Centre Pompidou in Paris and National Gallery Singapore are jointly organising an exhibition that focuses on a key moment in the work of one of Southeast Asia’s leading modernists – Latiff Mohidin and his seminal Pago Pago series.
The exhibition “Pago Pago: Latiff Mohidin (1960-1969) ’’will be Centre Pompidou’s first exhibition about Southeast Asian art and take place its In-Focus Gallery. Opening on February 28 and continuing until May 28, this collaboration marks an extension of the ground-breaking project “Reframing Modernism: Painting from Southeast Asia, Europe and Beyond” held at National Gallery Singapore in 2016, as part of the gallery’s ongoing commitment to promote Southeast Asian art globally.
“Working with National Gallery Singapore for ‘Reframing Modernism’ was truly a major event for us, and offered fresh perspectives about modern art from Southeast Asia, Europe and beyond. Similarly, this new collaboration provides an invaluable opportunity for our audience to view major works from one of the most important Southeast Asian artists in today’s world, alongside the masters in our permanent galleries,” said Serge Lasvignes, president of the Centre Pompidou.
Image courtesy of National Gallery Singapore
“The exhibition showcases Mohidin’s art during the 1960s, which was a decade that marked significant shifts both in Southeast Asia and Europe. 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,” adds Dr Eugene Tan, director of National Gallery Singapore.
The exhibition is conceived by curators Catherine David of Centre Pompidou and Shabbir Hussain Mustafa of National Gallery Singapore as a micro-history that situates one of Southeast Asia’s leading modernists in dialogue with his Western peers. Held in a space adjacent to the permanent galleries of the Pompidou, the exhibition is set in the 1960s when Mohidin embarked upon his formal study of art at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in West Berlin from 1961 to 1964. Ranging from the emotional states of German Expressionism that Mohidin encountered during his formative years in Berlin to the ancestral imaginary of his rural upbringing in British Malaya, “Pago Pago” became a way of thinking manifested in a constellation of paintings, sculptures, prints poetry and writings.
In 1964, Mohidin returned to Southeast Asia from Europe with the hope of reengaging with a region that had been relegated to his subconscious. Amidst perceived communist expansionism in Vietnam and insurgencies that raged internally in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, he remained committed to 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. The exhibition will feature more than 70 artworks and archival materials drawn from leading public and private collections in Singapore and Malaysia.
“This exhibition traces a formative period in the artist’s practice in the 1960s as he journeyed across Europe and Southeast Asia. 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 Mohammad, whom Mohidin first met in 1967. This exhibition will explore all sorts of interlocking connections in highlighting what constitutes a contribution to 20th century modernism,” says Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, senior curator at National Gallery Singapore.
Catherine David of Centre Pompidou and co-curator of the exhibition adds “This In-Focus exhibition is designed to unravel the complexities of key works that Mohidin produced in the 1960s, a decade which could be characterised as the 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 critical year in the artist’s practice as he transitioned from the ‘Pago Pago’ series into a prolific output of literary prose and poetry, yet another understudied aspect of his practice that this exhibition will seek to tease out.”
Alongside the exhibition, a publication featuring critical writings related to ‘Pago Pago’ is being edited by the exhibition’s curators. A special public programme that surveys his literary activities in the 1960s and 1970s featuring the writers Goenawan Mohammad, Idanna Pucci and Terence Ward will be held on February 28.