This video documents a performance at the Aliran Semasa symposium held at the National Art Gallery in 2013. This performance marked my Malaysian homecoming after ten years away in Western Canada.
I appeared at the event wearing a brand-new Rockmount Western shirt with tags intact. As the symposium began, my mother the late Sathiavathy Deva Rajah was invited on stage, to give me a traditional Indian/ Hindu blessing by placing chanthanam (sandalwood paste) and kunggumum (red turmeric powder) on my forehead. Then, facing the audience, I remove the shirt, draped it on a pre-installed hanger at the back of the stage and my mother consecrated it with the same chanthanam and kunggumum. The shirt was left hanging for the duration of the symposium and then presented to the gallery.
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.
Or perhaps ‘Post Photo-conceptual Performance’ … a tag I have been developing to locate my practice at the junction of photography and performance. While the tag needs much refinement, I think the praxis itself seems now, after 5 years of the Koboi Project, to be reasonably developed. I had the privilege of delivering a Masterclass in Performance Art as Faculty at the International Ismaili Diamond Jubilee Arts Festival in Lisbon, which ran from the 5-9 July 2018.
In this class, I shared my preparations for two impromptu photo-performances that took place at the Alfonso De Albuquerque Monument and the Discoveries Monument in Belem on 7th and 8th July 2018, respectively. I took the workshop participants, who were amateur and professional artists from the global Ismaili diaspora through my preparations for the two street interventions. They participated in my search for a meaningful action. We began the class within the designated presentation space and finished outside absorbing the architecture Portugal Pavilion and the masterclass itself into the spectacle and symbol of the event. In the light of his exercise and the images it produced, I have clarified for myself the stations of my process and have articulated them in a set of 12 words and images.
In this performance I will attempt to find an image, provisonally titled Ulagam Ulagam. I make reference to another representation of mastery over the world by way of a song from MGR’s Ulagam Suthum Valiban (World Perambulating Young Man), a blockbuster of Tamil cinema from 1973. In the performance I will raise my Pazaham Neeyappa banner with its image of Tamil movie SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth at the sites of the monuments. The audio component of the performance will include Fausto’s A Guerra é a Guerra [fromthe 1982 album Por Este Rio Acima.(Up this River), the Ulagam Ulagam soundtrack, a cello rendition of Jinkli Nona by Tara Rajah, and verses from Kalau Roboh Kota Melaka and Ulagam Ulagam spoken in Portuguese by Hugo Moss. Jane Frankish will read selections from her Poems on the megaphone. Cards presenting the state flag of Melaka will be distributed.
The Alfonso de Albuquerque square is located in front of the Belém Palace in Belem Lisbon. Alburquerque the Second Governor of Portuguese India and the conqueror of the city of Melaka. AT the centre of the square is an impressive monument to the Governor by Silva Pinto and António Augusto da Costa Motta that was completed in 1902. The monument carries a bronze statue of Afonso de Albuquerque on a column with four reliefs on the pedestal. The four relief panels are – the defeat of the army of the king of Hormuz, the entrance of Albuquerque in Goa and the handing over of the city keys, the embassy to the king of Narcinga Lisboa and the taking of Malacca.
The monument to the Discoveries was initially a temporary edifice built for the Portuguese World exhibition of 1940. It was reified as a permanent monument to Portuguese marine adventure and power by the far-right imperialist Second Republicgovernment that ruled Portugal from 1933 to 1974. It was completed in 1960. I will erect my Kabali banner in the vicinity of the monument and in my performance, make reference to a rather different representation of mastery over the world by way a song from MGR’s Ulagam Suthum Valiban (World Perambulating Young Man), a blockbuster of Tamil cinema from 1973. On a personal note this intervention brings together fragments of knowledge and memory from my childhood in Malaysia – history lessons, local tourism, globetrotting relatives … indeed, I was taught about the great European voyages of discovery and conquest. The film song I use, Ulagam Ulagam, and its visual elements are also resonant for me – Subang International airport in Kuala Lumpur, Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore and Expo 70 in JApan … one of my uncles went and brought us some souvenirs. The idea of globalization was just taking shape in the time of the film’s release tourism and it seems to me MGR was looking back up the marine telescope of Discovery via his images of global tourism.
The Koboi Project will be the basis of a Masterclass at the International Ismaili Jubliee Arts Festival at the Portugal Pavilion in Lisbon on the 6th July 2018. This class is part of an extensive visual arts programme which runs from the 6-9 July. I shall be presenting the praxis, poetics and politics that constitutes my work by sharing and explaining my preparation for street interventions that will take place in Belem between the 7th and the 11th of July. I will lead the workshop participants on a search for a meaningful action at the junction of art and everyday life, between performance and photography, and between intervention and conviviality. I will articulate a theory of performance without proscenium and a methodology for enacting contemporary rituals. We will begin the Masterclass within the designated presentation space of the Portugal Pavilion and finish outside absorbing the architecture Pavilion itself into the spectacle of the event.
The fall of Melaka is depicted in a relief on the pedestal of the Alfonso De Albuquerque memorial in Belem, Lisbon. The next photo-event of the Koboi Project will be a series of street performances at the sites of various monuments to Portuguese marine adventurism and imperialism. This intervention attempts to mark, express and interpret the aggregation of memories, memoirs and memorials that I find at this junction of my own self and this deeply historic place – Belem. The performances will take place in the 2nd week of July 2018.
Kalau roboh Kota Melaka
Papan di Jawa hamba dirikan
Kalau sungguh bagai dikata
Nyawa dan badan hamba serahkan
If the city of Melaka has fallen
In Java shall I make my place
If I am true to the words I have spoken
Life and limb I shall give with grace
Se a cidade de Melaka cair
Vou me pousar então em Java
Se eu for leal às palavras ditas por mim
Oferecerei a minha vida toda com graça
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.