Some gave them white bread, And some gave them brown; Never mind the plum cake The Jewel’s got the Crown!
This is a momentous turn of events for the UK. It is a bit like Obama’s arrival on the political scene of the USA. On the one hand, all people of colour should be happy and the Conservatives should be commended for looking beyond race, on the other, it is premature to congratulate the UK as the population has not voted for Sunak. Will race come into play in an election, when it happens? I believe it will, as it did around Obama’s election … but unlike the US electorate, the UK polity may be not be ready for black leadership. If, in fact, the UK is ready, that would of course, be a good thing …. but then again, what about Sunak in himself – is he worthy of ones vote beyond the virtue of his skin. He is a millionaire in his own right, billionaire by marriage, and an exemplary neo-liberal globalist. Those who are on the left of the political spectrum certainly cannot really endorse him … but then the Labour party no longer represents the British working people either ….. Regardless of its historical moment, the salient quality of this turn of events is irony – if India was once the Jewel in the Crown of the great British Empire, an Indian has now become the ‘head’ of a much diminished British Isles … indeed, now, the Jewel has the Crown!
2018 Merdeka Award recipient, the late Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, is standing 2nd from the left in this image from the Koboi Balik Lagi series. He is married to my cousin Rathy (not in the photograph), and is pictured here with members of his family, Gana and the late Jega, as well as my late parents. Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim is the preeminent historian of independent Malaysia. He also the co–authored the Rukun Negara. As such, an image of Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, signifies the nation as definitively as any distinctive Malaysian landscape.
A rare view of Afonso de Albuquerque and Saint Francis Xavier in a photograph taken around 1960, during the of construction of the Monument to the Discoveries. From the perspective of a Malaysian schoolboy of the 1970’s, being in Belem is like looking down the other end of the telescope of a buku Sejarah (History book)!
Image: The Portuguese World Exhibition: Explaining Belem exhibition catalogue.
This painting is a part of a set by Andre Reinoso (and his collaborators) which is displayed in the sacristy of the Church of Sao Roque in Lisbon. It portrays the historical event (in the Portuguese record) of the invasion of Malacca by Achenese pirates in 1547. Saint Francis Xavier, who was there at the time, is shown praying for Portuguese troops to repulse the invasion. The scene involves a multitude of Achenese fighters (pirates or otherwise!) holding their flags and trying to attack the Portuguese citadel! It is noted in the descriptive panel for this set of paintings that it was commissioned according to a clear iconographic programme designed by the Jesuits of Portugal in order to promote the canonization of the Saint. The paintings were installed in 1619 and and st Francis Xavier was canonized in 1622. This image is titled. ‘St. Francis Xavier tries to halt the invasion of Achenese pirates in Malacca.’ It is the Malacca Malacca evoked by Fausto (after Fernao Mendes Pinto) in his song A Guerra e a Guerra
Or perhaps ‘Post Photo-conceptual Performance’ … a tag I have been developing to locate my practice at the junction of photography and performance. While the tag needs much refinement, I think the praxis itself seems now, after 5 years of the Koboi Project, to be reasonably developed. I had the privilege of delivering a Masterclass in Performance Art as Faculty at the International Ismaili Diamond Jubilee Arts Festival in Lisbon, which ran from the 5-9 July 2018.
In this class, I shared my preparations for two impromptu photo-performances that took place at the Alfonso De Albuquerque Monument and the Discoveries Monument in Belem on 7th and 8th July 2018, respectively. I took the workshop participants, who were amateur and professional artists from the global Ismaili diaspora through my preparations for the two street interventions. They participated in my search for a meaningful action. We began the class within the designated presentation space and finished outside absorbing the architecture Portugal Pavilion and the masterclass itself into the spectacle and symbol of the event. In the light of his exercise and the images it produced, I have clarified for myself the stations of my process and have articulated them in a set of 12 words and images.