Art Detail | Ilham Gallery

This oil painting reveals Peter Harris’ skill in drawing and love of observation as he had a penchant for sketching people in everyday life during his time in Malaya, producing numerous portraits that were charming in their simplicity. Warrior depicts a male figure dressed in the traditional attire of an indigenous community, rendered against a natural environment through expressive brushstrokes and vivid colours to engage the viewer. The use of confident, concise strokes and contrasting shades create a balanced intensity of shadow and light throughout.

Oil on board
60 x 40 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Peter Harris
About Peter Harris

Born in Bristol, England, Peter Harris (1923-2009) played an important part in Malaysian art history as  a pioneer of early art education. Educated at the West of England Art Academy in 1939, the artist-educator moved to the Federation of Malaya in 1951 to teach art at local schools as the first art superintendent of the country. The following year, he founded the Wednesday Art Group (WAG) to encourage free expression and ideas in creative painting. Members of WAG included several acclaimed Malaysian artists, including Patrick Ng Kah Onn, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Dzulkifli Buyong, Cheong Lai Tong and Dr Jolly Koh. He left Malaya in 1960 and the National Art Gallery accorded him its first retrospective exhibition. In 1962, he was invited back to the country to oversee art education in Sabah and remained in service for five years, before returning to England in 1967. His works have been inducted into the permanent collections of the Singapore Art Museum and the National Art Gallery Malaysia. Harris returned to Malaysia in 1996 for an exhibition honouring the Wednesday Art Group, themed Then and Now at the now defunct Galeriwan in Kuala Lumpur.

Further Readings
  • Marco C. F. Hsu. A Brief History of Malayan Art. Singapore: Millennium Books, 1963.

  • Sarena Abdullah. Absenteeism of Malaysian Identity in Art in the Early Years of Independence. Jati, Volume 15, December 2010 

  • Emelia Ong Ian Li  and Izmer Ahmad. Expressions of Hybridity as Strategy for Malayan Nationalism: Selected Artworks in Modern Malayan Art. Wacana Seni Journal of Arts Discourse. Jil./Vol.14. 2015. University Malaya. 

Learning Section

  • Do you think the "warrior" will have been happy with this portrait? Why? Do you think he chose to pose in this way, wearing these clothes or was that decision made by the artist? What do his clothes and pose tell us about the person in the painting?  Why do we not know the name of the person in the portrait? What kind of relationship do you think he had with the artist?

  • Malaysia's many indigenous tribes continue to practice traditional customs and preserve their heritage. However it has become more and more difficult to preserve their way of life. What factors make it difficult to preserve traditional cultures in contemporary Malaysia? Is it important to do so? Why?