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).
The Koboi Balik Kampung (2013) Readymade from the permanent collection of the National Visual Art Gallery in KL is currently on display at the gallery. This item was a residual artifact from a performance at the Aliran Semasa symposium held at the 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.
A version of the Performance was repeated in an intervention when the item was on show for the first time as a selection from the collection of the National Visual Art Gallery in 2018. My Mother and I were stopped from renewing the markings on the shirt by a curator and a conservator from the gallery. We debated notions of completion of an art work, ownership of an artwork, the artist’s rights to modify an artwork, the extensive conservational bureaucracy that encompases a work of art in a National collection and the effects of all of these on the state of an art work (is it active or is it inert, alive or dead!). Mother and I proceed with the portion of our ritual that did not interfere with what is now the property of the gallery. The image above was captured by my daughter Durga Rajah during this performance.
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.
MORE DETAILS : https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/nuntengporta/
Agora vou realizar as intervenções de rua improvisadas em Belém, em torno do Monumento aos Descobrimentos, entre os dias 25 e 30 de junho de 2019.
I will now be performing the remaining impromptu street interventions in Belem around the Monument to the Discoveries between 25th to 30th June 2019.
Looks like I have done my last intervention at the Jardim da Praça Afonso de Albuquerque. Jane and I were stopped by the Police and the Presidential Palace guard. We were politely but firmly told that we would have to write in to the Palace for permission as we are operating within the Palace’s security perimeter. In the image above you can see the palace wall and police station (in pink), so it was bound to happen at some point.
As the first part of my performance at the Bangkok Biennale 2018, I visited the Wat Thephakorn Occupation Training Centre at Charan Sanitwong Soi, Bang Plad on the afternoon of the 31st of August. I went there to meet Khun Patchanee Liangsorn, daughter and protege of the master Khon mask-maker and respected teacher, Khun Sathaporn Liangsorn. Khun Patchnee, who was once a Khon and Likay dancer, has kept up the family tradition of Khon mask making. She is also known to be a generous and respected teacher (Khru) in her own right. I had been trying to communicate (through language difficulties) with Khun Patchanee, prior to my departure for Bangkok, about the possibility of obtaining and ritually animating a Hanuman mask for the performance. I am honored to note that when I arrived at Wat Thephakorn, Khun Patchani saw fit to open the eyes of a Hanuman mask for me and to perform an informal blessing with the mask for my upcoming performance.
I will perform the 2nd part of Cowboys and Indians: Bangkok Edition at 11 am on 2nd Sept 2018 at the Huai Khwang Ganesha Shrine, Din Daeng, Bangkok in the course of daily worship. My performance interprets the celestial conflict between Phra Rahu and Phra Hanuman over the sun, Suriyan. My intervention will take the form of an offering to Prha Rahu. I will engage with myth, cinema, social history and the machinations of Southeast Asian Art in terms of ethnicity, nationality, and regionalism. Please visit https://koboibalikkampung.wixsite.com/rahu/about
Unwalked Boundaries presents the rationale and accouterments of a performance, about the use of Indian convict labour in the building of Singapore, that was planned for the Singapore Biennale but aborted due to purported ‘religious sensitivities’. This performance was to take the form of a procession echoing but not embodying traditional Hindu rituals of making penance. The installation at the Singapore Biennale was presented ostensibly as an ‘intention to walk’ but indubitably carried within it an unwitting testimony on the state of information and its management in Singapore society. The work itself was, I believe, intended to translate into palpable experience, the history of Indian convicts in Singapore – the labour that built the founding infrastructure of what has today become a global megapolis. Jee Leong Koh speculates in his blog that this restriction might have been due to issues around the containment of contemporary foreign workers, rather than the officially stated ‘sensitivities’. The Bras-Basah area through which the performance would have traversed is not just an Indian quarter, it is today, a place of congregation Singapore’s multitude of foreign labourers who work under the the difficult conditions of the global migrant-labour system.This is a plausible interpretation but I wonder if the explanation is simpler.
Perhaps, despite recently commandeering a slice of the global art market, Singapore is not ready for such contemporary forms of expression as public body piercing and the existential embodiment and reification of physical and psychic pain. Indeed, the impasse may be that of a clash of aesthetic norms, on the one hand the Western, now global, performance idiom and on the other, the local decorum around ritual acts. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the work was rendered inert and presented as an installation titled Unwalked Boundaries. During his artist talk Chandran unexpectedly exhorted, “I’m making a blood oath today, that I will never perform in Singapore until this [work] is performed. And every day I will mark my skin, a scar, until I perform. This is my oath.” He went on to cut his forearm and to smear the blood on a work in his installation representing the intended procession route. Following Chandran’s oath and action, a curator who was present came forward to present the Singapore Biennale perspective on the matter, triggering a barrage questions from the audience on the Biennale’s role in censoring the performance. In the face of the the question from members of the long suffering local arts community, the artist had repeatedly responded that what mattered to him was, not WHY (the performance did not happen), but WHEN, it would happen.
This is where I intervened, noting that members of the audience were erroneously reacting in terms of their own their concerns with censorship and that however valid these might be, they were missing the point. I noted how Chandran had in fact, discreetly and elegantly, begun his performance, “The performance is ongoing and it’s at a slow boil. The extension of the idea into the act has begun here, this moment, and that’s enough. I congratulate you [Chandran] on finding a way to do it, to go beyond the [contextual] issues and focus on your performance.” Indeed, Chandran’s action was not a protest but a discrete and incremental commencement of the performance itself. I entreated all present to savour the elegance of Chandran’s action. My intervention was reported by Reena Devi in her piece on the event in TODAY a digital news provider within MediaCorp Press Singapore’s largest media broadcaster.