In my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I made an offering to of cut mango to Murugan and to Rajinikanth. This was the second of a series of performances in which I have made post-traditional ritual offerings – coconut at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, mango at the Burning Man Festival, Mango Dango (dumplings) in , Courtyard Hiroo, Tokyo and Black Grass Jelly in Bangkok and limes and kueh pauh dilayang in Lumut. Amongst the deities and spirits invoked Lord Murugan, Lord Krishna, Momotaro San, Phra Rahu, Phra,Hanuman and all manner of Sial Jambalang.
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.
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront till 19 JAN 2020. Hanging in the Percha gallery is a t-shirt bearing an image titled Rockin Cowboy. This is the t-shirt was worn by Sang Nabil Utama during the performance at the Lumut Waterfront on 25 Dec 2019. The image was shot outside the Rockin Cowboy Western store at 106 East Broadway, Vancouver. This is where I got my cattleman hat, my roper boots and spurs and my Rockmount Classic Sawtooth Western shirts for the first Koboi performance at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 2013. One of these shirts is now in the collection of the National Art Gallery.
Since that first Koboi Balik Kampung performance, I have passed many a Western hour at the Rockin’ Cowboy with Dave Lawr (Cowboy Dave) and Danny Kresnyak (Rock n Roll is in the House!). The store used to be a mere city block away from my apartment at Quebec and 7th, Vancouver but it has now moved further West to new premises at 118 West Broadway, just a few blocks from the original location.
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 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 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 –
Ingu Ezhaigal vedanai padamatta
Uyirullavari oru thunbamillai
Avar kanneer kadalile vizhamattar
If I were to rule
If that comes to pass
The poor will not suffer
As Long as they live they will feel no pain
They will not fall into the sea of tears
Kalau saya diperintah
Kalau ia menjadi kebenaran
Kaum miskin tidak akan menderita
Sepanjang hidupnya tanpa kecewa
dan tidak terjatuh ke lautan air mata
Kalau aku diberi kuasa
Tidak ada lagi yang derita
Tidak ada lagi yang miskin mengalir air mata
Lyrics by Vaali
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront till 19 Jan 2020
Dari Pusat Tasek
Di tengah Lautan Melayu kuno,
berpusar pusaran yang menakutkan.
Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi terkata,
tempat itu dinamakan.
Dari pangkalnya di dasar lautan,
tumbuh sebatang pokok yang menakjubkan.
Tingginya sampai ke langit mentari,
di dahannya Burung Roc gergasi.
Dicelah akarnya mencuram lubuk yang dalam,
di sana menanti mahluk gaib yang seram.
Di manakah pusaran Pauh ini?
The Dari Pusat Tasek show runs at the Percha Art Space in Lumut till the 5th Jan 2020 (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020) .
In the Hikayat Jaya Langkara, a quest for the healing saffron flower leads the Princess Ratna Kasina to a mountain at the pusat tasek where the rising tide brings the miraculous flower up within her reach. While there is no mention of the Pokok Pauh Janggi in this fable, the buah Pauh appears twice in the list of similes used to extoll the beauty of Princess. Princess Ratna Kasina is said to have cheeks like sliced mango (pipi-nya saperti pauh di-layang), and heels like turned (or peeled) mango (tumit-nya saperti pauh di-larek).
For the opening reception of the show at Percha Art Space, Percha Director, Suhaila Hashim, steamed her first Kueh Pauh Dilayang after experimenting with recipes found online. The cake was sliced (dilayang) and served to locate the mango within Malay mythology and aesthetics, and to articulate the core symbolism of the Dari Pusat Tasek happening which includes –
- a performance based the mythic realities of the ‘navel of the seas’ or the Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi.
- a gallery installation featuring the Koboi Balik Kampung series of 12 photographic prints and presents an autobiographical take on the complexities of contemporary Malaysian art and society.
- and the serving of this rare Kelantan sweet – the Kueh Pauh Dilayang.
I will be having an exhibition at the Percha Art Space in Lumut over the Christmas and New Year period. The show, titled Dari Pusat Tasek, will open on 25th Dec and run for 2 weeks (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020). There will be an impromptu street performance, carried out as part of this exhibition, based on the malay myth of the ‘navel of the seas’. According to Malay folklore, far out in the deep ocean, there is a great whirlpool known as the ‘Pusat Tasek’. At the centre of this whirlpool, there is an enormous tree known as the Pokok Pauh Janggi. The name janggi, probably, derives from the Toroja word ‘djjandji’ which means ‘fruit’. ‘Pauh’ is the Malay word for ‘mango’ and it is likely that ‘Pokok Pauh Janggi’ is, in fact, a mango tree and not a coco de mer palm as the contemporary usage of the name would suggest.
In the Hikayat Jaya Langkara, a quest for the healing saffron flower leads the Princess Ratna Kasina to a mountain at the pusat tasek where the rising tide brings the miraculous flower up within her reach. While there is no mention of the Pokok Pauh Janggi in this fable, the buah Pauh appears twice in the list of similes used to extoll the beauty of Princess. Princess Ratna Kasina is said to have cheeks like sliced mango (pipi-nya saperti pauh di-layang), and heels like turned (or peeled) mango (tumit-nya saperti pauh di-larek) –
“dahi-nya bagai bintang timor, hidong-nya bagai melor jantan, pipi-nya saperti pauh di-layang, telinga-nya saperti telepok laboh, rambutnya saperti mayang mengurai,kening saperti taji di-bentuk dan gigi-nya saperti saga merekah, dagu-nya saperti telur burung, pinggang-nya saperti pingang-nya kerengga, kaki-nya saperti kaldai dan tumit-nya saperti pauh di-larek, lengan-nya buntaran, dan betis-nya bagai bunting padi”.
In making my black jelly offering to Phra Rahu I learnt a Kata Bucha or (Gatha Pooja in Sanskrit.) Kata is the Thai term for an Incantation or Prayer used instrumentally in worship, veneration, invocation and magic. I learnt the Kata Prha Rahu Kam Duang to recite as part of my offering to Rahu from Ajarn Spencer’s online teaching. Phra Hanuman, presented by Jariya Laoriendee, is watching the ritual offering of Suriyan (the Sun) to Phra Rahu . Of course it in the tussle for the Sun (which the young Hanuman thought was a mango) with Rahu that Hanuman got his name – Broken Jaw!
Hiroyoshi Takeda, Shinji Kashima and I about to go on stage to perform my Cowboys and Indians: Tokyo Edition at Courtyard Hiroo Gallery, on 11th May 2018. (It was as if we had our own early Kaala opening!!) In this installation/ performance I developed my on-going theme of the mango in Indian mythology while engaging with Japanese myth and traditions via of the legend of Momotaro (the Peach Boy). During the performance, I presented an antique Momotaro doll and develop an association between Indian and Japanese symbolism centered on the substitution of the peach for the mango.
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.