A few months ago, I had the honour of having breakfast with one of Bangi’s prominent artist, Pak Usop. We started talking. He loves to talk. I asked him about his art gallery, a place that I used to come and watch him paint. He said business is ok by his standards, visitors if not his arty peers, are art-lovers from abroad, mainly Singapore or Thailand. Too little locals visited his gallery, or maybe they just didn’t care enough. I asked him about his infamous Anak Alam colleague, Latiff Mohidin. He said Latiff will never set foot in Bangi again unless necessary (on events like Pak Usop’s daughter’s wedding recently). When I asked why, he said, it was a sad story. About 20 years ago, Latiff presented UKM with one of his masterpiece painting. It was then hung in the Dewan Tuanku Chancellor. After years of decay and building maintenance, that particular painting experienced the treatment of rags.

When Latiff saw this mistreatment a few years ago, the vow became imminent. It is said that a Singaporean once visited Dewan Tuanku Chancellor, saw the painting and shook his head. The Singaporean said that according to current value, the painting could be worth around S$3 million. Luckily, UKM management doesn’t know the monetary value of the painting. If not, they must have sold it already.

Pak Usop explained his opinion regarding this matter. About the lack of art appreciation among general Malaysians. He said that, this all happens because of the segregation in the national education system. Mainly, the separation of science, arts and religious streams among our students. This mold continues throughout higher education level and the result; an engineer will not be a creative engineer, a politician will not be a thinking politician, a religious council member will not be an open minded religious council member and so on. Rarely seen are engineering or business or IT students in local university taking minor (non-compulsory) courses such as foreign languages, ancient history, photography or even arts and music itself. It can be said that Malaysians are developed intellectually from under the coconut shell. There should be a near-parallel balance among the three streams in our students education system, according to Pak Usop.

He took a puff from his Winston and ordered another cup of kopi ‘o. I phoned my boss and took half day off from work just to finish my conversation with Pak Usop. It was worth it.