Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Untitled (The Babysitters)
Untitled (The Babysitters)
c. 1950s

In Untitled (The Babysitters), artist Cheong Soo Pieng presents an idyllic village scene. The setting is most likely a longhouse — a traditional residential structure common among the indigenous people of Borneo. A longhouse can accommodate multiple families, with each family having their own private rooms while sharing a communal corridor space. The artist visited the Dayak longhouses in North Borneo in 1960 and  the experience greatly influenced his practice. The work’s title suggests that these “babysitters' ' are not the children’s biological mothers but possibly neighbours in the longhouse. Viewed in the present day, the painting evokes nostalgia for a more intimate and reciprocal form of community. 

The grey monotony of the painting is balanced by strategic bursts of red and the colourful patterns of the women's sarongs. These bursts of colour hint at the vibrancy of life in the longhouse, even in an apparently ordinary and quotidian scene. The artist uses Chinese painting ink technique with a modern painting style.

Chinese ink on paper
44 cm × 29.5 cm
c. 1950s
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Cheong Soo Pieng
About Cheong Soo Pieng

Cheong Soo Pieng (b. 1917, Amoy, China — d. 1983, Singapore) was one of the pioneers of the Nanyang art style,  employing a blend of Western and Eastern techniques to represent subject matter inspired by the Southeast Asian environment. Born and raised in Xiamen, China, he received his art education at the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai. In 1946, he moved to Singapore, where he was offered a lecturer post at the then newly-established Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. There, he lectured for 20 years, influencing both students and peers alike. Two of his travels around the Nusantara would have a significant impact on the development of his style: a visit to Bali, Indonesia in 1952 and to Borneo in 1959. The rural and indigenous villagers of Indonesia and Borneo became his most recurrent subject matter, and he often depicted them with elongated limbs and almond-shaped eyes.

Further Readings

Learning Section

  • Describe the people in the painting. How are they dressed? What are they doing? How are they interacting with each other? What kind of people do you think they are? Are they happy? Are they wealthy? Have their lives been easy or hard? What are their hopes for the future?

  • Describe how colour has been used in the painting? Are there any colours which are dominant? What other colours are used and where? How has line been used in the paintings? Can you see the marks made by the artist? How would you describe them? What is the overall mood of the painting?

  • The painting creates an image of a community living together and reliant on each other. To what extent, does this feeling of community still exist in Malaysian society today? Have recent events shown Malaysians to have a strong sense of community or have Malaysians become more individualistic? What about the world at large?