“Beauty is to be appreciated not understood.” With that, Abdul Ghafar Ibrahim, or better known as Agi, set a career-spanning tone for his works.
For more than five decades, Agi, 75, has been setting new markers in the world of painting and poetry. He is unprecedented in his experimentation, unparalleled in his performances and unchallenged as a virtuoso in abstract expressions.
For there is only one Agi, a poet and painter, and more importantly, an ideologue for his generation.
Born in a small town in Beranang, Selangor, Agi came to the fore as one of the founder-members of Kumpulan Anak Alam, the country’s best known artist collective in the 1970s. It featured visual artists, writers, poets and theatre activists among its ranks.
Together with A. Latiff Mohidin, Mustafa Hj Ibrahim, Siti Zainon Ismail, the late Zulkifli Dhalan and others, Anak Alam became a force to be reckoned with.
It has produced some of the country’s finest painters, poets, dramatists and thinkers.
Agi, who trained in visual and fine arts in the United States, has always been the one willing to push the creative envelop.
He helped define Anak Alam’s open-mindedness with his experiments on stage, on canvas and in his poems.
Like many of his counterparts in Anak Alam, he embraced many art forms into his works – writing poetry, and translating them into sketches and paintings or vice-versa or putting them on as theatrical performances. Many of the early stage plays by Anak Alam were the works of painter-poet-dramatist types such as Agi, Siti Zainon and Mustafa.
Agi found his signature Tak Tun voice in 1974. It was a poem birthed from the beat of a rebana (Malay gong). The beat accompanies the silat, the Malay martial arts. Just like Latiff Mohidin, who captured the imagination with his seminal Pago Pago series in 1960s, Agi’s Tak Tun works found an audience beyond the art circles.
Agi, who hasn’t had a solo show since 1989, is celebrating a return to the art scene with his Tak Tun exhibition, now showing at Galeri Aswara in Kuala Lumpur.
The show, featuring 78 “poemscape” works, focuses on the varied aspects of Agi’s Tak Tun legacy, recorded through art, poetry and performance. The works span the years between 2015 and 2019.
For Agi, Tak Tun has been the heartbeat of his creative life. He has never wavered from the theme.
In the world of Tak Tun, inspired by the uplifting beats and surging rhythms of an array of traditional drums, Agi has found a way to embrace the reverberations of sound and translate them in his works.
You see Tak Tun in Agi’s sketches, paintings and performances.
Agi also has a massive influence on poetry reading among the young. In his early years, his unconventional way of reading (poetry) raised many eyebrows in the conservative sasterawan community (literary people).
Poetry reading has its conventions, but Agi changed all that. His performances are, to say the least, “different.”
Today, he still ignites the stage with his combustible style and peculiar voice – singing, laughing, even yelling and jolting his audience with words that are, at times, hilarious, enthralling and even shocking.
He remains a contrarian – a nurturer of art and a rebel – in more ways than one. As an academic, he taught at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (17 years) and UiTM (13 years). His influence is undeniable, always seen as the man to push the arts to the next level.
But Agi is first and foremost a painter-poet. His poems despite its simplicity are mostly multi-layered. Try to translate that into paintings – the result is a unique blend of “poemscape” (his own words). Abstraction is the rule of the game.
But it challenges the mind to understand. At least by appreciating his life-long works, we have a better understanding of the man, and his incredible creative journey.