VIDEO: Latiff Mohidin the trailblazer


Johnni Wong
22 March 2018 - 2:55pm

Watch the highlight of the opening reception here. Look out for more videos from the exhibition.

Artist, poet and writer Latiff Mohidin, 76, is paving the way for other Southeast Asian artists to be noticed in Europe with the staging of a retrospective show of his Pago Pago works at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Latiff is the first Southeast Asian artist to be honoured with a show at the Centre Pompidou and plans are afoot to feature more of such shows in the ongoing collaboration between the National Gallery Singapore (NGS) and Centre Pompidou, which is under the Musee National d’Art Moderne of France.

Surrounded by throngs of supporters and fans at the preview on Feb 27, he was visibly moved and told journalists covering the event that he was overwhelmed and never dreamt that this could happen.

“I am humbled to be given the honour and to be able to witness this taking place today,” said Latiff who was tight-lipped about the whole event during the planning stage of the show entitled Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-1969).

The show was decided by Musee National d’Art Moderne deputy director Catherine David, who first noticed Latiff’s painting, Pagoda II, at the NGS when she visited Singapore some five years ago. Later, when she returned for the opening of NGS-Pompidou collaborative show, Reframing Modernism, in 2016, she was further impressed that Latiff’s Pago Pago series stood out and fulfilled all the criteria of a modernist artist. Latiff was at the right places in Europe at the right time and has a body of works that exemplify the modern art movement in Southeast Asia.

“This In-Focus exhibition is designed to unravel the complexities of key works that Latiff Mohidin produced in the 1960s, a decade which could be characterised as a moment when Southeast Asia established itself as a locus within the major redraft of Modernism. The exhibition concludes with the 1969 moment of Neo Pago Pago, a criticial 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,” said David, who co-curated the show with NGS senior curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa.

However, long-time collectors and followers of Latiff’s Pago Pago series felt that the show should have, more appropriately, included the 1968 painting, Debris, which signifies the ultimate end of the series.

According to Shabbir, the painting was not included due to “space limitations”. The exhibtion comprises some 70 works, including major paintings, drawings and “ciment fondu” sculptures as well as news clippings, publications, photographs and other archival material.

Critical to the show’s success is NGS director Eugene Tan, who staved off tough questions at home about featuring a Malaysian artist in the context of Singapore’s arts programme. But his commitment to embrace a more global approach to showcasing Southeast Asian art has proved to be in the right direction, given the presence of important figures from Singapore and Malaysia who attended the preview.

“The Gallery’s curatorial efforts have sought to actively engage debates of modernism within a global context,” said Tan who cited the exhibition as the NGS’ first travelling show.

Plans are afoot to bring the show to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand where the Pago Pago series actually commenced.

Present at the event were Malaysian Ambassador to France Datuk Ibrahim Abdullah, Singaporean Ambassador to France Zainal Mantaha, Musee National d’Art Moderne director Bernard Blistene, NGS chairman Hsieh Fu Hua, The Edge Media Group chairman Datuk Tong Kooi Ong and The Edge Media Group publisher and group CEO Ho Kay Tat.

Malaysian and Singaporean collectors and artists who turned up for the preview included Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah, Zain Azahari, Dr Abang Askandar Abang Kamel, Dr Hanizah Aman Hashim, Ismail Mustam, Dr Tan Loke Mun, Pakhruddin Sulaiman, Ahmad Zakii Anwar, Suryani Senja, Jalaini Abu Hassan, Hoe Say Yong, Angie Lee, John Lee and Jimmy Chua.

Latiff was accompanied by his wife, Wan Rahimah Wan Ismail, son Ilham Latiff and daughter Nadiah Latiff.

Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago (1960-1969) will be held Centre Pompidou on Level 5 until May 28. A 216-page hardcover catalogue is available from NGS.


From left: Dr Tan, Eugene Tan, Zain and Hsieh
From left: Eugene Tan, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Datuk Ibrahim Abdullah, Zainal and Catherine David
Ismail Mustam, Jalaini and Pakhruddin admiring one of the 24 Pago Pago paintings at Centre Pompidou
From left: Zain, Suryani and Roger Boning
From left: Dr Abang Askandar, Tong, Wan Azmi, Zakii and British photographer Nigel Dickenson