ILHAM Gallery opens 'Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-1969)'
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ILHAM Gallery opens 'Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-1969)'
Latiff Mohidin, Pago Pago, 1966, Ink and wash on paper, 13.6 x 21.5 cm.

KUALA LUMPUR.- ILHAM Gallery in collaboration with National Gallery Singapore and the Centre Pompidou is presenting Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960 – 1969) at ILHAM Gallery from 12 August – 30 December 2018.

Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960 – 1969) premiered in February 2018 at the Centre Pompidou and was conceived by curators Shabbir Hussain Mustafa from National Gallery Singapore and Catherine David of Centre Pompidou. Seen as an extension of the innovative survey exhibition Reframing Modernism: Painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and Beyond, which was held at National Gallery Singapore in 2016, this exhibition focuses on a key moment in the work of one of Southeast Asia’s leading modernists – Latiff Mohidin and his seminal Pago Pago series, which he developed during the 1960s, a decade that marked significant shifts both in Southeast Asia and Europe. At the Centre Pompidou, the exhibition was presented at the ‘in-focus’ gallery, a space adjacent to the permanent galleries with the intention of triggering cross-cultural dialogues between Europe and Southeast Asia. It was Centre Pompidou’s first solo exhibition on a Southeast Asian artist.

Rahel Joseph, Gallery Director of ILHAM said, “We are delighted to collaborate with National Gallery Singapore and the Centre Pompidou to present this critically acclaimed exhibition at ILHAM. One of Malaysia’s most renowned artists and poets, Latiff Mohidin, has had the singular honour of being the first Southeast Asian artist to have a solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. We are proud to be able to bring this exhibition home to audiences here in Malaysia and look forward to the inter-disciplinary dialogues that it will generate. We have been working closely with the curators of the exhibition to highlight a lesser-known film titled Kalau Kau Mahu that was made about Latiff Mohidin in 1976. In the spirit of engaging students, the exhibition will also contain an extensive reading zone made up of Latiff Mohidin’s publications.”

Commenting on the exhibition, Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore said, “The Gallery’s curatorial efforts have sought to actively engage debates of modernism in Southeast Asia within a global context. As such, the Gallery is delighted to establish this partnership with ILHAM Gallery. Latiff Mohidin is not only one of Southeast Asia’s leading artists, it could be said that he is one of the first artists of the region to imagine ‘Southeast Asia’ as a distinct aesthetic realm. Curatorially, the Gallery continues to be driven by its mission in enabling a greater understanding of Southeast Asian art internationally.”

Spanning the 1960s, the exhibition traces Latiff Mohidin’s work from when he began his formal study of art at the Hochschule für Bielende Künste in West Berlin in 1961, to his return to Malaysia in 1964. The years spent in Europe were not just formative in developing a perspective on what the possibilities of art may be, but also allowed Latiff Mohidin to freely explore the breadth of the major literary and painterly currents that dominated debates in Europe and elsewhere. It was in these travels that the emotional states of German Expressionism and his own ancestral imaginary of a rural upbringing in British Malaya began to transform and shift. The outcome was Pago Pago, a way of thinking and working, manifested in a constellation of paintings, sculptures, prints, poetry, and writings.

In 1964, Latiff Mohidin returned to Southeast Asia from Europe with the hope of reengaging with a region that had been relegated to his subconsciousness. Amidst perceived communist expansionism in Vietnam and insurgencies that raged internally in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, he remained committed towards initiating his own sense of the region. If the Berlin years were about the ability to translate between cultures, the years that followed presented a different proposition: to think of all matter as eternal cycles. The poetry of the ‘Pago Pago’ years is in free verse form, while the paintings compositionally rely on thick outlines, controlled brush strokes, jagged and curvilinear edges.

Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Senior Curator at National Gallery Singapore and co-curator of the exhibition, adds, “This exhibition traces a formative period in the artist’s practice in the 1960s as he journeyed across Europe and Southeast Asia. Latiff Mohidin evokes the consciousness that emerged through these travels with a phrase: “Pago Pago,” a manner of thinking and working that complicated Western modernism through the initiation of dialogues with other avant-garde thinkers in Southeast Asia. These included the Indonesian writer Goenawan Mohamad, whom Latiff Mohidin first met in 1967. This exhibition will explore all sorts of interlocking connections in highlighting what constitutes a contribution to 20th century modernism. For the Kuala Lumpur exhibition, we are hoping to enhance the archival displays even further, as more materials have become available since the exhibition opened in Paris earlier this year.”

Catherine David, Deputy Director, Musée National d'Art Moderne of Centre Pompidou and cocurator of the exhibition said, “The exhibition is designed to unravel the complexities of key works that Latiff Mohidin produced in the sixties, a decade which could be characterized as a moment when Southeast Asia established a locus of participation in the major redraft of Modernism. The exhibition concludes with the 1969 moment of Neo Pago Pago, a critical year in the artist’s practice as he transitioned from the Pago Pago series (1964-68) into a prolific output of literary prose and poetry, yet another understudied aspect of his practice that this exhibition and the accompanying publication has sought to tease out. The reception to the exhibition in Paris has been tremendous, and we now look forward to exploring all the new connections this showing in Kuala Lumpur will generate.”

The exhibition features over 70 artworks and archival materials drawn from leading public and private collections in Singapore and Malaysia. The exhibition is also accompanied by two publications that systematically survey Latiff Mohidin’s contribution to global modernism. They trace his engagements within Berlin art circles of the 1960s and unravel what it meant to operate within avant-garde networks across Southeast Asia.

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