Malaysian Indian Artists 2

In his article on Malaysian Indian artists published in the Penang Monthly, Ooi Kok Chuen writes of J. Anu and myself both being of Sri Lankan Tamil descent. This observation, in the context of the question of Malaysian Indianness, raises two concerns pertaining to blood ties, one intimate and familial and the other, public and communal.

The first is a fact – I am proud to note that Anu and I are not only members of the same community, we are of the same family. Anu’s mother Gana, whom I call Acca, is my cousin, and this relationship is celebrated in an image of the Koboi Balik Lagi series of the Koboi Project.

4 Ikatan Pertiwi
4 Ikatan Pertiwi, Koboi Balik Lagi, https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/baliklagi

The second is a question that underpins Ooi’s own pertinent question – ” WHY ARE THERE so few artists of Indian (including Singhalese) descent in Malaysia?.” It is this – Who is Indian in the Malaysian context? As I have noted in a previous post, Ceylonese Tamils in Malaysia have historically tried to preserve a distinct identity from Malaysian Indians. We have our own organization, the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress (MCC), that has been traditionally aligned to Barisan National. Although the MCC is not a registered political party, it had, until 1981, a senator in the Malaysian parliament’s upper house, the Dewan Negara. However, as Suhaini Aznan notes, Malaysians do not recognize the difference between Indians and Ceylonese and in the 2000 census many Ceylonese were counted as Indians. In this light, MIC seems to have invited the Ceylonese to join up with the Indians but, as Aznan notes the Ceylonese declined. He explains, after Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, president of the MCC, “every race wanted its own identity to survive.”

It is my own opinion that Malaysian Tamils of Ceylonese origin should, to the extent that the Malaysian Indians will accept us, be absorbed into the category and identity of ‘Indian’. It is not a question of renouncing ones Ceylon Tamil background but, rather, of integrating it into the wider Malaysian Indian mosaic. Regardless of my own identification, however, the question remains, “are Ceylonese Tamils included in the category ‘Malaysian Indian’?” The question of Indianness does not stop here. It is clear from Ooi’s placing ‘including Singhalese’ within parenthesis in his question, that even he feels his placement of this other Ceylonese community within the Indian category is questionable. And then there is the question of the Mamak or Indian Muslims – it is unclear if they would all be equally happy with the highlighting of their belonging to the Indian category, as some might be in the process of transferring their identity into the ‘Malay’ category’.

Returning to the first concern, that of family, artist T. Selvaratnam is related to both Anu and myself, but that is a story for another blog post.

https://penangmonthly.com/article/20432/spotlight-on-indian-malaysian-artists?fbclid=IwAR3CB_s6jMPFH2A8P-4UcFwKXz6oUzjwBn7aRXijHkPNp35Aob8d9iE5Gto

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Ceylonese_Congress

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2005/03/27/standing-up-for-the-ceylonese

12 Praxis

Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
11 Pantun
13 Dochakuka
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

6 Heroes

Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
11 Pantun
12 Praxis
13 Dochakuka
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

Telinga Keling (1999)

Telinga Keling, Silver Halide Print, Niranjan Rajah, 1999. Permanent Collection of the National Visual Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur

Updated on March 29th 2021:

With reference to the recurrent controversies around the use of the term ‘keling’, and with particular reference to the recent Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) inclusion of the word “keling” in its definition of “tambi,  there is no need for hysterical reaction from Indians about the presence of the word Keling in the Malay lexicon and publications in the Malay Language. After all if Indians think about it carefully, ‘thambi’ itself is problematic, as it can reflect status, class and cast when used to refer to adults. In fact it is far more troubling that we use the word ‘pariah‘ as a put-down in English as well as in Malay with scant criticism. However, it reveals an extremely poor standard of scholarship and professionalism on the part of the DBP that they have used the term ‘keling’ as an index for ‘Indian’ in the contemporary setting. Yes, this failure to recognize that the main contemporary usage of of the term is to put Indians down, might even reflect a systemic (unconscious) racism in the esteemed authority in whose care we have put the future of the Malay Language.

Telinga Keling (1999) is in the collection of the National Visual Art Gallery in KL. It is currently (oct 15 2019) on display again in a selection from the collection. ‘Keling’ is a today taken as a derogatory term for ‘Indian’ although, from its etymology, it is clear that this was not always so. The items obscuring my ears in the image are Malay sweets which are colloquially referred to as ‘Telinga Keling’ (Indian Ears). More formally and publicly, given our multi-racial Malaysian society, these cakes are referred to as ‘penyaram’ or ‘denderam’. Ironically, this Telinga Keling sweet is quite likely to be of Indian origin. My mother used to make something that tastes exactly the same that we call it ‘athirasam’

The idea of the piece is that I can engage the Malay viewers regarding this juncture of ‘sweetness’ and ‘derision’ while excluding the others, who would likely be unfamiliar with the cake’s colloquial name. Of course, there’ll be some Indians who know, particularly those from Kelantan where the sweet is prevalent, but empirically speaking, during the opening of its inaugural exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, the Indians had no idea and kept asking, ‘Why did you insult yourself in this work? ’, The Malays, however, smiled at me in and nodded in awkward acknowledgement.

https://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/ramasamy-tells-dbp-remove-racist-020100995.html

Cowboys & Indians:Tokyo 2

truth

Cowboys and Indians: Tokyo Edition, to be presented at Courtyard Hiroo Gallery on 11th May 2018, is the sencond installation/ performance of ‘Cowboys and Indians’, the 6th series of the Koboi Project. The first edition was presented at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert in 2017. The overarching Koboi Project is photo-conceptual work involving installations, traditional icons, story telling and performance elements. It is a transnational epic, presented as the adventures of my persona – the ‘Black Hat’ Cowboy, through whom I present my life as my art, as I explore my identity as a Malaysian, as an Indian, as a British Columbian and as a citizen of the world.

https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/momo/proposal

Kaala Karikaalan

kaala

As Rajinikanth fans anticipate the April 27th 2018 release of Kaala Karikaalan, the Koboi Project is glancing off the SUPERSTAR’s look for the movie. While as a fan, I relish the simple pleasure of ‘being’ the Thalaiva, as an artist,  I am cognizant of the aesthetic and critical connotations of my play.  Is this a pastiche or a parody, and if it is a parody – what is it a parody of? What is the measure of similitude, how much ‘looking like’ does it take to ‘look like’ or signify another person or persona? What is the threshold of sufficiency? Is such similitude founded on ethnic, even ethnocentric, notions of identity? What is the inner dimension of such a representation? Hoe does one actually form a meaningful image of another? When does homage become piracy? What, beyond context, is the difference between a popular and a fine art image in the contemporary taxonomy of the arts? Most poignantly and pertinently, Kaala may be the last of my easy and heartfelt appropriations of the SUPERSTAR’s image as, having launched his political party in Tamil Nadu, he is now on the cusp of announcing his manifesto. Along with Thalaiva’s long-time college in the Movie business, and now political co-aspirant, Kamal Haasan, I fear that Rajinikanth’s avowed ‘spiritual politics’ will take on the saffron hues of Hindutva.

Image: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kaala-team-miffed-leak-stunt-sequence-76315

https://www.ndtv.com/tamil-nadu-news/at-harvard-kamal-haasan-says-hope-rajinikanths-colour-isnt-saffron-1811209

Rajinikanth as Signifier

rajini
On December 31st 2017 SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth confirmed his entry into Tamil Nadu Politics by announcing that he would launch a new political party before the next assembly election in the state. Growing up as a Tamil in Malaysia in the 1970’s, although I was not a film fan, I was aware of Rajnikanth’s significance as an identity pioneer. Up till his arrival on the scene, the dark skinned  audiences of Tamil cinema had perversely preferred their leading men pale-faced and all powdered up. Rajnikanth had changed all that and gone on to become the biggest box office draw in Indian cinema. Later in my life, as my children were growing up in Kuching, Sarawak far from my parents and any significant Tamil influences, I went looking for Tamil media to fill the lack. I found a copy of Rajnikanth’s 1995 release, Muthu at the local night-market and to my delight, my girls loved it. What’s more, I found that I loved Muthu too.

On a visit to Tokyo at around this time, I was greeted by a billboard image of Rajinikanth. ‘Muthu’ or ‘Dancing Maharaja’ as the film was titled for its Japanese release, had become a box-office sensation in Japan. This was a rare example of an idiomatic local cultural product becoming a cross-over success without any mitigation of its sharp flavors. To the contrary, Japanese fans now learn Tamil to follow their SUPERSTAR in his own idiom. Against the grain of an era of global marketing and dochakuka in which the global products are varied, adapted and ‘localized’ for specific markets, Rajinikanth appears to have successfully projected an untempered idiomatic expression into a culturally distinct market and milieu. I recognized in this phenomena a signifier for the antithesis of the homogenization that was taking hold in the all global arenas, including that of contemporary art.

https://www.ndtv.com/tamil-nadu-news/tamil-superstar-rajinikanth-announces-his-entry-in-politics-top-10-quotes-1794021

http://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/kedualan