My First Rodeo 2

The Koboi Project centres on the question of identity and its relationship to authenticity. I dress as a cowboy, both in performance situations and in my private life. Indeed, I am very comfortable with this eccentricity of mine, so much so that, in some ways, I feel that I am a cowboy, albeit an urban cowboy who has never ridden a horse and has very little to do with cows. As a vegetarian, I do not even eat them. In my daily life, you could say it is my style. When I perform in Southeast Asia it stands for my return from the West. But what happens to the authenticity of my persona when I venture into real cowboy country.

Recently, at the Cloverdale Rodeo, I gained some insight into the nature of my Koboi persona and even the nature of cowboy persona itself. At the heart of the rodeo is the image of the pesky, spunky cowboy prevailing over the ornery Bronco, kicking and bucking to get him off its back. In my observation at Cloverdale, however, there seemed to be a little bit of a disconnect. Indeed, the horses buck violently, and the Cowboys hang on valiantly and skillfully, but are the horses bucking to get the cowboys off or are they bucking for some other reason? There is, in this context, a debate about the use of spurs and the application of pressure around the horse’s belly with what is called a flank strap. Some say the strap brings pain that causes the bucking and others that it merely gives form to the buck.

The BC SPCA says that the flank strap “applies pressure on their sensitive underbelly, causing discomfort. The rider also uses … spurs, to cause discomfort which leads to more bucking. While bucking is a natural behaviour of these animals, in rodeo it is a behaviour rooted in discomfort, not in play.” In other words, it is not as it appears, that the horse is bucking to get the rider off, but as a response to the discomfort caused by the flank strap. The cowboy’s art of hanging on is incidental or secondary to the main action. Proponents of rodeo however, counter with the argument that the horse bucks because it is in its nature and breeding to do so, and that the “flank strap alters the bucking action of the horse by encouraging him to kick out straighter and higher with his hind legs, thus making himself harder to ride. The flank strap stacks the odds in favor of the horse. It cannot make him buck.” With regard to the spurs, they insist that they are required to be blunt and spinning and that they also put the odds in favor of the horse, as the forward position of the feet required to spur the horse in the shoulders makes it much harder for the cowboy to stay on.

Even within the proponents’ terms, it can not be denied that there is a sense that the bucking is being induced and conditioned independently of the horse’s impulse to get the rider off its back. The horse is just bucking independantly and the rider holds in an illusion of relationship. The question of cruelty aside, the rodeo cowboy’s ride is a performance, and not unlike my own Koboi performance, an artifice or fiction of sorts.

The Koboi Returns 2023 – 2

According to Md. Salleh Yaspat (in Malaysian World View edited by Mohd Taib Osman. Mohd Taib Osman) the Traditional Malay Cosmology can be visualized as in the above diagram, whose key is is as follows: 1. Dunia: inhabited by Man, animals, plants, objects, spirits; 2. Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi: inhabited by Nagas, Jins, Garudas; 3. Padang Jauh dan Puncak Gunung: inhabited by Giants, jins; 4. Pulau Buah: inhabited by Ancestral spirits; 5. Kayangan: inhabited by Dewa, Perman; 6. Dasar Laut: inhabited by Raja Lebis.

In December 2019, I did a Koboi Performance for Percha Art Space in Lumut after which I left for Vancouver. I will now return to Malaysia in August this year (2023) and, to mark my return, I am working towards another Koboi Performance, the details of which will be announced shortly.

The Koboi Returns 2023

In December 2019, I did a Koboi Performance for Percha Art Space in Lumut, in which I raised a new SUPERSTAR banner depicting a giant hoarding of Anwar Ibrahim. I performed a cleansing ritual on the Lumut waterfront and left for Vancouver soon after. I will return to Malaysia in August this year (2023).

Since my performance, and after a long struggle, Anwar Ibrahim has become the 10th Prime Minister of the nation and holds on to this seat by the skin of his teeth. Anwar incredible return to power, after a quarter-century perjuangan, is an exemplary Hero’s journey – a striking display determination, endurance and a sense of destiny. To mark my own much less momentus return, I am working towards another Koboi Performance the details of which will be announced shortly.

Early Internet Art in Malaysia 8

I had begun my practice as an artist in the late 1980’s with a series of paintings and had moved onto a more self-consciously critical performance/ installation practice when, in 1995, I found the World Wide Web, with its capacities for instantaneous connectivity, hypertextual linking and multimedia convergence. I then transferred my practice to this new medium and between 1996 and 1998 made two web works and La Folie de la Peinture (1998), is the second of these. It is archived in fragments on the Wayback Machine.

At the center of this work was a remediation of a set of installation photographs, linked in such a manner as to represent movement through the space, with the experience of each ‘work’ recast as a multimedia experience (WAV, GIF, MOV and VRML files). The text (hypertext) was an integral part of this web work and in it, I set out some contextualizing ideas. These ideas were also presented within a wider theoretical framework in a paper titled Toward a Universal Theory of Convergence: Transcending the Technocentric View of the Multimedia Revolution presented at INET 1998 in Geneva. These points originally made in 1998 are presented below –

* With the emergence of abstract colour-field painting, the placement of works on the gallery wall became integral to the presentation and, in the light of this transient ‘installation’ aspect of the presentation, photographic documentation began to take on a new significance.

* While the ‘installation shot’ confirms the uniqueness of the ‘site’ of the installation, this photographic documentation leaves its own mass (mechanical reproduction) condition unindexed and has, quite surreptitiously, become the ‘extended’ medium, of installation art.

* As bandwidth increases and multimedia technology goes online, fluidly articulating the remote experience of image, moving image, text and sound in an interactive ‘virtual reality’, it will become increasingly difficult to differentiate between an actual place, person or thing from its image or representation.

* As the representations contained on the multitude of servers on the Internet exist in virtual proximity, ‘here’ and ‘there’ have been brought together in the ‘now’ of fiber optic connectivity. The instantaneous connectivity of computer mediated communication, appears to have eliminated geographical distance and the modern/ postmodern distinction of ‘site’ and ‘non-site’ is no longer be meaningful.

Early Internet Art in Malaysia 6

In 1998, I made my 2nd web art work titled La Folie de la Peinture (The Madness of Painting), fragments of which are archived on the Wayback Machine site. This was a comprehensive, if condensed, articulation of my critique of the movement from modernist abstraction, via conceptualism, to the photographic ontology of postmodern installation and performance art. My own practice had been evolving along this trajectory until, in the mid 1990’s, I found the World Wide Web with its capacities for instantaneous connectivity, hypertextual linking and multimedia convergence. La Folie de la Peinture was featured in the 2nd Multimedia Asia Pacific Festival (MAAP) 1999,: COLLAPSING GEOGRAPHIES online exhibition which was part of the Third Asia Pacific Triennial, Screen Culture and Virtual Triennial program.

The opening image of this navigational work was a direct flatbed scan of a bottle of Cuvée Tradition French wine that we had recently consumed. The two hyperlinked hotspots on the image that took the user through to the rest of the work were a ‘black square’ and the word ‘ZIP‘, references to the endgame in American hard-edged abstraction. Black square took the user through to a set of photographic images, remediated documentation, of an installation made at the Tower House Studios, Goldsmith’s college, London in 1991. These images were linked in such a manner as to enable a simulation of the navigation of the space and the experience of each ‘work’ in the new web ‘space’ as a reinterpretation in multimedia for online viewing. This part of the web work was augmented with physical objects from the original installation and a new desktop VR interface, when La Folie de la Peinture was presented at the Substation, Singapore in 2001 in a two-person show with Joe Lewis titled, Layers … Reality … Memory.

ZIP‘ took the user through to a modified image of a vulgar performative intervention I made in 1995. at the site of Bernard Tchumi’s architectural reification of the deconstructive ethos at the Parc de la Vilette, Paris.

0 Performance

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.

1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
11 Pantun
12 Praxis
13 Dochakuka
14 Post-tradition
15 Philosophia Perennis

Conceptualism Podcast

A marathon podcast with Afraaz Mulji. We had a great time, 3:05:33 worth of talk! Can you handle it!

Relevant Links

Koboi Balik Kampung


The Failure of Marcel Duchamp

A Fish in Formaldehyde is Fine

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

Performance Masterclass

vexillationOr 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.

Ulagam Ulagam

discoverydetailUPCOMING: The next Koboi performance will take place at the Discovery monument in Belem, Lisbon between 5.30pm and 7pm, 8th July 2018. For details please visit

 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.

 Ulagam Ulagam

Azhagu kalaigalin surangam
Paruva chilaigalin arangam
Kaalamey odivaa
Kaadhaley thedivaa

A cavern of beautiful art
A hall of youthful forms
Time … advance on me
Love … come seek me

Uma caverna de arte bela
Um salão de formas joviais
Tempo… avança em mim
Amor…venha me procurar

அழகு கலைகளின் சுரங்கம்
பருவசிலைகளின் அரங்கம்
காலமே ஓடிவா
காதலே தேடிவா