Please view Culture_The Naga Project

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Title / Red Carpet
Event / Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics
Organisation / Package & Design Magazine, China
Year / 2001
Designer_Photographer / William Harald-Wong

Shortly after China won the bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, I received an email and fax invitation to participate in China’s first travelling exhibition. The exhibition's intent was to promote the Games to the Chinese people, and 60 artists & designers were invited: 50 from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau; and 10 from other countries. It was an open brief. The only requirement was to include the line ‘Meet in Beijing’ and the official Beijing Olympics logo in the poster.

An image of China rolling out a red carpet and of dragons quickly came to my mind. I thought that it may be appropriate to send our Nagas, the serpent spirit of Southeast Asia, northwards for a rendezvous with the Chinese dragon, a symbol of power, strength and good fortune. It's also pleasant coincidence that both Nagas and dragons have something in common—they are the wise and benign guardians of the life-giving properties of water.

As the title ‘Meet in Beijing’ wasn’t a primary element of the design—after all, every poster carries the same words—I abstracted the letterforms, one line of text pushing northwards while another headed south, in the spirit of exchange and friendship. One feedback I received from China was that the Chinese guessed correctly that the words were in English while some foreign visitors thought the text was in Chinese.

Many of my posters, even today, are worked by hand with a trusty photocopier machine. The images are then scanned and assembled in the computer for digital output.

In my personal work and my photography, I believe in the Accident—the unpredictable is part of the creative process.
— William Harald-Wong
Malignant Millennium

Malignant Millennium

Malignant Millennium Magnified

Malignant Millennium Magnified

Titles / Malignant Millennium and Malignant Millennium Magnified
Client / National Art Gallery, Malaysia
Year / 2000
Designer / William Harald-Wong

I was invited by the Balai Seni Lukis Negara (National Art Gallery) to participate in an exhibition to commemorate the year 2000.

This pair of posters was inspired by a stunning NASA image of a star devouring another star. An image that is terrifying, I thought, but also timeless and wondrously beautiful. 

The idea found its final graphic expression after current events in Kosovo, the shooting at Columbine High School (Colorado, USA), sectarian clashes in Indonesia, bloody shoot-outs of Hollywood movies which had audiences in cinema halls clamouring for more, and memories of a famous assassination.

Although the new millennium is defined as a “hoped-for period of joy, prosperity, and justice” (Universal Dictionary), it is also evident that universal savagery, a dark condition in man, will cross the same threshold. These pockets of destructive force is part of the whole cosmological order—of creation, destruction and re-creation.

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Title / Lady White
Client / Five Arts Centre
Year / 1983
Designer_Photographer / William Harald-Wong

Poster for a theatre performance based on the Chinese classic Madam White Snake directed by Chin San Sooi. The photograph captures the moment Lady White changes from a beautiful woman into her immortal snake form.

The image was shot at the windy rooftop of the old Prime College in Jalan Klang Lama, Kuala Lumpur.



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Title / Mata Samseng (The Delinquent Eye)
Client / Arjo Wiggins
Year / 1997
Designer_Photographer / William Harald-Wong

My interest in vernacular forms and language is explored in this poster.

‘Mata Samseng’, roughly translated as ‘The Delinquent Eye’, is the title of a lecture to encourage design students to discover how form and function are sometimes shaped by culture and the social environment. I captured that theme in the differing form of the shadow puppets in Kelantan, northeastern Malaysia (represented as an illustration in the poster) and of Java, Indonesia (photographic image in the background) despite being a relatively similar art. According to the Kelantan wayang kulit tradition, the audience only sees the shadow of the puppets—hence the puppets are simple in colour and form. In Indonesia, however, the audience can sit either in front of the screen and see the puppets' shadows; or behind the screen, where the orchestra plays, and see the finely coloured and intricately carved puppets. 

Linguistically, I explored the term 'Mata Samseng'. Language is a tool that can be used to either conceal or reveal truth; it can be used to inform or to distort. Take for instance the word ‘mata’, which is the Malay word for ‘eye’. Older folks whom I spoke to tell me that the Chinese community subsequently adopted the word ‘mata-mata’ to mean ‘the eyes of the police’ during the Malayan Emergency (the Communist insurgency of 1940–1960).

The images above show the Colonial Government’s ‘Food Denial Operations’ or ‘Operation Starvation’—a tactic to deny food supplies to the communists hidden in the jungle. Strict control of movements of food was carried out during daylight hours and curfews were imposed from dusk to dawn. Rice is cooked and distributed under the watchful eyes (‘mata-mata’) of the Police and the Armed Forces.

The images above show the Colonial Government’s ‘Food Denial Operations’ or ‘Operation Starvation’—a tactic to deny food supplies to the communists hidden in the jungle. Strict control of movements of food was carried out during daylight hours and curfews were imposed from dusk to dawn. Rice is cooked and distributed under the watchful eyes (‘mata-mata’) of the Police and the Armed Forces.

‘Samseng’, on the other hand, is a Chinese word incorporated into everyday Malay. It usually means a hooligan or gangster. The Chinese word 三 sān (three) + 牲 shēng (domestic animal) could also mean an animal sacrifice, a secret society ritual.

‘Samseng’ could also be used by a doting mother in a teasing tone to describe a naughty child.

In this poster, I have coined the term ‘Mata Samseng’—loosely translated as the ‘naughty eye’ or ‘delinquent eye’—to urge design students to observe and question everything they see, with a view to improving or reinventing things from a fresh perspective. 

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Title / Bach’s Birdsong
Client 1 Leaflet / The British Council Malaysia
Client 2 Posters / (William Harald-Wong, self-initiated project)
Exhibitions Posters / Indigo travelling exhibition (global), others
Year Posters / 2000
Designer / William Harald-Wong

I was working on a promotional leaflet for The British Council, Bachs Bibliothek, and found a reproduction of an old manuscript where the musical notation was supposedly handwritten by the famous composer himself.

On closer inspection, and after enlarging several of Bach’s unretouched musical symbols, I noticed that some of them bear a striking resemblance to birds. One looked like a duck, while the others some flying birds, like black crows that gather at the local wet market.

This realisation became the inspiration for a pair of posters.

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Bach’s Birdsong 1_Quack Quack

Is there a universal consensus as to how a duck ‘sounds’, taking into consideration the various species? The imitation of a duck's quack quack call can vary considerably from culture to culture, based on their individual linguistic systems.


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Bach’s Birdsong 2_Caw Caw

Similarly, how the crow’s caw caw cry is transcribed into different languages can be surprisingly different too.

Of particular interest is the Saribas Ibans of Borneo, a tribe that ascribes no sound for the crow. The Ibans, especially the older generation, regard all flying birds as sacred, and thus, do not mimic their sounds out of respect. Some birds are associated with death, including the bubut (the coucal or crow pheasant) that watches over the Bridge of Fear dividing life and death.

The Ibans, however, do have a sound for the duck because it is NOT a flying bird (the local species just waddles around and does not fly).


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Title / Tree Spirit
Exhibitions / various
Year / 2004
Photographer / William Harald-Wong

Photograph taken in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on the road to the temples of Angkor. The message is clear. There is nothing else a designer can add to the image.


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Title / Inspiration Lost and Found
Event Icograda Design Week 2008, Daegu, South Korea
Client / Daegu Organising Committee
Year / 2008
Designer_Photographer / William Harald-Wong
Digital Imaging / Lim Pin Shen

Reflecting on working life with the daily drag of meetings, proposals and an endless stream of emails, where does one find inspiration?

A statue of Brahma, the four-headed creator of the universe (photographed in Vientiane, Laos) rises above the mundane, superimposed with an extract of an email interview with a designer, “How does your daily life inspire you?”


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Title / Yap Ah Loy
Event Theatre Performace
Client / Five Arts Centre
Year / 1985
Designer / William Harald-Wong
Calligrapher / (to be credited)

One of William’s earliest posters before computers made their appearance in the art studio. The poster elements (type, script and image) are cut out and pasted on plastic overlays, in black-and-white, so one has to imagine what the poster will look like in colour.

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Title / Treasures of the Nanhai
Event Exhibition, Auction and Sale
Year / 2006
Lead Designer / Catherine Low
Calligrapher / E. Katmin
in collaboration with Y.M. Che Engku Dato Seri Puan Sri Mahirah

The treasures are authentic ceramics and artefacts from eight historical shipwrecks dating from 1370 to 1830.


(more to come...)