Murugan and Rajinikanth 2

Installing an antique terracotta icon at the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Biennale 2016. 

The terracotta pictured above, was installed at the Singapore Art Museum as a part of my work for the Singapore Biennale 2016/17. This icon represents the Puranic myth in which Lord Ganesha wins a miraculous mango from his brother Lord Murugan by recognizing that his parents Lord Shiva and Mother Parvathy were not just a part of his universe but, also all of it. In my work, this terracotta opens up a highly liminal space between sacred icon, museum artifact and contemporary art work.

In this, the 2nd of a series of posts at the nexus of ‘Murugan’ and ‘Rajinikanth’ I share a very particular version of the Mango of Enlightenment (Nyana Pazham) myth, which is mine by matrilineal descent …. Once, as Lord Shiva, Mother Parvathy and their children Ganesha and Muruga were enjoying a moment of family bliss in their heavenly abode, the Sage Narada paid them a visit. Holding a mango in his hand, Naradha addressed the boys, “Lord this mango is sweeter than amirtham (divine elixir) it is for you, but it must be not be divided.” Shiva decided to offer it to just one of his sons by way of a challenge, “The mango goes to the one who is the first to circumnavigate the world.”​​​

Knowing that he that must win this challenge, the sprightly Murugan bestrode his glorious peacock and set off around the world. Contemplating his own gait and his most modest vehicle, the mouse, Ganesha posed his father and mother a question, “Ammai, Appan, is it not true that parents are, for a child, the world?” “Yes”, his glowing parents replied in unison. Ganesha continued, “Is it not also true that the whole universe (Prakriti) is but a manifestation (an allegory, a metonym) of your Lordly selves (Shiva/Shakti)?” “Well, yes of course!” – the only possible reply! Ganesha slowly circumambulated Shiva and Parvathy, his father and mother, his world – the world, and sure enough, he won the mango.

When Murugan came flying back, expecting to win, he saw Ganesha with the prize. Stunned and feeling cheated, he became enraged. He pierced his brothers generous belly with his Vel (this part of the story seems to be a particularity of my grandmother’s version) and abandoned his Heavenly abode. Discarding all his celestial accoutrements, he journeyed South, to stand alone on Mount Palani in a meager loin cloth.​​ To this day, he stands there and is hailed as Palani Aandi (Mendicant of Palani), a form of the Lord that is dear to the hearts of the Shivites of South India and the diaspora.

https://www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/-/media/sam/files/exhibitions/sb2016/sb2016-shortguide-lowres.pdf?inline=1

Murugan and Rajinikanth

Kiasu Cowboys Performance, Koboi Project, Singapore Art Museum 2017

In the midst of the Political storm caused in Tamil Nadu by the Periyarist Karuppar Koottam facebook chanel’s recent denigration of Lord Murugan and his Kanda Sashti Kavasam, Superstar Rajinikanth came out form his political hibernation to acknowledge the sitting AIADMK state government, itself Periyarist in inception, for the swift crackdown on the alleged provocation. Two protagonists of the disturbance were arrested and charged with ‘giving provocation intent to cause riot’, ‘promoting enmity between different groups’ and ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings’ under the Indian Penal Code.

Writing on this matter based on my valid, if limited, locus standi, as a Jaffna born Tamil, I must note that while I am enamored of the ethos and charisma of Dravidian politics, I have never appreciated its central praxis of narrow communal scapegoating as a means to mass mobilization. While admiring their pioneering deconstruction of religion and myth as means to power and as forms of social control, I have always rejected their blank atheism as a window onto the truth of human existence. Without developing this sensitive, explosive even, subject further, I would like to take the opportunity of its topicality to index my own engagement with this nexus of Muruga and Thalaiva! In 2016/17, I presented an installation and performance at the Singapore Biennale which itself became the basis for 5th photographic series of the Koboi Project titled Kiasu Cowboys. Central to this work are the acknowledgement of Lord Murugan, via an antique terra cotta icon of the ‘mango myth’ and a large photographic print of a cinema hoarding of Superstar Rajinikanth.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCInQup_YzESGFToU1zZ8JBg
https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-two-tamil-nadu-periyar-activists-arrested-for-offensive-video-on-lord-muruga/357020
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc31a0xd1FUhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc31a0xd1FU
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_India_Anna_Dravida_Munnetra_Kazhagam
https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/karuppar-koottam-hindu-peravai-members-held-under-goondas-act/article32207633.ece
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Tamil_Nadu
https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/kiasuhttps://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/kiasu
https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/kiasu/icon
https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/kedualan

The Discoveries 6

This is a view of the Afonso de Albuquerque park a from the Presidential Palace, no less! This image is from a book on the Belem Palace by Jose Antonio Saraiva that was presented to me by … well the Palace! … Oh all right! by a kind lady at the Palace bookshop with whom I had had a great conversation about the Koboi Project. It really made my day, and more than made up for being turfed out of the Park and banned from performing there by the Palace guards! In fact, this perspective shows how much the park is an integral part of landscape architecture of the palace grounds. And also how much my flag and megaphone would have been in the awareness of the security personnel, the staff and maybe even the occupants of the palace over the last year. I got away with performing right there by the monument a few times in July 1998 and in June this year before I was told that I had to seek official permission through my embassy as I was within the security perimeter of the palace.

Image: from Belem Palace by Jose Antonio Saraiva

Last Action, Last Hour

20190630_202116862004934-e1562041190381.jpgPlease visit Koboi Project series  – Kaza Nunteng Porta.
https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/nuntengporta

We completed the last street intervention of Koboi Project in Belem at the Monument to the Discoveries on Sunday 30th June at 9pm. It was a glorious evening as the sun went down on Prince Henry the Navigator and his discoverers, on SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth and on the Koboi Project! Special thanks to Jane Frankish and Pedro Silva.

the Neoliberal Economy Stupid

4 Tunai itu RajaIn the run-up to Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, 2018, Machiavellian maestro Mahathir Mohamad deployed the slogan Cash is King! to devastating effect against then incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak, imbricating him in a narrative of shameless corruption. While the matter of Najib’s corruption is yet to be heard in law, it has been decided in public opinion, as Mahathir has now, at 92 years of age, returned as the oldest serving Prime Minister in the world. Mahathir’s meme imprinted in popular Malaysian consciousness the sense (regardless of veracity) that Najib’s corruption was qualitatively worse that anything that had transpired before, much of which had happened under Mahathir’s own watch.

The question of corruption is also currently under the spotlight in Canada by way the ongoing SNC Lavalin affair, in which it is alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office’s (PMO) put pressure upon the Attorney General of Canada to act in the interest of the said corporation in a criminal matter. (Please see my previous post for a Key to the SNC Lavalin Affair) The question at hand is whether this pressure was exerted on the  Attorney General, in an improper manner, vis-a-vis the ‘Rule of Law.’ The stakes, for the time being, appear to be ‘merely’ political.  Whether or not this pressure broke federal obstruction-of-justice laws is not as yet in question. It appears, however, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been urged to begin criminal investigations by five former Federal and Provincial Attorney’s General. Equally it appears that, it could be argued that in terms of the rules and values of our system there is no illegality, not even a scandal, just another Wilson-Raybould storm in another Trudeau teacup. This seems to be what seasoned commentator Bsuggests in her article, “Look Away. There’s no scandal here with SNC-Lavalin”  … just business as usual in accord with the norms of Canadian governance.

The point is that corruption is not confined to its legal definition. It arises within and operates through legitimate transactions of all kinds. In writing about bribery, law and morality, John Thomas Noonan has said that “the common good of any society consists not only in its material possessions but in its shared ideals. When these ideals are betrayed, … the common good, … suffers injury.” I suggest, with reference to Marx and Hugo, that it is the unbridled annexation of common material possessions as private property that constitutes the betrayal of the shared ideals and injures the common good. This is the corruption that is enshrined in the laws that uphold neoliberalism. Indeed, regardless of illegality, the effect of the unmitigated monetization of common possessions is degrading to our humanity.

The legality or propriety of a particular exertion of pressure or proffering of inducement, critical though it is in terms of the workings of a given society, is trivial in the face of the bending of governance, the making of laws included, to the will of a powerful section of actors. What good is the adherence to the Rule of Law, if the laws, whose rule is upheld, engender a stilted and degenerate social order …  Here in Canada and throughout the world, this seems to be the default operating mode of the neoliberal political economy – wherein, by fair means or foul, the monetization of common possessions reigns over the common good … but there are exceptions  …  There are indeed, some striking instances of resistance to the all enticing ‘Cash.’ … In 2015 Malaysian Oil and Gas giant PETRONAS offered the tiny Lax Kw’alaams community $1.15 billion in exchange for their support for the building of an LNG terminal on Lelu Island in the Skeena watershed, but the community categorically declined the offer. They refused to convert the common possessions into ‘Cash,’ showing British Columbians and Malaysians alike, that there are, indeed, alternative values and alternative ways.

The image above, titled  7 Cash is King!, is a visualization for a photograph that will be a part of the Berhijrah (Migration) Series of my Koboi Project. This image is being developed as a remix of Mahathir’s political slogan, Zig Zag’s powerful political cartoon and my own apolitical ‘black hat’ Cowboy.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2015/06/13/dr-m-najib-told-me-cash-is-king/914991

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/mahathir-sworn-in-as-7th-malaysian-pm

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2019/03/01/5-ex-attorneys-general-call-for-rcmp-probe-into-snc-lavalin-affair_a_23681656/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IchVHyfBO9Y

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-look-away-theres-no-scandal-here/

http://blogs.worldbank.org/futuredevelopment/moral-dimensions-corruption

https://pressprogress.ca/near-monopoly-canadas-economy-is-dominated-by-a-small-handful-of-corporations-experts-warn/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/sep/12/global-justice-now-study-multinational-businesses-walmart-apple-shell

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2016/mar/20/by-rejecting-1-billion-for-a-pipeline-a-first-nation-has-put-justin-trudeaus-climate-plan-on-trial

https://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/indian-act-chiefs-and-idle-no-more-snakes-in-the-grassroots/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diamond Jubilee, Lisbon

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The second Koboi Performance went well today (8th July) in Belem, Lisbon. Among the highlights is meeting Amir Kabani and his family at  the site of the Discoveries Monument. Amir gracefully and effficiently facillated the paperwork involved in enabling me to participate as Faculty at the International Art Gallery of the Diamond Jubliee celebration of the global Ismaili community. Thank you Amir and the team at the International Art Gallery.

Art vs Life in Tokyo

With PA Rajinth’s Kaala, staring Thalaivaa Rajinikanth due to open on the 7th June 2018, and with all the controversy around Rajinikanth’s encounter and intervention in Thoothukudi recently, I feel it is timely that I release this video of my own little intervention on the streets of Tokyo as a part of Cowboys and Indians: Tokyo Edition on May 11th 2018. Rajinikanth’s outburst brings into focus the liminality of art and life, and indeed the ultimate severality of these categories. Rajinikanth the politician came out quite harshly against the culture of protest and resistance in Tamil Nadu. While his character in Kaala is a rabble rousing revolutionary, real life Rajinikanth has come off looking rather reactionary. This self-inflected break between person and persona threatens to eviscerate not only the credibility of Rajinikanth’s politics but also that of his highly developed artistic identity. Still, I will be there at the Hollywood 3 Cinema in Surrey for the opening night in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada!

Sandosham Dance Team

dance1

I am happy to announce that the SANDOSHAM Indian Movie Dance Team will perform as a part of Cowboys and Indians  at Courtyard Hiroo Gallery, Tokyo,on 11th May 2018. The Koboi Project (Cowboy Project) is series of a photo-conceptual installations and performances, involving photographic images, traditional icons, story telling, collaborations and conviviality.  During the performance, I will present an 18ft banner of Tamil movie Superstar Rajinikanth as well as an antique Momotaro doll made by the Kyugetsu Company. SANDOSHAM will dance to Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali  from the film ‘Muthu’, cheoreographed by the Team leader, Mikan Bindu.

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

Cowboys & Indians: Tokyo

momo2

Cowboys and Indians: Tokyo Edition will be presented at Courtyard Hiroo Gallery, in a show titled ‘Home’ in the Expanded Field’ curated by and John Tran and Hana Sakuma. This exhibition explores ‘home’ as ‘a place that can be transitory, imaginary, and whose meaning is unstable or elusive’. I will present an installation/ performance around my on-going theme of the mango and the Indian myths that give meaning to this wondrous fruit. I will engage with Japanese myth and traditions via of the legend of Momotaro (the Peach Boy). During the performance, will present a Momotaro doll made by the Kyugetsu Company (esteemed doll makers dating back to 1835) in the 1920’s or 1930’s, and develop an association between Indian and Japanese symbolism centered on the substitution of the peach for the mango.

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