The 12th series in the Koboi Project, ‘Dari Pusat Tasek”, consists of a pair of photographs titled Naan Anaiyttal and Rockin Cowboy taken in Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves and on West Broadway, Mount Pleasant, Vancouver, respectively. Naan Anaiyttal presents the Koboi standing before a hoarding of 12 meter cutout of formerly jailed Deputy Prime Minister and Parti Keadilan leader, Anwar Ibrahim. The Koboi stands gesturing forwards and upwards with a green skinned mango in his right hand. The cutout was initially erected around the 2008 election but taken down in the context of political controversy and fears that the structure would be vulnerable to weather conditions. It was put up again for the 14th general election which took place in May 2018. The Koboi photograph was taken in 2018. Naan Anaiyttal is title of a song from M G Rmachandran’s hit film Enga Veettu Pillai (1965). MGR was of course to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the song has populist and egalitarian theme. Anwar Ibrahim, in turn is, however tenuously, in line to be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace till 19 JAN 2020, ‘Dari Pusat Tasek” is the title of the 12th series in the Koboi Project, which includes a photograph titled Naan Anaiyttal taken in Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves. It presents the Koboi standing before a 12 meter cutout of formerly jailed Deputy Prime Minister and Parti Keadilan leader Anwar Ibrahim. The Koboi stands gesturing forwards and upwards with a green skinned mango in his right hand. The cutout was initially erected around the 2008 election but taken down in the midst of a political/religious controversy about wastage/idolatry and fears that the structure would be a danger to the public in unfavourable weather conditions. It was put up again for the the 14th general election which took place in May 2018.
The Koboi photograph was taken in 2018. Naan Anaiyttalis title of a song from M G Rmachandran’s hit film Enga Veettu Pillai (1965). MGR was of course to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the song has populist and egalitarian theme. Anwar Ibrahim, in turn, is in line, however tenuously, to become the next Prime Minister of Malaysia next Prime Minister. Here are the lyrics of the song in Tamil, English, Malay and finally in Anwar Ibrahim’s own elegant translation –
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace till 19 JAN 2020. As part of this event a performance was held at the Lumut Waterfront on the 25th December 2019. The Naan Anaiyttalflag was raised on a portable flag stand, accompanied by a performance based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual. The flag presents the Koboi standing before a 12.2 m hoarding of the once jailed politician who is now Malaysia’s prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim. This image was shot in Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves, in the wake of Malaysia’s 14th General Elections. Photographs of the Lumut performance will go towards making the 13th series of the Koboi Project tentatively titled Badan Aku Tubuh Negara. The draft of this work can be viewed at https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/sialjambalang
The Dari Pusat Tasek performance (View my draft for the 13th Koboi series DARI TUBUH NEGARA) was held at the Lumut Waterfront, under the auspices of Percha Art Space at 5pm on the 25th December 2019. The exhibition will run till 5 Jan 2020 (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020) . The Naan Anaiyttalflag presents an image that was shot in Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves, in the wake of Malaysia’s 14th General Elections. The Koboi stands before a 12.2 m hoarding of the once jailed politician who is now Malaysia’s prime minister in waiting, Anwar Ibrahim. This flag was raised on a portable flag stand, accompanied by a performance based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual performed with cut lime.
After my body was ritually rubbed with lime, I faced the East and spit seven times. I then threw the remains of the limes in the Westerly direction saying, Pergi-lah semua sial jambalang dari badan aku, dan dari pada tubuh negara; pergi lah ke Pusat Pasek Paujangi, (‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body, and from the corpus of the nation, begone to the whirlpool of the of the Pusat Pasek Paujangi!) Water was then poured over me to complete the cleansing. All the waters of the world are ultimately received at the Pusat Tasek, bringing to its swirl all of the flotsam, jetsam and refuse of the world. The Pusat Tasek of myth seems to coincide with the contemporary swirl of the North Pacific Gyre– a place at which the worst of our contemporary sial jambalang reside.
12 Indian detainees wait for trial in Malaysian prisons on LTTE related charges under the ambit of SOSMA with draconian restrictions of their rights to a fair and open trial. Terrorism is a matter of legal definition and that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia until 2014. Until this time, most Tamils in Malaysia as in the wider diaspora would have seen the LTTE as a violent separatist movement born of the exhaustion of peaceful and democratic negotiations with the majority Sinhalese. Velupillai Prabhakaran was doubtless identified as a ruthless leader but admired for his incomparable courage, determination and military prowess.
This admiration is a very different matter from believing that he and his Tigers were right in their methods and even their goals. I for one have always been against a violent struggle for Elam. I have feared that the goal of a Tamil nation on the island of Lanka, while being historically justified, may just be a vanity project for the diasporic community. An edifice that can only be built out of the blood and tears of those left behind. Even if the men and women of the armed movement of liberation may have been cognisant and willing, it is the civilians would have been unwittingly and unknowingly been made to pay. Further, the middle classes were the best equipped to exit the situation as expatriates and refugees, while the working classes and the poor did not have that choice. Offering material support form the safety of the international diaspora would, in my view, have meant foisting blood and sorrow upon those who had no agency. Ultimately, I could not see Elam a sustainable geopolitical entity. Even with all of Prabhakaran’s prowess, he could only deliver Elam as a temporary domain, as a stage in a South Asian game of thrones in which the real players were bigger than the Tamils and the Sinhalese – India, the US and China!
Although I have never supported the LTTE , I do see them as having taken up a valid stance among the options available to the Tamils in their time. Towards the end of the Elam war in 2009, with Tigers and civilians trapped on the beach at Mullivaikkal, I stood with a small crowd of Tamils outside the CBC offices in Vancouver trying to impress upon that estemend news agency, that they were obliged to report on the plight of Tamil civilians caught between the ruthless Tigers who were using them as a shield and the merciless SLA who seemed about to attack with genocidal abandon. News of his situation was, it seemed, being systematically suppressed. Amongst those with whom I stood in solidarity that day, as a member of the Tamil diaspora, were flag waving supporters of the LTTE. It was at that moment impossible for me to extricate the furtherment of the cause of Tamils from that of the Tigers.
For all intents and purposes the LTTE ceased to exist with the Mullivaikkal massacre by the victorious SLA. It can not be denied that to Tamils across the world, even to those who find the their methods despicable and their project erroneous, the Tigers and their leader are champions of the Tamil race. They are the latest signifiers in an ancient stream of heroes and conquerors that flows through the heart of the Tamil identity. While they will not be forgotten as myth they are gone as an organization, and so, even though I make no assumption about the guilt or innocence of the 12 Malaysian Indians, I must note that in charging them with possessing printed literature and propagating the LTTE on social media, the onus is on the state to show that these men were furthering the organizational agenda of the LTTE rather than celebrating the myth . Further the state is obliged to prove that the organization still exists and/or that these men were involved in actually trying to revive an entity that is contiguous with the LTTE that was extinguished in 2009. … More in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 6
I am a Malaysian of Jaffna Tamil extraction. My late father was a Seremban born Malaysian but my Mother, also now deceased, was a Jaffna girl. Just as the Malays of the peninsular index the notion of a homeland with the term Tanah Melayu, the Tamils of Jaffna use the term Elam. Unlike the Indians and Chinese populations of Malaysia, the majority of whom came under the auspices of the British, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are the descendants of the subjects of ancient Tamil Kingdoms. As such, they have a sense of attachment and entitlement to the land commonly found in those who have occupied and ruled for centuries. Neither the majority Sinhalese nor the minority Tamils are beholden to any compromise or ‘social contract’ that colours the way minorities belong in Malaysia. I have observed the consequent violent Elam struggle from afar. I have experienced it vicariously through news of grandparents and aunties caught in the crossfire between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam)and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), teenage cousins in being sent away to India and Canada as they reached their teenage years for fear of being killed by the SLA (Sri Lankan Army) or Forcibly recruited by the Tigers …. and there are many other such family situations that I have experienced vicariously, scenarios whose trauma I have felt through my mother’s emotional responses.
My father was a pragmatist and a dove, “Minority Tamils need to compromise with the Sinhala majority! Given the demographics of post-colonial Sri Lanka, armed struggle is futile ,” I can imagine him encapsulating his position. My mother however, was a Tigress at heart! Metaphorically speaking,that is! “They have taken away our language and now they will push us into to the sea!” She could not stand the injustices, indignities and the cruelties experienced by the Tamils and once the war had begun she was emotionally behind “our boys and girls” fighting with the LTTE! You have to recall that the LTTE was not designated as a terrorist organization in Malaysia at the time of this war of independence. (It is much later in 2014 that the designation was given, long after the war had been lost and the LTTE decimated in 2009). And my mother’s openly emotional allegiance meant serious arguments with my father. Although, I was more interested in questions of race, nationality and justice in my own Malaysian milieu, I absorbed all the contrasting positions and sentiments … more in On Being a Malaysian Tamil 2
Telinga Keling (1999) is in the collection of the National Visual Art Gallery in KL. It is currently 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 called ‘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 its 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 and nodded in acknowledgement.