None of us can imagine a life without art yet our seniman do not get the recognition and appreciation they truly deserve.
Art has the power to influence change, amplify messages and cultivate generations but it is not taken as seriously as it should be within our Malaysian education system.
When youths decide to embark on an art-driven career, they are met with incredulity and scorn. Relatives will gather and say, “Macam mana nak cari makan?”
Despite those insurmountable odds, one such esteemed artist, Ibrahim Hussein, affectionately known as Ib, rose from extreme poverty to make an international name for himself with his unique way of creating art called, printage.
Ib not only altered his life with his art, but the lives of others as well. A social activist and non-conformist, Ib was never shy to show his true emotions when it came to social injustice and cultural taboos.
His most controversial work, May 13 that can be seen in the picture above (left), which was birthed after he picked-up a torn Malaysian flag amidst the debris of the riots on May 13 1969, landed him in prison. It was only after he explained his intention, which was a cry for help – not anti-nationalism, that he was pardoned.
Tun Razak questioned him by asking, “Ibrahim, is that a real flag? Why did you deface our national flag?”
Ib explained that black represents the darkness, an eclipse the country was going through, red represents the twilight that comes after the eclipse and darkness while the white circle symbolises a new energy and a rebirth.
He added, “To me, May 13th is not a national tragedy, it is a human tragedy; and could happen anywhere in the world if man chose to live like that.”
This piece remains one of his most highly-regarded artworks.
Being a beaming ray of light everywhere he went, Ib made connections that eventually got him through high school before landing him into an academy of fine arts in London. During his time there, he worked as a postman and film extra to make a living.
He got to travel the world and showcase his work to numerous famous faces, including Malaysia’s royals and international celebrities.
The aspirational boy with a glimmer in his eye from a rural village in Kedah had made a name for himself and he wanted to continue his contribution to the local arts through a foundation and museum he built within the lush trees in Langkawi.
Ib has since passed away but his story lives on through his wife and daughter.
Now, budding artists can witness his genuine soul and sprawling legacy through a mini documentary by National Art Gallery Malaysia. This doc is comprised of intimate interviews from the artist himself along with other seniman who adored his vision.
In the words of Ib, “In the art world, an artist does not expect anything from the public. What is important is to make art. The prestige, the so-called ‘fame’ and name is given to you. It is not something you are after.”
You can watch it in full here: