the foreground? What is the middleground? What is in the background? Is it symmetrical? What are the differences between the left and right sides of the painting? What is similar on both sides? What elements take up most of the space in the painting? What is the focal point of the painting? How do you know?

  • Describe the figures you see in the painting.What clues are we given that this is a royal wedding? Have you seen portraits of royalty before? How is this portrait different? Can you suggest any reason for these differences? Do you think the Sultan would have liked this painting? Why? What about his wife?

  • Wedding traditions are different in every culture. What are the elements of this painting that show that this is a Malay wedding ceremony? What else could have been included to show Malay wedding traditions? How are they different from Chinese weddings? What about Hindu weddings? Are there elements that are the same in all weddings?