This modest space in Malacca is a dream realised, albeit too late,
as Mohammad Din died before it was completed. But with its recent opening,
the arts community can celebrate the life and works of a passionate soul.
In addition to an upbringing rich with experiences with and exposure to the many Melayu art forms, there was that Western-style formal art education. There were also sojourns in several other parts of the world: he studied the mystical world of the Sufis in France (of all places!), he painted in the streets of Vietnam, he painted in solitude of his home studio for international art exhibitions ... Mohammad Din seemed to have done it all.
The thread that ran through all his experiences, all his works, was Mohammad Din’s thoughts and feelings about the meaning of life. Through his art, he continuously engaged with the voice within him – the inner voice that urged him to question his very existence and all that it represented.
Mohammad Din painted with a strength and energy that at times seemed unusual. Hampered by the inadequacy of the brush to convey his sense of the Divine Benevolence, the Divine Greatness he perceived around him all the time, he resorted at times to using his palms and fingers to transfer his spiritual energy onto canvas.
The result is a collection of calligraphic and abstract paintings that are laden with ideas and questions about man’s reason for being, and man’s relationship with the Creator.
Several years ago, at the opening of one of his solo exhibitions, Mohammad Din told me of his dream to build a gallery. The profusion of art galleries in rural Bali that he discovered during his visit there added another dimension to his dream. He dreamt of a wide open space in which to make his art. He dreamt of having artists from both Malaysia and Singapore making art in his rural gallery.
He told me that he had found the perfect location for it.
Last year, his wife Hamidah called one evening out of the blue to say that Mohammad Din had died. It was exactly a week after his 52nd birthday.
Last week, I drove to Kampung Gangsa, Durian Tunggal, Malacca, for the official opening of the gallery Mohammad Din had spoken about. He had started construction three years ago; his family continued the project after his death.
An idyllic kampung setting, adjacent to a tributary of Sungai Melaka, buffalos grazing in the open fields around, the blue sky bright and cheerful ... it was a perfect day.
The opening was a celebration of a lifetime of work and the achievement of a dream. Other than a slight pause and a wobble in Hamidah’s voice as she gave her welcome speech and thanked everyone who helped make her husband’s dream a reality, the mood was joyful, and at times reflective.
The gallery currently displays Mohammad Din’s paintings and sculptures. There are plans for exhibitions by other artists.
There are also plans to run residency programmes to enable artists (who tend to be, on the whole, urban creatures) to make art in a rural environment. And, no doubt, to develop their own interpretation of the meaning of life, just as Mohammad Din tried to convey through his art.
By Mas Zetti Atan
Galeri Mohammad Din Mohammad is in Kampung Gangsa, Durian Tunggal, Malacca. Visits are by appointment only; call 06-553 1726, 012-246 2769, or 017-614 1842. The gallery is closed on Fridays.
Mas Zetti Atan studied Political Science and Kesenian Melayu (Malay art) at university where an encounter with a painting by a local artist ignited a passion for modern Malaysian art. She has been involved in organising art exhibitions for almost a decade.