Description: The Serangga series, as the name suggests, explores the world of insects. The exhibition was held at Bank Negara Malaysia Museum & Art Gallery in 2012. It featured Latiff Mohidin’s 33 mixed media works. 12 of the 22 works on paper in the exhibition catalogue are taken from a pioneering Malay translation of Faust, the 19th century tragic play Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. As well providing the pictures, Latiff Mohidin is also the translator of Faust. He was inspired to make these drawings while working on the Malay translation. As Latiff’s oeuvre consists of non-representational and abstract art, the latest series is no easier to explain. The drawings are rendered in an expressive manner, full of marks and scribbles. There is a sense of spontaneity and rawness to the composition. The new series represents an evolution. The pieces are different from anything that has come before from Latiff. Like many scientists and philosophers of the past, the artist has a passion for poetry. The Serangga pieces are often depicted as though they are seen through a microscope. Others are more like distant prospects. Mountain peaks that have horns. Tendrils and shapes that look like the ‘totems’ of his early works. Colours are mostly sombre. When a dash of blue is added, it is like a glimpse of cloudless sky at the end of a dim tunnel. The artist doesn’t dwell on the outstanding details that make some insects worthy of creative attention, to the extent of being turned into jewellery. Latiff has never been absorbed in the superficial. It is a rare observer who would say his work is skin deep. These are dismembered forms, magnified. The physical format of these works is related to books, including the Serangga drawings that were used. Latiff has used a variety of formats. The vertical book appearance of the entire Serangga series is consistent, although in two different sizes. The legacy of the book, especially early printed books, can be seen in the quality of the paper and its close relationship with the artist’s hand. The irregular edges call to mind a time when readers would need to cut the pages of a book as they worked their way through it. The paper itself is of special note. Similar to the fibrous writing material of alchemists and philosophers in days of old, Latiff executes his work on handmade Tibetan paper. It gives a textural dimension and lends a nostalgic feel to the works. It takes on the same importance that it has with his other recent works on paper. Words used to describe an insect’s wings, such as papery, are part of the tactile appearance of some of his subjects. It is a type of paper that takes us back to Nature. But the reaction to insects is often out of proportion to the menace that is presented. In the case of Latiff’s Serangga, the scale is unsettling. It is the interplay of light and dark that creates a mood with a prevailing sense of menace. It is a thought-provoking and innovative step in the development of Malaysian art. The new series goes beyond that, entering the realm of the metaphysical and the unexplainable. Latiff provides a reminder of the absurdity of humans who scuttle around helplessly while thinking themselves divine. He does this through the medium of drawing. For all the acclaim that this artist has won with his paintings, his works on paper are equally important. Drawing has been essential to him for decades. His hope has always been for this medium to be seen as much more than a mere preparation for paintings. It is employed as a serious medium in its own right. In the case of the Serangga series, these are unquestionably an artistic breakthrough that is rare to find in any medium, as well as being created in limited numbers. Works on paper have a life for Latiff that is more apparent than ever. It is especially so when the subjects of his attention are not only alive but also in the old tradition of the ‘memento mori’ or a reminder of our own mortality. This Serangga series reaffirms yet again Latiff Mohidin’s position as one of Malaysia’s great artists.
Dimensions: 76cm x 50cm
Artist or Maker: ABDUL LATIFF MOHIDIN
Medium: Mixed media on Tibetan paper
Provenance: Private collection, Selangor
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