Malaysian sculptor's work to go up in new Singapore-Malaysia project

Latiff Mohidin will display one of his works in a mixed-use development next to Kampong Glam, where he once lived

The sculpture Harmony by Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin (above), one of five commissioned artworks to be placed at Duo.
The sculpture Harmony by Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin (above), one of five commissioned artworks to be placed at Duo. PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin first arrived in Singapore from his hometown in Negeri Sembilan in 1949, when his father moved here for work.

As a scruffy, carefree boy, he would hang around the Bugis Street area, hawking curry puffs for pocket money.

"The whole of Beach Road was my playground then. We used to have a house in Arab Street and my father's office was in Java Road," recalls the soft-spoken 75-year-old, who evinces a razor-sharp memory as he easily reels off names and life events.

Almost seven decades later, Latiff, now an accomplished poet, painter and sculptor, will display one of his sculptures in Duo, a soaring upscale mixed-use development set to rise up next to the historic Kampong Glam district, where he once lived.

"It's amazing, as if God designed it to be. I never thought, while I was selling epok epok (Malay for curry puff) here, that one day, my artwork would be shown in the same area," he tells The Straits Times.

The sculpture Harmony (above) by Malaysian artist Latiff Mohidin, one of five commissioned artworks to be placed at Duo. PHOTO: LATIFF MOHIDIN

He was in town to oversee the installation of Harmony, a 9m-tall stainless steel sculpture that will stand in the central plaza of Duo.

It is one of five artworks that have been specially commissioned to be placed at Duo - the others are by Singaporean artists Sun Yu-Li, Baet Yeok Kuan, Lim Leong Seng and Malaysian artist Grace Tan.

Together with the Marina One mixed-use development project, Duo is part of the commercialisation of land parcels under the Singapore-Malaysia railway land swop deal inked in September 2010. Designed by the award-winning German architect Ole Scheeren, it is set to open next year.

Latiff says the inspiration for his artwork stemmed from his observations of nature, one of his favourite topics.

"Essentially, it is two leaves meeting each other and forming a loop in the middle, like the motif for bamboo shoots. Philosophically, I thought of it as yin and yang, when two forces come together and complement each other," he says.

The title of the artwork also signifies the harmonious relationship between the two countries, geographical neighbours with a shared past.

Latiff adds: "When I came to Singapore, I realised there were Javanese, Chinese, Indians, Malays here. I understood the true meaning of harmony. It was a wonderful cultural shock."

Latiff is a celebrated artist whose works are prominently displayed in Malaysia. His abstract stainless steel sculptures are displayed at the Petronas Twin Towers in the country's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Over a career of 65 years, he has studied art in Europe, experimented with painting, sculpture, print- making, translated literature, composed poems and published books.

His 1968 painting, Pago-Pago Forms, was sold for RM572,000 (S$189,000) in 2011 at an auction in Malaysia.

The grandfather of eight is now based in Penang, where he lives with his homemaker wife, 63. They have a son and four daughters.

He says: "I do a lot of things, from sculptures to making prints to poetry, so I often shift between these modes. All year round, I'm doing different things and I don't get mental block. At my age, I don't wait for inspiration to come. I just carry on."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline Malaysian sculptor's work to go up in new Singapore-Malaysia project. Subscribe