Travel through time and cultures with an art wunderkind
The solo exhibition, Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago, spotlights the artist’s formative years and includes works from when he was a teenager.

Travel through time and cultures with an art wunderkind

If you yearn to have your senses awakened through travel during this stay-home period, you will find in Malaysian artist-poet Latiff Mohidin a kindred spirit.

The 79-year-old artist coined the term “Pago Pago” to express the consciousness he experienced on his travels across Europe and Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. The term later came to embody his artistic approach where he questions the outsize influence of Western modernism, and blends cultures and ideas from both East and West in his works.

“Pago Pago” is also the title of his ongoing solo show at the National Gallery Singapore. It spotlights the artist’s formative years, including his early childhood in Singapore and art education in Berlin. On display are more than 80 of his works, writings and photographs, as well as pieces of art that were deemed missing earlier.

The show has travelled to the famed Centre Pompidou in Paris and Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur for exhibitions, and in this stay-home period, it is making its way into homes. It may be experienced via the museum’s #GalleryAnywhere portal in the form of audio tours, videos and close-ups of select works.

Here is our pick of five works from the show that will have you travelling through time, space, cultures and worlds. Bon voyage!

kampong gelam hand drawn map

Kampong Gelam 1949-1954
This hand-drawn map of Kampong Glam in pen and pencil by the artist was made especially for the exhibition in Singapore. It details the landmarks, places of social gathering and eateries that were part of the artist’s growing up years in the neighbourhood in the 1950s. See if you can spot on the map landmarks that are still standing today.


Kampung 1
Oil on board, 1951
The talented artist was just 12 years-old when he had his first solo art show. This oil on board painting was among the works on display at his first exhibition, held at the Kota Raja Malay School which was located opposite the present Malabar Mosque in Jalan Sultan, where he was a student. Even more remarkable is the fact that this evocative piece, which depicts an idyllic fishing village, was painted by the artist when he was just 10.


This lively oil on board painting from 1960, which depicts three women dancing the traditional Malay dance joget, shows, through the artist’s use of colour and technique, the influence of his mentors – pioneer Singapore artists such as Liu Kang and Ho Kok Hoe. The prominent artists gave lessons at the British Council, which he attended.

circus dancer

Circus Dancer
The artist was introduced to new genres of performance such as jazz and experimental film during his studies in Berlin, and this oil on masonite board painting from 1963 reflects these diverse artistic influences. The painting and figure blend touches of classic Japanese dance-drama kabuki and Spanish flamenco.


Oil on board, 1965
The 1960s was a challenging time for the artist as he struggled to find his identity as an artist and be part of the dialogue on modernism amidst the confluence of political, cultural and social forces sweeping through Europe and Southeast Asia. This oil on board painting from 1965 is a mirror of his inner awakening as an artist.

Explore Latiff Mohidin: Pago Pago from home here.

(Photos: National Gallery Singapore)

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