Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Pago Pago
Pago Pago

Upon returning from Germany having studied at Berlin’s Academy of Fine Arts, Latiff embarked on a journey across Southeast Asia to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia. This exploration resulted in the Pago Pago series (1960-1969) which presented abstract depictions of Southeast Asian architecture and culture. Derived from the German word Pagoden (pagoda) and Pagar and inspired by the Malay predilection for repetition, Latiff coined the term, Pago Pago to denote the way Western modernism intertwines with Southeast Asian influences. The artwork portrayed here represents the series in its concluding stage. The figures appear more fluid, sinuous and fragmented compared to earlier works. The pronounced thematic vigour is retained albeit slightly subdued to signal the closing of the series. 

“I merely coined the word from an amalgam of ‘pagoda’ and the slang ‘pagar’ which isn’t ‘fence’ but the wooden beams across old Malay houses. Pago is also the name of an exotic island though I have never been there.”

- Latiff Mohidin, interview with Ooi Kok Chuen

“For Latiff, it was the monumental expressions of the Hindu-Buddhist past which appealed for developing a new pictorial vocabulary. In these monuments, he was confronted with situations in which nature and culture entwined to create emotionally charged entities; at least it was through emotionally charged fields that he viewed them, ordered his perceptions and recast them into new configurations. Herein is the key to Latiff’s position; both Nusantara and Southeast Asia were continually reinvented with the aim of developing fresh visual languages.”

- T. K. Sabapathy, Pago-pago to Mindscape, 1994


Oil on canvas
87 x 64 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Abdul Latiff Mohidin
About Abdul Latiff Mohidin

Abdul Latiff Mohidin (b. 1941) is a prominent Malaysian modernist artist, writer and poet from Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. As a child he was known as “Wonder Boy” and “the magical boy with the gift in his hands” due to his prodigious talent and early artistic acumen. He completed his primary education at Kota Raja Malay School in Singapore where he also had his first exhibition in 1951. From 1960-1964, Latiff studied art at Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Berlin, Germany on a scholarship. A journey across Southeast Asia in 1964 would later inspire an array of esteemed artworks and series which melded his European experience with his cultural identity. His series, Pago-Pago (1960-1969), Mindscape (1973, 1974-1983), Langkawi (1976-1980) and Gelombang (1985-1993) are known for their distinctive representation of culture, nature, the environment and mysticism. His masterful technique and use of dynamic brush strokes, textured oil paint and vibrant colours mark his works with an identifiable Latiff flair. He has exhibited worldwide, including solo exhibitions in Berlin, Frankfurt, Bangkok, Singapore, New Delhi, New York, Sydney, Osaka, Montreal, Manila, Jakarta, Dublin and London to name a few. In 2018, he became the first Southeast Asian artist to be featured at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The artist now resides in Penang.

Source: Wikipedia

Learning Section
  • What is your initial reaction to this painting? Think of three words which describe it. What do you see? Try to describe this painting as if you were describing it to someone who couldn't see. What are the most important elements of the painting? Describe the colour, the shape, the texture and the mood of the painting.

  • What shapes do you recognise in the painting? Read the explanatory text. Does this information change your reading of the painting? How important do you think it is to know the context in which a painting has been made?

  • Compare this work to Latiff Mohidin's other painting, Gelombang. Do they look like they are by the same artist? What similarities can you see in the way they use colour? Are there similarities in the brushmarks used? What about the subject matter or content of the painting? Do you think a painter should maintain the same style in his art? Look at some of the other artists who have more than one artwork in the collection. Can you identify the elements of their style or is each work very different?