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Latiff Mohidin Goes to the Pompidou

The artist’s Pago Pago series heads to the Paris institution in the first exhibition about Southeast Asian art held at its In-Focus Gallery

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Text by Rab Messina

In 2016, the National Gallery Singapore had an ambitious project aimed at promoting Southeast Asian art globally. It was called Reframing Modernism: Painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and Beyond.

That bet is now paying off: one of Malaysia’s leading modernists, Latiff Mohidin, is the subject of the Centre Pompidou’s first exhibition about Southeast Asian art held at its In-Focus Gallery. The focus? The Pago Pago series, created between 1960 and 1969.

“[Our] curatorial efforts have sought to actively engage debates of modernism within a global context,” said Eugene Tan, the director of the National Gallery Singapore about their first traveling show on Southeast Asian art. “The exhibition showcases Latiff Mohidin’s art during the 1960s, which was a decade that marked such significant shifts both in Southeast Asia and Europe. 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.”

Curated by Catherine David of the Centre Pompidou and Shabbir Hussain Mustafa of National Gallery Singapore, the works speak of another cross-cultural conversation: they were made around the time Mohidin attended the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in West Berlin. That’s where German Expressionism came together with his upbringing in British Malaya through paintings, sculptures, prints and poetry.

“Mohidin evokes the consciousness that emerged through [his travels accross Europe and Southeast Asia] 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”, explained Shabbir Hussain Mustafa. “This exhibition will explore all sorts of interlocking connections in highlighting what constitutes a contribution to 20th century modernism.”

The curator duo is working on a publication featuring critical writings around Pago Pago, along with a public programme featuring writers Goenawan Mohammad, Idanna Pucci and Terence Ward.

Pago Pago will open on February 28, 2018

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Pago Pago II 1965 Oil on canvas Collection of Zain Azahari
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Pagoda II 1964 Oil on canvas Collection of the National Gallery Singapore
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Neo Pago 1967 Acrylic on canvas Private collection
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Two Standing Figures 1968 Oil on canvas Collection of the National Gallery Singapore Image courtesy of National Heritage Board
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Imago 1968 Oil on canvas Collection of Abang Askandar
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