Ibrahim Hussein bridging the gap between the arts and the public
By Adrian Cheah
"Art is the most important
and unifying force that there is and that it is a celebration of life
"Today an artist can work
anywhere. It is the artist who makes the place famous."
Some background, humble beginnings
You might not realise it when you meet him, but Ibrahim Hussein, known as "Ib" to close friends, is quite arguably Malaysia's most recognisable artist, if not the most controversial and innovative. Whether he is capturing nature, corporate logos or political turmoil on canvas, his mark is instantly recognisable by those in the know.
He was born on 13 March 1936 to a poor family in Sungai Limau in Kedah. Like most famous artists before him, he went through a challenging period of studying art, first at the Nanyang Academy of Art, Singapore before moving on to London, where he continued his studies at the Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting and the Royal Academy School.
Today, Ibrahim is a highly successful and widely feted artist at home and other countries. His prized paintings hang in numerous institutional and private collections. The photographer and sometime art analyst Chu-Li summed it up very well when he described Ibrahim's style as "futuristic" and "a distinctive ordering of lines that expresses differing complexities of form and dimensions."
Yvonne pondering a composition
As disturbing as it may sound, it was during a dark period in Malaysia's history that suddenly catapulted Ibrahim to sudden attention. During the civil turmoil of May 13, 1969, Ibrahim stumbled across a Malaysian flag lying pitifully on the ground. He picked it up and subsequently used it as a canvas to record the event. That painting, appropriately entitled May 13 1969 nearly put Ibrahim behind bars for 'defacing' the Malaysian flag. He tried to explain to the authorities that it was a just a personal response to what was going on at the time and not a political statement. Cleared of all charges, he was eventually allowed to exhibit the controversial work of art.
As Ibrahim explained "people are shocked by things they are not used to, but I believe that if you are pure in what you do you can overcome all adversity because you have faith and are not afraid."
Presently, his main medium of art is a process he invented called 'printage' which is his description of a mixture of two other mediums, namely printing and collage. Like an exceptionally keen jazz musician, Ibrahim's approach to art is very spontaneous, and he draws inspiration from his immediate surroundings to paint a tale. For example, the idea of 'printage' came to mind when he was living in New York City surrounded by huge billboards and bright vibrant colours. So when he was in Langkawi, turned to what was closest nature and started working in timber and rock.
Adrian and Yvonne with
the master himself
Exhibitions and awards
Since 1963, Ibrahim has participated in numerous group exhibitions and solo shows. Today, some of his works are on permanent display at the Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation.
The awards that he received include:
Solo exhibitions include:
The Ibrahim Hussein Museum
It took the artist some 11 years of hard work and perseverance, not to mention about RM5 million, to realise his dream of setting up The Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation. After several delays and false starts, the Foundation came into being and was formally lauched in 1992.
Eight years later, it opened its doors to the public. By the bye, environmentalists will be happy to know that only 13 trees were sacrificed to construct the building.
Fluid lines merge and meld
to form two human bodies
The Foundation, fittingly located within the mystical forest of Gunung Mat Chinchang in Langkawi overlooking the Andaman Sea, is a meeting place of sorts for art lovers, admirers, writers, fellow artists, celebrities, politicians and others. It is run on a non-profit basis, and falls within the description of a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the promotion, development and advancement of art and culture.
The entire setting is picture perfect, bathed in natural lighting on the outside and warm lighting on the inside. The decor complements the works of the great man himself, as well as other selected Malaysian artists. The centre also serves as the living quarters for Ibrahim Hussein and his other half, Sim.
Ever the humble soul, Ibrahim is thankful to be what he is today and for the privilege of meeting so many interesting people - writers, artists and politicians.
The American novelist Henry Miller once said that "a book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum ... for books represent infinitely more than money. A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold." Similarly, Ibrahim is today using his position in art to play an altrusitic role. Through the Foundation, he is able to share with the world what art has to offer, as well as to help budding artists express themselves and realise their dreams.
The Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural
Foundation is located at Pasir Tengkorak, Langkawi
On display at the Foundation:
LIFA is a recognition and a celebration of all aspects
of the arts painting, sculpture, music, poetry, dance, etc. The events
draws participants from around the globe, including Malaysia, Asia, Europe,
South America, Africa, Japan and New Zealand.
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