Monday, June 28, 2010

Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation

Photo credit : from brochure

'In my first thirty years of painting, it was as if I had spent thirty years in heaven. However, with this Foundation, I realized that to be involved in anything to do with the heart, you have to be strong and must not depend on others. With that in mind I have gone gone ahead up till this day.'- IB: A Life

We hopped from Rebak Island to the mainland to visit the Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation. Finally we found it after asking at a pisang goreng stall for directions.

The white building perches on a hill looking desolate, in the Machincang Reserve. Luckily our worst fears were unfounded . A tinkle of the bell brought a caretaker to our service. Duly we paid a fee of RM12 each for tickets.

Without a shadow of doubt, as we stepped inside, it is a 'gem' indeed amidst the rainforest on Langkawi Island. Inside the gallery is spacious and white and occupies 2 floors. The private, non- profit foundation was launched in 1991 to develop art and culture of international status. It was Ib ( fondly called by his close friends) Hussein's selfless efforts - his belief that art is an important unifying force - that made this dream a reality.

Malaysia's iconic artist Datuk Ibrahim Hussein passed away in Feb 2009. I had recently bought a copy of Ib: A Life, the autobiography of Ibrahim Hussein. I found the book an interesting read. Luckily it is not a tome that I would have to go back and forth to. More than that, it is a peek into Ib the artist tracing his humble days in Kampung Sungai Limau Dalam, Kedah . As a child, he 'used to walk miles just to see a motorcar! It was a struggle for him as he journeyed to be artist , having to take on jobs as a postman, and even as a movie extra as the family was poor. Today Ib's paintings are widely collected by the who's who in Malaysia and abroad. Ib attributed his 'success' to fortuity. But it is evident from the book, his love and discipline for painting, and his honesty brought him many friends.

For myself, I've only seen and read about him in the media, a great smiling face. Like many Malaysians, we know of his fame as an artist related to the May 13th 1969 incident. When it was exhibited in 1969, it generated lots of interest and the locals referred to it a the 'black painting'. I was happy to see it up close (second time) in the museum.

'May 13th'

In response to the May 13th 1969 racial riots, Ib Hussein painted black over the Malaysian flag adding only a red line and a white circle below it.To Prime Minister,Tun Razak's questions: 'Ibrahim, is that a real flag?/ Why did you deface our national flag?' , Ib Hussein explained:
black - the darkness represents an eclipse the country was going through
red- the twilight that comes after the eclipse and darkness
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.'
Eloquence won the day and he was allowed to exhibit the painting in the Dewan Tunku Canselor, Universiti Malaya. There was also a condition that ' May 13th' was not to be sold or be taken out of the country.

' My life is made of points, textures, colours, shapes, darkness and light, mass, weight, planes, volumes, sounds, smells, colours and warmth. ' - IB: A Life

Cambodia - Angkor Wat - image of Pol Pot emerging from the cracks of the ruins

Ib Hussein: ' Many incidents that were happening around me made me realise I had to fulfil a serious commitment in art. I began to see that it is the duty of the artist to paint for his fellowmen the suffering and ecstasy of his time.' - IB : A Life

India's 'Bandit Queen' Phoolan Devi ( 1968-2001) - representing the subjugation of women and the downtrodden

Sharing light moments with caretaker of the museum after an enlightening visit.


  1. I knew Ibrahim Hussein by name and through others but I did not know about the May 13 art and I had never seen his work.

    Thank you Keats. I will make a point to visit the Foundation the next time I am in Langkawi.

  2. The name does ring a bell. Was he blind in one eye?
    Thanks for sharing this great info, Keats.

  3. This is a place I would never have seen without your post. Thank you. It was very interesting.

  4. Hi
    Ocean Girl, do visit the Foundation. The caretaker says very few people visit it. What a pity!

    Veronica Lee, you're right. IB Hussein was blind in the right eye from an accident playing'darts' when he was young. That did not stop him from painting all his life.

  5. I think this artist's commitment to peoples who are suffering inspires dramatic paintings that express that suffering in a way that is stronger than words.

  6. THANK YOU for this post. Well Done!

    Ravi's looking good. Send him my regards.

  7. Hi
    Joanna Jenkins, welcome to my blog and thanks for following. I hazard to say many of us Malaysians have not seen this place. Guess it is off the beaten tourist track:( I have just found it myself.

    Laura in Paris, I think art speaks to us if we allow ourselves.

    Emily, where have you been?? I hope you're keeping well and I'm sure hubby is having your undivided attention. Will convey your regards to Ravi.

  8. To really live a life of an artist is a remarkable thing. Wonderful painting!

  9. Hi! This museum of contemporary art seems very interesting. I'd love to visit Malaysia if I ever get the chance! (Unfortunately, the only part I've been to is the Kuala Lumpur airport.)

    I was immensely inspired by this quote that you used: "I realized that to be involved in anything to do with the heart, you have to be strong and must not depend on others."

  10. Wow! Such feeling! Such depth of emotion! I have always loved political art, Keats, especially that of Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Ahmad Shukri Muhammad and Ibrahim Hussein. It gives me goosebumps of emotion looking at those portraits of political figures around which some of the most important events of the 20th century occurred.

  11. The flag story was intriguing. What an inspirational and amazing place to visit!

  12. I always enjoy the way you take care and time with your pictures and blog posts. Your blog is full of great stories and articles.
    This was no different. I was able to live the whole experience right along with you.

  13. You really visit some beautiful places, Keats. Very unique and full of knowledge and/or art. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful week.

  14. Hi
    Icy BC, I enjoy talking to artists whenever the opportunity arises.

    Sreddy Yan, thanks for coming by. Malaysia is a beautiful country of different ethnic groups. The rest is up to us, the people to make good of it. Do try to make time to visit,if you can.
    I agree with the quote. If our desire is strong, it will overcome odds, with inner strength.

    ~Covert_Operations'78~, When you visit Langkawi soon, do pay a visit to the Foundation. Over the weekend, I was at the exhibition at the National Art Gallery. You will enjoy it as 30 collectors from Malaysia and S'pore have joined hands to launch Thirty Art Friends- appreciating southeast asian art. 15 art collectors from Malaysia have some of their pieces exhibited. Bayu's,and Ibrahim's are there. Go enjoy!

    Rosey, the flag story is part and parcel of Malaysia growing up. We have to move on but it is a reminder.

    Anne Lyken -Garner,thanks so much for your kind compliments. It's even a greater pleasure when others, including you gain enjoyment.

    Rosidah Abidin,this is a beautiful art gallery. Hope you're keeping well.

  15. Very interesting!
    Thank you for sharing this exhibition with us - art is good for our souls...
    Have a great week ahead!


  16. These kinds of work always amaze me. Great collection presented. enjoyed seeing them.

  17. So interesting! Thanks for taking us along!

  18. HI
    BLOGitse,thank you!Ib Hussein is recognised internationally as Malaysia's foremost and influential artist.

    Indrani,thanks for conimg by.

    Bossy Betty, glad you enjoyed the tour.

  19. I have heard of Ibrahim Hussein but this is the first time I see his art. He is truly a creative artist. No wonder he is so well known in Malaysia.

  20. I have always thought you had the most interesting blog. My dog would not have fleas if the neighbors would cut their waist high grass. Wer are going to get Spuunky's stitches out today and pray it does not spread.

  21. Hi
    Autumn Belle, Ib Hussein created a method called 'printage'. It involves images to be transferred from printed paper onto canvas. The transferred images suggest depth and antiquity through striations.

    Lucy, thanks so much for your kind compliments. Thanks for being a regular visitor.My former Alsatian used to have ticks and that was hard to get rid of. Luckily my labrador, Robbie is 'clean'!

  22. I have personally always appreciated art, and I found Ibrahim's very interesting. I looked at some of it online after reading your article and he really was very talented. Once again, thanks for giving us something cultural to look at! God bless!

  23. Thank you for introducing me to this stunningly beautiful building, housing some truly amazing artwork. I now make it one of my goals in life to go there :)

  24. Wow, impressive art, and symbolism too. I like your taste. Hugs.

  25. Interesting museum. I like that image of polpot.

  26. Hi
    Amanda Krzywonski, Ib Hussein had huge talent. I wonder with his demise, what's the future of the Foundation.

    Sam Liu, there was an art exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in April to mark his first death anniv and I missed it:( Do visit Malaysia and let me know when you're in KL.

    Di Tikte, Ib Hussein's art is known worldwide. He made many friends and was a prolific artist.

    JUNE (AnAsian Traveler), thanks for coming by. I like that one too:)

  27. Very impressive, what a learning. Thanks for sharing, and the wonderful pictures.

    Also, thanks for your kind comment in my blog. You are so thoughtful!


  28. As the Art Bite poster on Facebook, I will enjoy visiting your site. And thanks for stopping by mine today!

  29. Thank you for the tour of this art museum and a glimpse at the artist's life. So inspiring. He knew he was called to a purpose.

  30. Hi
    Doris Plaster, the Foundation is worth a visit to get to know Ib Hussein and his artworld.

    Patti Lacy, thanks for coming by too.

    Mary Aalgaard, may he rest in peace.

  31. I looked at each of these works of art and truly enjoyed them. Thanks for letting me see them with you on your journey. I probably wouldn't have experienced them otherwise!

  32. Hi
    Lydia Kang, am glad you enjoyed Ib Hussein's art.There's so much to discover.

    To bloggers who write in Chinese, I'm afraid I do not understand them. As all comments are moderated, I have to reject them. Hope you understand. Thank you for visiting my blog.


Great to have you popping in!