The Malay arts scene lost a giant over the weekend with the death of literary pioneer Abdul Ghani Abdul Hamid
The Cultural Medallion winner, who died on his 81st birthday on April 13, was a renowned writer, poet and artist.
Abdul Ghani, who was born in 1933, started contributing essays and poems to newspapers and magazines as a student at the Telok Kurau English School and Raffles Institution from 1947 to 1954.
He went on to join the Public Utilities Board in 1955, and worked as a clerk with the civil service until 1988.
Writing primarily in Malay, his works included plays and poems, and he was also renowned for his paintings.
His bilingualism in Malay and English was an advantage as he read widely and interacted with non-Malays especially among artists. He is best remembered for setting up Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (Apad) or Association of Artists Of Various Resources in 1962.
Through his friendship with Chinese painters such as Georgette Chen and Liu Kang, Apad gained prominence, secured financial support and venues for exhibitions. His series of abstract paintings, Lalang, were the most famous.
He had fans beyond Singapore: Some of his paintings were part of the collection in the Galeri Shah Alam in Selangor and he was well-regarded in Indonesia.
Using the pseudonym Lazuardi, he was a satire cartoonist with Malay newspaper Berita Harian, where he also often contributed essays.
Some of the literary awards he received in the 1990s included the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang, which is the highest honour in the Malay literary scene, and the South-east Asia Write Award for Malay Poetry in 1998. In 1999, he received the Cultural Medallion award, Singapore's highest literary honour. He then served as a member of the National Arts Council from 2000 to 2002.
With his friend, veteran journalist Sulaiman Jeem, he wrote several books including the biography Mengenang Zubir Said (Remembering Zubir Said) on the composer of Singapore's national anthem.
Mr Abdul Rahman Rais, his student who once led Apad, said Abdul Ghani was a mentor and leader with a vision.
"He initiated the Apad Medal to recognise artists, including non-Malays, who were happy and grateful for the award," he told Berita Harian. "But he himself did not want the medal. Now that he is gone, we need to do something to honour his great contributions."
Abdul Ghani leaves behind his wife Khadijah Tain, four children and 15 grandchildren. His son, Mr Ahmad Khalis, was a People's Action Party Member of Parliament for Hong Kah GRC from 2001 to 2006.