A Humbling Review

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Two days before the Gift of Knowledge Symposium I received an email from renowned Southeast Asian art historian TK Sabapathy, conveying generous and gratifying reflections on my ‘The Gift of Knowledge’ installation, which commemorates the life work of Durai Raja Singam. Below is an edited extract published with his kind permission –

“I visited your exposition … in the Piyadasa Gallery. As a bibliophile I was enthralled…reaching over the divide to other bibliophiles. I attach [a photograph] in which I am ensconced in the installation … I requested that the video image of your conversation be prominently included so as to register myself in moments of history…and possibly, posterity even! … As you know Coomaraswamy is deeply etched in my being, since I encountered him during my second year of undergraduate studies in art history in 1958 – I have written on this, on two occasions. I regret not meeting with your uncle … you may or may not know that I have been video-recorded, musing on Coomaraswamy … The abiding interest in this recording was in his Art of India and Indonesia, especially in Coomaraswamy’s perspectives on Southeast Asia as they appear in this volume. I recall reading it painstaking, painfully, and with immense labour and difficulties during undergraduate years … So, Niranjan, all our paths intersect on account of AKC. I thank you for your installation, for instating Coomaraswamy and your uncle as a transmitter and transformer…… tangibly, requisitely and demandingly in our midst and in our time.”

To contextualize these reflections in terms or Kanaga’s and my own personal and intellectual engagement, I would like to note that I met Mr Sabapathy in 1995 when I went to Singapore for the ASEAN COCI Symposium held at the newly inaugurated Singapore Art Museum. I had been introduced by Redza Piyadasa and was kindly  received by this renowned art historian and his wife Dorine. Before the Symposium Kanaga presented me with some of his publications, one of which was a paper titled ‘Preliminary Observations on Art Historiography in Southeast Asia’, presented at the SEAMEO SPAFA Symposium, “Towards A Southeast Asian Perspective in Art History and Aesthetics”. In this paper he critiqued Coomaraswamy’s overview of the art of India and the Indianized art of Southeast Asia, eliciting and dispelling any notion of a ‘greater India’ in the construction of the history of the art of our region.  I too was reading and applying Coomaraswamy in my writing. During the symposium, of which Kanaga as chair, I presented my own critique of Southeast Asian art historiography, calling for a dual social historical/ metaphysical approach. My thesis was founded on a remix of poststructuralism, the new left and, of course, Ananda Coomarasway.

Sathiavathy Deva Rajah

29314262_10156147022193232_1854508514102214656_o (1)On the 17th March 2018 I presented at the dialogue session of my Gift of Knowledge Installation at the Piyasasa Gallery. I also did a casual gallery tour with members of the audience and in the above photograph I am accompanying my mother Sathiavathy Deva Rajah as we look for acknowledgments of her contribution to the work of my uncle Durai Raja Singam whose life work is the subject of the exhibition. My mother was uncle’s favorite proof reader and language editor as she was mine in my UNIMAS days. As such she has contributed to seminal works such as Durai Raja Singam’s pioneering annotated bibliography of Ananda Coomaraswamy, Hasnul Jamal Saidon’s and my own 1st Electronic Art Show catalogue and to my essays in Insyirah: lukisan Sulaiman Esa dari 1980 hingga 2000 and Bara Hati, Bahang Jiwa.

Thanks Ma!

Image: https://www.facebook.com/dayang.kartini/posts/10156147022858232

Post Traditional Praxis 5

Event: Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary Dialogue Session /
Speakers: Dr. Simon Soon, Niranjan Rajah and Audience! /
Date: 17th March 2018 (Saturday) /
Time:  2 pm to 4.30 pm /
Venue: Seminar Room 1 and Piyadasa Gallery, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya /

This Dialog Session is presented as a part of –
The Gift of Knowledge: An Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995)
by Niranjan Rajah as part of ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017

The strength of traditional values and the revival of theocentric approaches to social issues makes it incumbent upon contemporary artists and theorists who practice in the modernist and postmodernist idioms to engage reflectively with traditional values in art. Conversely, it seems imperative that traditionalists reflect on the impact of the resurgent traditional mores in contemporary life, and that they do not develop their worldviews in isolation from modernity and from one another.

In post-traditional situations like ours, where diverse religious orders have survived both the singularity of modernism and the relativity of postmodernism, we are required to be attentive to art that goes beyond both the chronological and stylistic modes of art history and wholesale adoption of critical theory. We may need to unpack and explore the depth, the meanings of tradition and not sit satisfied within the aura of its superficial significations. With the historical and bibliographical researches of Durai Raja Singam as a point of departure, our afternoon speakers will explore what his practice means for both contemporary art and the writing of art history in Malaysia today.

There will be two presentations followed by a dialogue with the audience. The presentations are –

“Durai Raja Singam as a pioneering proponent of Ananda Coomaraswamy – Traditional worldviews and implications for our national sense of being”
by Niranjan Rajah, Assistant Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.

and

“Who Is This Coomaraswamy? Durai Singam and the Impossibility of Not Writing”
by Simon Soon, Senior Lecturer, Visual Art Program, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya.

A tour of the exhibition currently on view at Piyadasa Gallery will be conducted by Niranjan Rajah after the talk at around 4PM. Refreshments will be served.

 

Post Traditional Praxis 4

drs

Event: Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary Dialogue Session /
Speakers: Dr. Simon Soon, Niranjan Rajah and audience! /
Date: 17th March 2018 /
Time:  2 pm to 4.30 pm /
Venue: Piyadasa Gallery, Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya /

In this Dialogue Session we will explore the life work of the scholar and author Durai Raja Singam form personal, communal, national and international perspectives.  We will then go on to discuss the role of tradition in the contemporary art and social life of the nation. Pictured above in his habitual work attire in the later years of his life, the ever so modest Dr. Singam held two honorary Doctorates (awarded by the University of Jaffna and the Banaras Hindu University). He was as fluent in the contemporary lingua franca of international scholarship as he was steeped in Hindu tradition, Durai Raja Singam’s lifework is the epitome of a post-traditional praxis.

 

Post Traditional Praxis 3

biblio
Event: Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary Dialog Session
Speakers: Dr. Simon Soon, Niranjan Rajah and audience!
Date: 17th March 2018
Time:  2 pm to 4.30 pm
Venue: Piyadasa Gallery/ Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya

Theme: Centered on the lifework of work of Dr. Durai Raja Singam, the session will go on to explore the place of tradition in contemporary Malaysian art and life. Is Art a way of Life? I quote the following from the cover of Durai Raja Singam’s ‘Letters of Ananda Coomaraswamy Vol 5’, 1976 (self published) ” As I wake up each morning I transcribe a letter and as I retire to bed, I copy out another. These are SUBLIME LEAVES I read in the evening of my life”.
Image: https://artklitique.blogspot.ca/2017/12/kl-biennale-ii-gift-of-knowledge.html

Post Traditional Praxis 2

rememberingThe dialog session titled Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary: Towards a Post Traditional Praxis in Malaysian Art, takes place on 17th March 2018 from 2 pm to 4.30 pm at the Piyadasa Gallery/ Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya.  Presenting the lifework of work of Dr. Durai Raja Singam, the session will go on to explore the place of tradition in contemporary Malaysian art and life. To what extent do contemporary art and theory engage with the forms and values of tradition. Are traditional forms meaningfully conceived in isolation from the theories of modernism and postmodernism. Given our national culture and life, wherein diverse religious paradigms coexist, we need approaches that art that unpack and explore the deeper meanings of tradition and as a contemporary or a post-traditional practice. This dialogue is a part of my installation at the Piyadasa Gallery titled The Gift of Knowledge  Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995) which is a part of  ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017, Bali Seni Visual Negara.

Image: https://artklitique.blogspot.ca/2017/12/kl-biennale-ii-gift-of-knowledge.html

 

 

 

 

Post Traditional Praxis

whoisthisI am happy to announce the  Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary: Towards a Post Traditional Praxis in Malaysian Art Dialog Session which will take place on 17th March 2018 from 2pm to 4.30 pm at the Piyadasa Gallery/ Cultural Centre , Universiti Malaya. This Dialog Session is a part of the external programme of ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017, Bali Seni Visual Negara. This dialogue is a part of my installation at the Piyadasa Gallery titled The Gift of Knowledge  Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995). It will explore the historical and bibliographical researches of Durai Raja Singam who is a pioneering  biographer and bibliographer of the great art historian and metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy. He was a serious amateur historian and a researcher who operated outside of the privileged circle of academic institutions. Indeed, Durai Raja Singam is an exemplar of cosmopolitanism in 20th century Malaysian intellectual life. Taking the work of Durai Raja Singam as point of departure, this session will investigate tradition might be a meaningful measure of the contemporary in Malaysian Art. The dialogue will explore the rapprochement of our diverse traditional world views,  their relevance in contemporary moment and their significance for our national sense of being.

Image: https://artklitique.blogspot.ca/2017/12/kl-biennale-ii-gift-of-knowledge.html