Beautiful Malay Art: 12+ Famous Pieces

Malay Art

Malay art (or kesenian Melayu in the Malay language) is a type of traditional art that has become a national treasure of Malaysia. What sets it apart from others is that it has masterfully and creatively managed to reflect the realities of Malaysia’s culture, beliefs, traditions, and society.

Want to learn more? In today’s post, we will discuss the history and distinct details related to this type of art. Toward the end of the post, we also compiled some of the famous works from this country so that you can check these out for yourself these pieces. If you are ready for that, then keep reading below!

History Of Malay Art

It is not incorrect to say that many people are drawn to the idea of owning a work of art. The concept has been around for a long time and is still gaining popularity today. Perhaps, you landed on this post because you probably want to own one from a Malay artist too! To help you understand Malay art better, here’s a quick rundown of its history.

The history of traditional Malaysian art can be traced back centuries to when the region was heavily influenced by Indian and Chinese cultures. This can be seen in the use of Sanskrit and Chinese characters in early Malay inscriptions textiles, clothing, woodwork, and metalwork, as well as in the motifs and designs found in early Malay art.

Over time, Malaysian artists developed their own distinctive style, which was influenced by various factors such as religion, politics, and trade. Islam, which arrived in the region in the 14th century, had a significant impact on Malay art, particularly in the areas of calligraphy, architecture, and textiles. The Malay sultanates, which emerged in the 15th century, also played a role in shaping Malay culture, as they were patrons of the arts and encouraged the development of local artistic traditions.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Malay art underwent further changes as a result of colonialism and modernization. European colonial powers such as the Dutch and the British introduced new technologies and artistic styles to the region, which had a profound impact on Malay art. This can be seen in the emergence of new art forms such as photography and printmaking, as well as in the incorporation of European artistic styles such as Realism and Impressionism.

Influences on Malay art

Influences On Malay Art

Malay art has been influenced by a wide range of cultures and artistic traditions over the centuries. Some of the most significant influences include:

Indian Art

The early Malay kingdoms were heavily influenced by Indian culture, particularly in the areas of religion, language, and art. This can be seen in the use of Sanskrit in early Malay inscriptions, as well as in the motifs and designs found in early Malay art.

Chinese Art

The Chinese also had a significant impact on Malay art, particularly in the areas of pottery, ceramics, and Chinese calligraphy. Chinese pottery, for example, was highly valued in the Malay courts as an aesthetic art form, and Malaysian Chinese calligraphers were often employed to create inscriptions and other decorative elements.

Islamic Art

Islam, which arrived in the region in the 14th century, had a profound impact on Malay art, particularly in the areas of Islamic calligraphy, architecture, and textiles. Islamic calligraphy, in particular, became an important part of Malay art and can be seen in a wide range of decorative arts such as ceramics. This brings us to pottery.

Malay Handicrafts


Malaysian batik will undoubtedly be Malaysia’s most visually appealing art form representing cultural diversity. You might have to spend hours picking out these colorful, traditional, tie-dye floral patterns. Batik is a fabric made from hand-dyed wax and dyes. It is sometimes made of cotton, but it is also made of silk. Besides its long history, batik is one of the contemporary art forms that can be adapted into many types of products, such as bags, scarves, table linen, wall hangings, etc.

Leaf Origami

This Malay art is continuously active in many indigenous tribes, especially among Mah Meri people. Unlike the origami of the Japanese people, this one is usually done using leaves from the silver leaf plant. There are many different ways that this art is done. For example, the leaves can be created into different shapes, such as butterflies, or leaves can be folded into a specific shape, such as a rose. When you make your own origami, you will also be able to explore the different ways to create your own leaf origami.

Traditional Signboards

A signboard is a type of advertising medium used to promote a company’s or brand’s products and services. They are hand carved by local craftsmen who possess the skills to create words on a wooden signboard that is both beautiful and highly functional. It has been traditionally used in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Malay Beadwork

If you take a trip to a Malaysian craft market when travelling in Malaysia, you are likely to come across items intricately decorated with Peranakan beadwork. Traditional arts like beadwork are created by women using glass beads shipped in from Europe. Peranakan beads are used to decorate slippers, pouches, belts, handbags and wedding veils. On Sarawak and Borneo, the fine beads are created from a variety of materials including ceramics, animal teeth, bones, glass, stone, snail skin and wood. Accessories decorated with these beads include bangles, belts, earrings, and belts.


Calligraphy is a visual art form of writing or painting with ink or brushes. In Malaysia, there are both Islamic Calligraphy and Chinese calligraphy. They’re used for religious purposes, as well as for decorative purposes in a variety of areas.

Malay art Lantern


Malaysian Chinese lanterns are called “tanglung” in the Malay language. The traditional vibrant lanterns are often used in celebrations such as weddings, births, and New Year in Malaysia and Singapore. The lanterns usually don different patterns with symbolism depending on the occasion.

Rattan Weaving

In Southeast Asia, rattan products can be seen anywhere, including Malaysia. It’s a traditional art that is functional. By weaving the rattan into patterns, you can make baskets and even furniture.


It’s a golden thread applied to many products, such as clothing, boxes, pillow, etc. This art helps elevate items to a higher level of luxury.


It’s a traditional Malaysian kite that has become one of the country’s symbols. The kite’s body has decorative designs in vivid colors, with some parts made of transparent paper. Though you don’t like flying a kite, this can perfectly decorate your house.

Nyonya Beadwork

Embroidery originated in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The word “nyonya” is a Malay and Indonesian term for foreign married women. This distinctive art form is achieved through precise needlework.

Boat Building

It’s both surprising and sad to learn that boat building has slowly faded from Malaysia, a country surrounded by a beautiful sea. Each boat is expertly handcrafted from high-quality wood.

Malay art Dance Joget

Malay Dance

Traditional dance is a tremendously important part of Malaysia’s culture, and each ethnic group celebrates its culture with unique dances. Some of the most popular dance forms include “Zapin” and “Joget.” Let’s get to know other forms of Malay dances below.

Mak Yong

A traditional dance is one of the UNESCO masterpieces of humanity’s oral and intangible heritage. It’s a Malay dance that is mainly performed for entertainment.

Kuda Kepang

This is known as a wonderful Javanese dance with a flat horse that originated from the south of the Malay Peninsula. It’s reserved to perform on special occasions.

Wayang Kulit

It’s shadow puppetry with folk tales, a perfect combination of storytelling and beautiful flat wooden puppets.

Malay Art. Close-up of a pottery wheel with hands creating a pot.

Malaysian Ceramic Pottery

Traditional Malay pottery has been practised by the Malay community and indigenous tribes for centuries. This distinctive art form, like rattan weaving, has been passed down from generation to generation and has become an important part of Malaysia’s cultural heritage. The use of local materials and traditional methods have helped to preserve this art form, and today it continues to be an important part of Malay culture and helps to keep the country’s cultural heritage alive. The different types of Malay pottery include Laby Sayong, Mambong, and Terenang.

The tradition of Malay pottery dates back to the 14th century when it was introduced by the Chinese. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that Malaysia’s many indigenous tribes began to develop their unique style of pottery. The Malay potters used locally available materials such as clay, sand, and water to create their masterpieces. They also used traditional Malaysian firing techniques to achieve the desired results.

During the colonial period, Malay pottery faced stiff competition from European imports. However, it continued to thrive, and today it is highly valued by collectors and art enthusiasts all over the world.

Shadow Puppetry

When travelling through Malaysia, be sure to keep an eye out for a Wayang Kulit show. This integral part of Malaysian culture was inherited from the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. Intricately carved leather puppets perform behind a linen screen lit by coconut oil lamps. A celebration of Malaysia’s oral and intangible heritage, these shows are based on folk tales and Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and are often performed on special occasions.

Malay Art Words You May Want To Use

To properly get to grips with the vibrant world of Malay art we’ll need a few art words under our Peranakan beaded belts.

Animation Animasi
Architecture Seni bina
Art Seni
Artist Artis
Batik Batik
Ceramics Seramik
Clay Tanah liat
Craft Kerajinan
Decorative Hiasan
Design Reka bentuk
Engraving Ukiran
Glass Kaca
Kiln Tanur
Model Model
Painting Melukis
Pottery Tembikar
Sculpture Arca
Textiles Tekstil
Watercolour Cat air
Wood carving Ukiran kayu

The Beauty Of Malay Art And Its Culture

Malay art is a part of Malaysia’s cultural identity because it covers various creative expressions of the Malay people, including music, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, ceramics, and many more. After looking more closely at these Malay traditional art forms, you should realize how many incredible artisans play an essential role in representing Malay culture. We hope you found it helpful and can use some of the information in your language learning.

Learn Malay With The Ling App

Art is like learning other languages in the sense that it has no boundaries. So, tell me, what exactly are you worried about when it comes to learning the Malay language? If you are on the search for the best language resource, the Ling App is one of the most convenient and enjoyable ways to learn Malay. The app has everything you’ll ever need, with vast units covering all topics you require!

Does that sound inspiring? So download the Ling app from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store now, and prepare to be fluent in Malay very soon!

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