The Dari Pusat Tasek performance took place on the Lumut Waterfront, Perak under the auspices of the Percha Artspace on 25th Dec 2019. Sang Nabil Utama and I raised a 15 ft banner image of Anwar Ibrahim in a performance that was loosely based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual using cut limes. I rubbed 7 points of my body with lime, then faced East and spat 7 times. I threw the remains of the limes towards the West direction saying, “Pergi-lah semua sial jambalang daripada badan aku dan dari tubuh negara, pergilah ke Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi“ (‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body and from the body of the nation, begone to the Navel of the Seas!). Water was then poured over me in order to complete the cleansing.
Malaysia has recently been beset by an epidemic of betrayal and disloyalty in the political arena. There seems to be no penchant for integrity in the accelerating realignments of opportunity. In this never ending saga, this interminable tragedy, that is contemporary Malaysian politics, one figure stand out as a complex of qualities. A relentless fighter, a hopeless loser, beacon of hope, a focus of hatred and an object of ridicule, Anwar Ibrahim is all of these in one. He seems to be all things to all Malaysians, and while he is still the leader of the parliamentary opposition, his recent u-turn on around challenging the incumbent Bersatu-led government on the budget vote may signal an the end of his long and arduous quest to become Prime Minister.
Anwar purports to stand reform and unity over corruption and ethnocentric politics, but his past and his present actions indicate that this may just be the position he finds himself in. Anwar began as a firebrand Malay/ Islamic youth leader in the late 1960’s who was co-opted to the mainstream of Malaysian politics by Dr Mahathir Mohamed in 1982 and then dramatically ejected from his place of power in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and imprisoned on the basis of a sodomy conviction, arguably under the auspices of by the very same Dr M in 1993. His recent return to a place of power has, once again, been on the coat-tails of Dr. M and, once again, he has been severely let down. This recent collaboration between these two bitter political political foes was arrived at on the basis of the utter repugnance and destructiveness of the present UMNO leadership. Now, in the increasingly fragmentary and multivalent political scenario, there is some well reasoned speculation that Anwar is contemplating alignment with these very folks. As the Financial Times puts it, some might say that his journey “has been Janus-faced and opportunistic.”
The Asia Times suggests that Anwar faces such a situation today, that he might prefer to “choose to withdraw PKR from the PH coalition to stand in the general election on its own, affording him more room to negotiate with UMNO or form a new coalition with whichever parties are expedient depending on the outcome of the polls.” Disappointing though this all is from the point of view of the mandate and manifesto, I suggest that, either by reason of true conviction or pure circumstance, Anwar Ibrahim remains the best hope for a progressive and inclusive Malaysia. I am not, however, optimistic that, if Anwar pursues such a hardcore realpolitik , it will play out for the good of all the rakyat.
The above image from the from the Panji Pauh Ulong Series was shot in on the Lumut Waterfront, Perak in the course of the Dari Pusat Tasek performance presented by Percha Artspace on 25th Dec 2019. A 15 ft banner image of Anwar Ibrahim was raised on an 18ft flagstand in a performance that was loosely based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual using cut limes. After 7 points of my body were rubbed with lime, I faced East and spat 7 times. I then threw the remains of the limes in the Westerly direction saying, “Pergi-lah semua sial jambalang daripada badan aku dan dari tubuh negara, pergilah ke Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi“ (‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body and from the body of the nation, begone to the Navel of the Seas!). Water was then poured over me in order to complete the cleansing.
Anwar Ibrahim will have his audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the 13 October 2020, and, if he proves that he has the numbers to usurp the incumbent, he will at long last fulfill what has been, for him, a life-long quest for power. While I would not presume to celebrate this outcome as being for the good of nation, given that it will, after all be another ‘back-door’ government fomented in a cauldron of leaping ‘frogs’, I would, however, like to confess, before the outcome of this highly unpredictable scenario is known, that my own sympathies are with Anwar Ibrahim. I wish him godspeed in what is, potentially, a closing play in what has been a long game.
As a practitioner of the visual arts, essentially the art of signs, I can not but discern an aptness of symbolism in that, given the spectre of sodomy (a crime which , rightly or wrongly, he has been charged, convicted and pardoned) that hangs over Anwar, this perpetual challenger for the Malaysian premiership might, finally, attain his heart’s desire through the so called ‘back door’!
At a previous moment in this struggle, I presented the Dari Pusat Tasek installation and performance at Percha Artspace, Lumut Perak Malaysia, which ran from December 2019 -January 2020. The photographs of this event, constitute a work tentatively titled Panji Pauh Ulung which is the 13th series of the Koboi Project. My essay contextualizing this project, The Koboi Project: diasporic Artist… diasporic Art, is included in Interlaced Journey: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art edited by Patrick D. Flores & Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani.
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 Anaiyttal flag 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
In connection with my show at Percha Artspace titled Dari Pusat Tasek, which runs till 5 Jan 2020, I ask the obvious question – where is the Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi (Navel of the Seas)? The performance carried out on the Lumut Waterfront was based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual that purports to wash all the sial jambalang (ill luck and malevolent spirits) away to the Navel of the Seas.. Many sources on the location of the Pusat Tasek place it somewhere in the South China Sea or Southwest thereof. According to Antonio Pigafetta, a mariner on Ferdinand Magellan’s pioneering voyage of ‘discovery’ (1518-1522), there were local tales of an island surrounded by whirlpools, somewhere north or south of Java Major (Borneo), called Puzathaer (Pusat air?) . The location of this Pusat Tasek varies, however, with the source of the myth. According to a Perak legend associated with the installation of its first Sultan, Mudzaffar Shah I, the Pusat Tasek is located somewhere off the mouth of the Perak river, beyond the extensive sandbanks there. This area, named Beting Beras Basah or Beras Basah Sandbank, is known as a deeply magical place – one filled with all manner of makhluk ghaib (supernatural beings).
Pipinya bagai pauh dilayang …. During the opening reception of the Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront on 25 Dec 2019, I had the privilege of serving kueh pauh dilayang to my dear friend Nur Hanim Khairuddin. Hanim is Co-director of the Malaysian Art Archive and Research Support, General Manager for PORT (a Perak state creative agency) and Artistic Director of the Ipoh International Arts Festival 2019. I have known Hanim, since the late 1990’s when she was working for the Pekan Seni Ipoh and we were reunited more recently, when she presented the Koboi Project as part of the Malaysia section of the Singapore Biennale 2016.
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition runs at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront till 5 Jan 2020 (EXTENDED TILL 19 JAN 2020). The gallery presents the Koboi Balik Kampung Series as well as a record or residue of the Dari Pusat Tasek performance that took place on the 25 Dec 2019. This performance stems from the 12th series of the koboi project that carries the same name and which is based on two images. The first of these is a shot of the Koboi standing at the base of a 35 ft elections hoarding of Malaysian prime minister in waiting, Awar Ibrahim at Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves. It is titled Naan Anaiyttal.
Hanging in the Percha gallery is a t-shirt bearing the second image titled Rockin Cowboy. This is the t-shirt worn by Sang Nabil Utama during the performance at the Lumut Waterfront. This is a shot of the koboi outside the Rockin Cowboy Western store on Broadway, Vancouver. This is where I got my hat, boots and shirts for the first Koboi performance at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur in 2013. I bought one black and one white version of the Rockmount Classic Sawtooth Western shirt. The white shirt is now in the collection of the National Art Gallery. Since then, I have acquired much of my gear for the Koboi Project at the Rockin Cowboy. In the photo with me are Dave Lawr and Danny Kresnyak from the store.
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.