Here is an in-progress shot taken of my installation at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya before the show opened on 1st November 2017. The Gift of Knowledge is an Installation commemorating the life’s work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995).It is an installation of furniture, personal items, print layout/artwork, photographs and publications from the collection of Jawaharlal Jai Singam. The installation is accompanied by a video contextualizing the exhibit. The late Dr. Durai Raja Singam was a Malaysian scholar, historian, biographer and bibliographer of high international regard who collated, wrote, designed and published books on various topics. At the centre of this large body of work was his pioneering contribution to Ananda Coomaraswamy scholarship. Durai Raja Singam was Coomaraswamy’s most dedicated biographer and his earliest comprehensive bibliographer.
I am proud to announce my participation in Alami Belas the inaugural KL Biennale 2017. My work is titled The Gift of Knowledge: An Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995). This installation will be on view at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya from 1 Nov 2017 – 31 March 2018.
The life and work Durai Raja Singam is the epitome of belas (charity/compassion) in the context of Malaysian scholarly work. Operating outside the realm of academia, he did his work with neither acclaim nor financial reward in mind. He funded his publications himself with no notion of profit. He collated, wrote, designed and published books on various topics, particularly on the life and work of Ananda Coomaraswamy. He pursued this work as if it were his karma (sacred duty) to disseminate this knowledge for posterity. The late Durai Raja Singam was my uncle and, in this installation, I present his place in Malaysian cultural discourse through the dual perspective of a familial recipient of his legacy and a Malaysian artist theorist and curator who has contributed to the study of Southeast Asian art. The exhibit takes the form of an installation of select items of his furniture, personal effects, print layout/artwork, photographs and publications. His books are presented in an accessible manner so that visitors are able to read them. There is also a video interview with his son Jawaharlal Jai Singam. This installation celebrates Durai Raja Singam as Malaysian scholar, historian, biographer and bibliographer of high international regard who operated with humility outside of the privileged precincts of the ivory tower.
The theme of the inaugural KL Biennale (November 2017 to March 2018), is Belas which can be understood as pengampunan or mercy, compassion, charity, generosity or simply as giving of the self. As a part of this Biennale, I will present an installation, at the Piyadasa Gallery of the University of Malaya, commemorating the person and work of Dr. Durai Raja Singam. Durai Raja Singam is, in my view, the epitome of belas in the context of Malaysian scholarly work. Operating outside the realm of academia and almost completely beyond the ambit of the publishing industry, he did his research, writing and publishing work with neither acclaim nor financial reward in mind. He funded his publications personally without a notion of profit or even of an idea of a balanced return.
An author who engaged in his craft in the traditional ethos, his work was his vocation, he collated, wrote, designed and published on the life and work of Ananda Coomaraswamy as if it were his karma or sacred duty and a moral obligation to consolidate and disseminate this knowledge for posterity. He worked as a disinterested practitioner of his art, deriving satisfaction from his very materials and from his own efforts. I believe that he did this work with the deep ethical and spiritual understanding that good seeds, carefully planted and well-tended must bear rich fruit. The deepest sense in which this unassuming scholar is the embodiment of belas lies in the fact that he took his greatest delight in others enjoying the fruit of his labour.
In authoring this project I take a 1st person approach as the late Durai Raja Singam was my uncle. I will present my sense of his place in Malaysian culture vis a vis my own cultural activities and engagements and through my personal knowledge and experience of him as a family elder. The exhibition will take the form of a small installation that I will curate with the dual perspective of a familial recipient of his legacy, as well as an artist and theorist who has contributed to the discourses on Southeast Asian art in a manner that reflects this heritage.