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Literary Arts

Abdul Gani Hamid

Pioneering contributor to arts and literature in Singapore.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Writers and entrepreneurs need to make sacrifices if they want Malay literature to reach greater heights. One cannot be thinking of returns all the time.

– The Straits Times, 1998.

Abdul Ghani Hamid was born on 13 Apr 1933 in Kampung Siglap (now Kampung Bahru), East Coast Road in Singapore. An early contributor to arts and literature in Singapore, he began his life in the arts while in school. Working primarily in Malay, he has written hundreds of poems, short stories, articles and plays in both Malay and English. He has also exhibited his paintings at over 60 exhibitions since 1950. He was a co-founder and president of Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD) (Artists of Various Resources) and the recipient of the prestigious Anugerah Tun Sri Lanang award and the S.E.A. Write Award in 1998, and the Cultural Medallion for literature in 1999.

Abdul Ghani Hamid received his education in both Malay and English at Telok Kurau English School and Raffles Institution. As a student in Raffles Institution, he contributed poems and articles to Malay newspapers and magazines. He would often walk from the school’s then location at Bras Basah to a nearby Malay publishing house to collect $5 for each of his published works. During this time, he also exhibited his art for the first time, holding an art exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall as part of the Youth Festival.

After completing his studies, Abdul Ghani worked as a clerk at the Singapore Municipality (which became City Council, and subsequently Public Utilities Board) for 33 years, retiring in 1988 at the age of 55. Although he had full-time commitments to his work and was a father of four children, he found time to write and paint. On weekdays, he would write between 9pm and midnight, and the weekends he would devote to painting.

His literary and artistic efforts resulted in deeply metaphysical poems and abstract paintings, displaying a common spirit that showed his passions would never be separate from each other. As he has said, “When I get tired of writing, I paint. And when I get tired of painting, I write”, so it was not unusual that some of his literary and artistic works shared similar subjects and even titles.

Abdul Ghani's literary works have been published in Malaysian literary journals Dewan Sastera and Dewan Bahasa, and he wrote an arts column in Singapore Malay language Sunday newspaper Berita Minggu in the ’70s. He also contributed comic strips to the newspaper and other Malay magazines at under the pen name Lazuardi. When not devoting himself to his poetry or his art, Abdul Ghani also pursued a passion for photography.

In 1962, he founded the Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD) (Artists of Various Resources) with the motto “Secita Mencipta” (Together We Create), to bring together fellow artists to promote their artistic works and to encourage appreciation of visual arts. APAD carries on with its mission today, organising art exhibitions, classes, courses and seminars for all ages. At APAD, he established the APAD medal to recognise excellence in the arts.

In 1960, Abdul Ghani published Sekilas Pandang Senilukis Dan Perkembangannya (A Glimpse of the Arts and its Development), which came to be considered a definitive guide to the history of Singapore Malay arts. His other publication, in 1990, was Seni Indah Masjid Di Singapura (Art of Mosques in Singapore).

In 1998, he was awarded the Anugerah Tun Sri Lanang by the Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura (Singapore Malay Language Council). The same year, he received the S.E.A. Write Award. And in 1999, he was honoured with the Cultural Medallion for literature.

When he retired he devoted most of his time to his art. Occasionally, he spent time at his second home in Malacca to get inspiration for his painting and writing.

In 2008, Abdul Ghani suffered a stroke, and fell into ill health. Six years later on his birthday on 13 Apr 2014, he passed away at the age of 81 from pneumonia, leaving a significant legacy of writings, poems, paintings and drama scripts. In a letter of condolence to Abdul Ghani's family, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remembered the artist as a "leader of the Malay literary, cultural and visual, and performing arts scene in Singapore" (Today, 14 Apr 2014).

Timeline

13 Apr 1933

Born in Singapore.

1946

Attended Sekolah Melayu (Lelaki) Telok Kurau.

1947

Attended Telok Kurau English School.

1948

First articles and poems appeared in Hiboran magazine.

1951 to 1954

Attended Raffles Institution.

1955 to 1988

Clerk, Public Utilities Board, Singapore.

1960

Published Sekilas Pandang Senilukis Dan Perkembangannya (A Glimpse of the Arts and its Development).

1962 to 1962

Co-founder, Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD) (Artists of Various Resources)

1962 to 1984

President, Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (APAD) (Artists of Various Resources).

1964

First anthology of poems, Jalinan Rasa (Weave of Feelings).

1973

First poem in English appeared in The New Nation.

1980

Received Hadiah Sastera, Jawatankuasa Hadiah Sastera, Singapore

1990

Published Seni Indah Masjid Di Singapura (Art of Mosques in Singapore).

1996

His poem, Nilai(Values), displayed in Poems On the MRT series.

1998

Awarded the Anugerah Tun Seri Lanang, highest honour in the Malay literary scene.
Awarded S.E.A Write Award for Malay Poetry.

1999

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to literature in Singapore.

2000 to 2001

Member, National Arts Council.

2003

Awarded the Anugerah Jasamu Dikenang, Majlis Kebudayaan Negeri Melaka & Jawatankuasa Minggu Sastera, Melaka, Malaysia.
Awarded Gold Medal, Federation of Art Societies, Singapore.

13 Apr 2014

Passed away at age 81 from pneumonia in Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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