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 Ibrahim Hussein  (1936 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: Malaysia/England      Known for: social justice image painting, printmaking, collage

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Untitled
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

There are few artists so highly decorated and widely adored within the boundaries of a lifetime as Ibrahim Hussein. In his 72 years, he rose from extreme poverty to wealth and international acclaim through his passion and talent, gave birth to an original art technique, fought against social injustice with his powerful images, and left behind a foundation and museum that would continue his efforts to advance art and culture even after his passing. Ib, as he was affectionately known by friends and family, was more than a great artist; he was a great person who emitted lines, colors and shapes onto canvas in direct response to the world around him, imploring all who viewed his art to be as moved as he was by the struggles and pleasures of being human.

Born in a rural village of Kedah, Malaysia in 1936, Ibrahim was the younger brother of Abdullah Hussein, who would gain notoriety of his own as a writer and novelist. Although they were poor, the Hussein parents clearly did something right. Although Ibrahim was left blinded in one eye after an accident at age 8, he was a determined young student, showing early talent in the arts. He located a British colonial administrator who would pay for his high school education, and then in 1956 he began his focused studies at the Nangyang Academy of Fine Arts. Three years later, his works won him a 4-year scholarship to the Byam Shaw School of Art in London, after which he spent another 3 years at the Royal Academy Schools, working during this time as a postman and movie extra to get by. Eventually, he was given the Award of Merit Scholarship, making it possible for him to travel to Italy and France.

Ibrahim loved traveling and found inspiration in every new setting. Wherever he went, his art would reflect the environment around him, portray personalities and events he found along the way, and speak out against the injustices he witnessed. It was the influence of New York’s multi-layered and omnipresent billboards that moved Ibrahim to originate printage, a never before seen technique for making art that combined printmaking and collage. Once back in Malaysia as resident artist of the University of Malaya, he turned to using natural woods and other resources reflecting the surrounding rainforests. After witnessing the Malay-Chinese race riots in 1969, Ibrahim picked up a torn flag that had been left on the ground and composed on it the famous work entitled May 13. This act nearly landed him in prison; except that he passionately explained how the art created in the process of defacing this flag was a cry for humanity, not anti-national. This plea plus the influence of an admirer who happened to be Deputy Prime Minister allowed Ibrahim to remain free, but only under the condition that the piece never be sold nor removed from the country. The piece still resides with his family today.

With his advanced talent and a beaming smile, Ibrahim had a habit of making friends with influence. At age 25 he struck up a friendship with the Sultan of Selangor, which would turn out to be a lifelong bond. While studying in London, a wealthy art collector gifted Ibrahim with enough canvases to keep him busy for 10 years! In addition, Ibrahim also had a knack for winning awards for his work. Some of the honors included Venezuela’s Order of Andres Bello (1993), triple Datukships, Chile’s Order of Bernardo O’Higgins (1996), the Anugerah Tokoh Melayu Terbilang (2007), and the Japan Foundation Cultural Award (1988). Ibrahim was also honored to be the first Malaysian artist invited to participate in the Venice Biennale (1970). According to Ibrahim, though, a favorite award was the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award. When he received this award in 1997 for cultural influence, he was in the company of artists he admired, such as Oliver Stone, Richard Meier, Lord Menuhin, and Ravi Shankar. 10 years later, he enjoyed a reunion ceremony, which also included later winners Sharon Stone, Chris Tucker and Lionel Richie. He seemed tickled to be in a room so full of the world’s most culturally influential people.

One of his biggest personal accomplishments in effort to further his cause of spreading art and culture was the completion of his foundation and museum after 8 years of hard work (and proudly only 13 trees sacrificed in the process.) The Ibrahim Hussein Museum and Cultural Foundation sits majestically beside the trees and soft filtered light of the Langkawi rainforest, a non-profit designed to display the works of Ibrahim, to host guest artists, to act as a gathering place for artists and humanitarians, and to inspire Malaysians and citizens of the world, alike. Ibrahim’s wife and muse of 35 years, Sim, and his beloved daughter, Alia, remain in charge of his foundation and his continued dream to raise awareness and unity through art and expression. Sim said of her husband after he passed away in 2009 that Ib “selflessly and generously gave back to society through his works and his museum.”

And what did Ibrahim have to say for himself of his life’s work?

“When I decided to be an artist I had no expectations other than to express myself. In the process of doing what you like, life is meaningful.”-Ib

Source:
Wendy Kick for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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