The Pago-Pago artworks are considered as one of the most important bodies of work because there is something inquisitive in these paintings – a quest to embody both the physical and spiritual aspects of Southeast Asia. It is also the Pago-Pago series that won Latiff Mohidin critical acclaim as one of Malaysia and Southeast Asia’s most important modern artists, simultaneously being the most synonymous with the artist as an expressionist.
Latiff Mohidin’s bond with art was fostered by Nature. The artist himself too had attested to this, when he began realising that in the structure of forms, and in a number of paintings and sketches he had made during his days in Berlin (which was in the 1960s), there were hints and suggestions of forms resembling “bamboo clumps, Pandanus leaves, fishing boats, shells, hills, even tapering outlines, mosque-minarets and stupa-pagodas. Already there were the curves of yam leaves, river pebbles, wells, ladles, bivalve shells, and domes … and the colours of the land,” said Latiff Mohidin in T. K. Sabapathy’s 1994 written piece on ‘Bali, Almost Revisited’ in Reminiscence of Singapore’s Pioneer Art Masters in The Singapore Mint.
Fusions of stupa-like forms and natural plants and rock forms, and focus on the “energy-movement” of structures rather than their simple depiction are ever-present in the artworks. The pieces in these series resemble totems, and its roots can be traced back to having Indonesian archipelago influences, based on the artist’s recollections of his travels to Thailand and Indochina, which were key to the development and inspiration behind his work.
In his travels throughout Southeast Asia, he discovered and continually reinvented landscapes from what he saw throughout the region with the aim of developing fresh visual languages. Latiff absorbed a lot of the local and Southeast Asian elements and brought these forward in his works. The origin of the name Pago-Pago somehow sprouted from his interested in some distant land in the territorial capital of American Samoa in the South Pacific – Pago Pago. He had seen photographs of rows of huge sculptures, human figures that seem to be facing towards Southeast Asia. He then began looking to the East and was intent on discovering the culture in the East.
The earliest Pago-Pago that was published dates back to 1962, and illustrated on page 15 of Zain Azahari’s Hati & Jiwa Volume I. However, art enthusiasts and ardent followers of Latiff Mohidin’s works would be thrilled to be part of a collectors’ show exclusively dedicated to the Pago-Pago series. Scheduled for May 2 – 18 and organised by KLAS, the show was the first of its kind in the Malaysian art scene.