Friday, February 20, 2009

Ibrahim Hussein (1936-2009)

Ibrahim Hussein, Malaysia's most famous artist of international renown passed away quite suddenly on Thursday 19 February following a heart attack. The 72-year old late artist was buried at the Bukit Kiara Islamic Cemetary.

On the website of Ib's Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation are these words:

"To me, painting is like praying. When I paint, I am dealing with my heart, my work and God. There is deep joy and gratitude. Each piece frames a moment in my life."

My wife and I had the privilege of visiting the Center in Langkawi in 2005 and thinking to myself, what is this world-class art center doing here in Langkawi? Malaysians ought to be better acquainted with this much-awarded artist and his art, I thought. And this remote outpost on Langkawi - though wonderful for artistic pursuits - would merely reduce the great man into an inconsequential footnote. Indeed as the website reveals, the last Langkawi International of Arts organised by the Center was in 2000!

The artist himself met us at the door on that hot afternoon after we pulled up at the driveway and rang a bell. He smiled sheepishly and welcomed us in explaining that no one was around because of the holidays (Chinese New Year then). We paid him our admission tickets and after a few words, shuffled away leaving us to explore and view the displays on our own.

We bought a book and had him autograph it. He obligingly posed for a photo. We said goodbye, he thanked us for visiting. I think I left feeling a little envious that here was a man who did what he loved, and found both joy and great success along the way.

Fellow artist Victor Chin's obit here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Myanmar mission

4 Feb ~ 11 Feb, 2009

While the rest of Asia marches on, Myanmar is lost in a time warp. Tragically, the ruling junta - in power since 1962 - maintains its stranglehold, oblivious to the suffering of its people, doesn’t look like it’s going to loosen its grip any time soon.

There is a lively buzz in the city of Yangon where new office towers are beginning to dominate older colonial buildings. Yangon is clearly not in the same league as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, or even Hanoi of course. But someone remarked that it does seem to have changed since he was here 6 years ago, although it is still cloaked in dust and diesel fumes.

And there is heart-rending poverty everywhere you look, not because people lack determination, but because opportunities aren’t there. On the surface, there may be a sense of helplessness but don't mistake that for resignation; there is resilience and energy, and it shows in the way the Myanmar population continue to keep their heads up.

Vendors hawk fried snacks on sidewalks; children race after buses with newspapers and sweet snacks; men selling soft toys at traffic junctions; a mother breastfeeds her baby amidst squalor; Yangon airport baggage handlers ambush travelers to carry their bags (it’s 300kyats per bag, mind). Life finds a way in little acts of resistance.

Myanmar’s day will come. I pray it will be sooner than later.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wrangle in Perak continues

We were in the hotel room in Yangon when we first heard it: "Perak has fallen."


As shocking as the news may be, what was more shocking was the shameless manner in which the legitimately elected MB was ejected, and his office all cleaned out. Have these people learnt nothing? Is this some banana republic we are living in? Is that the often touted morality of Malaysia's religious order?

New MB Zambry wags his finger at the rest of us because we don't know the 'philosophy of democracy.' DPM Najib is gloating. The peasants are revolting. UMNO is hysterical. The royals are upset. Khairy and others his ilk are baying for blood. Once again cries of 'Hidup Melayu' are raised. Is this shameful coup d'etat something that dignifies a whole majority people?

Meanwhile, BN component parties have elected to keep their mouths shut.

Ironic that Chua Soi Lek should be complaining about the inapropriate appointment of a Gerakan deputy president as advisor, and not someone from MCA.