Two days before the Gift of Knowledge Symposium I received an email from renowned Southeast Asian art historian TK Sabapathy, conveying generous and gratifying reflections on my ‘The Gift of Knowledge’ installation, which commemorates the life work of Durai Raja Singam. Below is an edited extract published with his kind permission –
“I visited your exposition … in the Piyadasa Gallery. As a bibliophile I was enthralled…reaching over the divide to other bibliophiles. I attach [a photograph] in which I am ensconced in the installation … I requested that the video image of your conversation be prominently included so as to register myself in moments of history…and possibly, posterity even! … As you know Coomaraswamy is deeply etched in my being, since I encountered him during my second year of undergraduate studies in art history in 1958 – I have written on this, on two occasions. I regret not meeting with your uncle … you may or may not know that I have been video-recorded, musing on Coomaraswamy … The abiding interest in this recording was in his Art of India and Indonesia, especially in Coomaraswamy’s perspectives on Southeast Asia as they appear in this volume. I recall reading it painstaking, painfully, and with immense labour and difficulties during undergraduate years … So, Niranjan, all our paths intersect on account of AKC. I thank you for your installation, for instating Coomaraswamy and your uncle as a transmitter and transformer…… tangibly, requisitely and demandingly in our midst and in our time.”
To contextualize these reflections in terms or Kanaga’s and my own personal and intellectual engagement, I would like to note that I met Mr Sabapathy in 1995 when I went to Singapore for the ASEAN COCI Symposium held at the newly inaugurated Singapore Art Museum. I had been introduced by Redza Piyadasa and was kindly received by this renowned art historian and his wife Dorine. Before the Symposium Kanaga presented me with some of his publications, one of which was a paper titled ‘Preliminary Observations on Art Historiography in Southeast Asia’, presented at the SEAMEO SPAFA Symposium, “Towards A Southeast Asian Perspective in Art History and Aesthetics”. In this paper he critiqued Coomaraswamy’s overview of the art of India and the Indianized art of Southeast Asia, eliciting and dispelling any notion of a ‘greater India’ in the construction of the history of the art of our region. I too was reading and applying Coomaraswamy in my writing. During the symposium, of which Kanaga as chair, I presented my own critique of Southeast Asian art historiography, calling for a dual social historical/ metaphysical approach. My thesis was founded on a remix of poststructuralism, the new left and, of course, Ananda Coomarasway.
On the 17th March 2018 I presented at the dialogue session of my Gift of Knowledge Installation at the Piyasasa Gallery. I also did a casual gallery tour with members of the audience and in the above photograph I am accompanying my mother Sathiavathy Deva Rajah as we look for acknowledgments of her contribution to the work of my uncle Durai Raja Singam whose life work is the subject of the exhibition. My mother was uncle’s favorite proof reader and language editor as she was mine in my UNIMAS days. As such she has contributed to seminal works such as Durai Raja Singam’s pioneering annotated bibliography of Ananda Coomaraswamy, Hasnul Jamal Saidon’s and my own 1st Electronic Art Show catalogue and to my essays in Insyirah: lukisan Sulaiman Esa dari 1980 hingga 2000 and Bara Hati, Bahang Jiwa.
I am happy to announce the Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary: Towards a Post Traditional Praxis in Malaysian Art Dialog Session which will take place on 17th March 2018 from 2pm to 4.30 pm at the Piyadasa Gallery/ Cultural Centre , Universiti Malaya. This Dialog Session is a part of the external programme of ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017, Bali Seni Visual Negara. This dialogue is a part of my installation at the Piyadasa Gallery titled The Gift of Knowledge Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995). It will explore the historical and bibliographical researches of Durai Raja Singam who is a pioneering biographer and bibliographer of the great art historian and metaphysician Ananda Coomaraswamy. He was a serious amateur historian and a researcher who operated outside of the privileged circle of academic institutions. Indeed, Durai Raja Singam is an exemplar of cosmopolitanism in 20th century Malaysian intellectual life. Taking the work of Durai Raja Singam as point of departure, this session will investigate tradition might be a meaningful measure of the contemporary in Malaysian Art. The dialogue will explore the rapprochement of our diverse traditional world views, their relevance in contemporary moment and their significance for our national sense of being.
Here is an in-progress shot taken of my installation at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya before the show opened on 1st November 2017. The Gift of Knowledge is an Installation commemorating the life’s work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995).It is an installation of furniture, personal items, print layout/artwork, photographs and publications from the collection of Jawaharlal Jai Singam. The installation is accompanied by a video contextualizing the exhibit. The late Dr. Durai Raja Singam was a Malaysian scholar, historian, biographer and bibliographer of high international regard who collated, wrote, designed and published books on various topics. At the centre of this large body of work was his pioneering contribution to Ananda Coomaraswamy scholarship. Durai Raja Singam was Coomaraswamy’s most dedicated biographer and his earliest comprehensive bibliographer.