by CT Lim
Years in the making. And inevitably delayed by Covid. Rumah Lat dan Galeri (the Lat gallery), a permanent museum devoted to the Malaysian cartoonist, finally had its official opening on July 8, 2023.
I had received a call from Lat two weeks prior, asking if I was free to attend the opening. I said yes. I have known Lat since the 1990s and all of us are getting on in age. These days I travel to meet up with friends, most recently in June, with a trip to Hong Kong to visit the political cartoonist, Zunzi.
Lat also asked me to contact Miel, a cartoonist for The Straits Times in Singapore. Miel and I had done a road trip in 2009 to visit Lat in Ipoh. That trip was partly for me to seal the deal with Lat for his contribution to Liquid City Volume 2, a Southeast Asian comics anthology which I co-edited. He sent in a short story about the thrills of attending a soccer match.
I once described Lat as a simple man. I think that is still true. But life is complicated. When we arrived at the gallery, an instrumental version of "Just My Imagination" was playing in the background. We imagine our best selves and future, but sometimes reality lets us down. Life is often a series of disappointments and disillusionments.
But dreams also do come true, as in the case of the Lat gallery. The opening was no simple affair. The event was graced by the presence of the Sultan of Perak and his wife. It was a full-on Malay royalty occasion, a first for me and totally fascinating, the rituals and procedures.
The Sultan was a cool guy. He not only officiated over the opening and made Lat the royal artist / cartoonist of Perak; he also played the cartoon historian. In his speech, he gave a historical overview of Lat's career and cartoons. (Ok, most likely he did not write his own speech, but it is still cool that he made it.)
|The Sultan and his wife|
After all the speeches and the private tour for the VIPs, we were able to go around to see the gallery and the recreated kampung house on our own. Being the consumers we were, we headed to the gift shop to buy mech - caps, tees, pencil cases, etc.
The gallery was a mix of reproductions (the old Lat cartoons: the originals were long lost) and originals for the newer pieces. There was a preview of the new book, Mat Som 2. Long anticipated and in the works for the past few years, Lat was aided by Arif Rafhan for the inking. Arif and his family were there too to attend the opening and we chatted.
|Mat Som 2|
There was a recreation of Lat's desk in the gallery. Next to it was a record player. I wondered if it was a Bob Dylan vinyl on it and true enough, it was Nashville Skyline. My friendship with Lat was cemented by our love for Dylan and old John Wayne movies. I remembered Lat telling me that when Nashville Skyline came out, he was a young man and poor. He could only buy the EP version of the album (with less songs) and could only afford the full album later on.
This got me to reflect on what would be my opportunities if I were born in Malaysia. Would my family be middle class like Frankie from Town Boy? Would I have to go overseas for my further studies? Or would I be a Chinese gangster in Cheras?
But enough of my ruminations (but the best works of art do that to us). Finally we found Lat and we recreated our kampong shot from 2009.
|Miel, Lat, and CT Lim in 2023|
|CT Lim, Lat, and Miel in 2009|
Lat and family were tired by the end of the event. Many asked Lat for autographs and quick sketches. Some even took the plates from the catering to get Lat to draw on. We decided to let Lat rest. I went to Ipoh to start my food tour of the town. I also found a rare P Ramlee remastered record. I told Lat and he said that was a good buy.