After decades of anticipation in the Tamil Nadu polity, SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth announced his entry into politics on December 31st 2017. Despite much toing and froing since then, he never did launch his party and then, on December 29th 2020, he announced with finality not to enter politics. For those of us who admire his charisma and spirituality but disdain the Hindutva politics he seemed set to bring into Tamil Nadu by virtue of his patent alignment with the BJP, this is a happy outcome! Thailava Valha! (Salutations to the Leader!)
The above image from the series was shot at the Singapore Art Museum. It was shot during a performance at the site of my photographic installation which was part of the Singapore Biennale 2016. It is one of 12 images that make up the upcoming Kiasu Cowboys Series of the Koboi Project.
Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.
In a paper titled Beyond Art History* presented at the Singapore Art Museum in 1995, I called for an approach to contemporary art in Southeast Asia that went beyond the historical approaches of chronology, stylistics and teleology. Given the persistence of traditional and sacred art forms, in the face of the disruptions and displacements of colonialism, I suggested that the study of contemporary art in the region should emphasize metaphysical and social approaches over conventional art history. Then, in Vancouver, I convened the New Forms Festival conferences of 2004 and 2005 which addressed,the relationship between culture and technology in local and global contexts. These conferences were premised on a post-traditional media theory which is represented in the diagram diagram above and outlined in the text that follows.
As the 19th Century became the 20th, it seemed that the pre-modern or traditional world was being erased and replaced by the modernity. The birth and passage of this modernist view are represented in the timeline above as the Modern Worldview. Then, there was the arrival of the Postmodern Worldview, in which modernism was deconstructed, decentered and retrospectively devalued. This moment is marked, after architectural historian Charles Jencks, by the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe complex in 1972. Postmodern fragmentation and reorientation was accelerated by the arrival of the ubiquitous and instantaneous communications of the World Wide Web.
The sociologist Anthony Giddens challenges the view that postmodernism constitutes a break from the modernism in his assertion that is is simply a tertiary development of modernism. He suggests that ‘postmodern’ is a misnomer for ‘late modern’ and posits that both categories are properly subsumed in his Post-traditional Worldview (1). While I concur with Giddens’ conflation of the postmodern and the modern, I reject his truppeting of the ‘end of tradition.’ I also oppose his characterization of tradition as being merely superstition and irrationality, something that modern society is fortunate to be released from. In my own Post-traditional Worldview (2), there is a more nuanced understanding of the ‘modern moment.’ For me, it the start of an era in which it is no longer possible to hold an insular and self-satisfied view of one’s own tradition. My ‘post-tradition’ indexes a plurality of traditions that are cognisant of each other.
I suggest that this new self-aware and relativistic sense of tradition emerged due to the sudden acceleration in the exposure of traditional peoples to the material cultures of others around the turn of the century. This heightened awareness of others occurred in the context of the integrative communication flows of colonial economies, as well as the emerging representational technology of the Cinematographie. This new post-traditional condition was first hidden behind the edifice of the modernism/ postmodernism complex. I argue that it took the startling events of 9/11 to reveal this reality, retrospectively, and the present theory is presented as part of the effort to share this vision. The destruction of the Twin Towers at the dawning of the 21st Century, marks the convulsive realization that the hubris of modernism had been just that, a Western imperialist gloss on a vibrant, even violent, post-traditional world. Indeed, a plurality of traditions have survived modernism and have re-surfaced, rhizome-like, as an array of neo-traditionalisms and fundamentalisms, reducing the once transcendent modernism to being just another tradition in the mix.
This post-traditional theory was first presented in an unpublished paper presented at the New Forms Festival conference in 2004. A summary appears in the Convener’s introduction** to the conference programme. It offers a transhistorical or ahistorical framework within which to integrate traditional, particularly sacred, paradigms with the contemporary discourses around representational and communications technologies.
* Niranjan Rajah, “Towards a Southeast Asian Paradigm: From Distinct National Modernisms to an Integrated Regional Arena for Art,” 36 Ideas from Asia: Contemporary South-East Asian Art. (Singapore: ASEAN COCI [Singapore Art Museum], 2002), 26–37.
**Niranjan Rajah, “Convener’s Passe-Partout: Developing Discursive Protocols for Media Arts in Post-Traditional Scenario” (Vancouver: New Forms Media Society, 2004), 22.
The terracotta pictured above, was installed at the Singapore Art Museum as a part of my work for the Singapore Biennale2016/17. This icon represents the Puranic myth in which Lord Ganesha wins a miraculous mango in a competition with his brother Lord Murugan by recognizing that his parents Lord Shiva and Mother Parvathy were not just a part of his universe but that in fact they were the whole of it. In my work, this terracotta opens up a highly liminal space between sacred icon, museum artifact and contemporary art work.
In this, the 2nd of a series of posts at the nexus of ‘Murugan’ and ‘Rajinikanth’ I share a very particular version of the Mango of Enlightenment (Nyana Pazham) myth, which is mine by matrilineal descent …. Once, as Lord Shiva, Mother Parvathy and their children Ganesha and Muruga were enjoying a moment of family bliss in their heavenly abode, the Sage Narada paid them a visit. Holding a mango in his hand, Naradha said, “Lord this mango is sweeter than amirtham (divine elixir) it is for you, but it must be not be divided.” Shiva decided to offer it to just one of his sons by way of a challenge, “The mango goes to the one who is the first to circumnavigate the world.”
Knowing that he that must win this challenge, the sprightly Murugan bestrode his glorious peacock and set off around the world. Contemplating his own ponderous gait and his most modest vehicle, the mouse, Ganesha posed his father and mother a question, “Ammai, Appan, is it not true that parents are, for a child, the world?” “Yes”, his glowing parents replied in unison. Ganesha continued, “Is it not also true that the whole universe (Prakriti) is but a manifestation of your Lordly selves (Shiva/Shakti)?” “Well, yes of course!” – the only possible reply! Ganesha slowly circumambulated Shiva and Parvathy, his father and mother, his world – the world, and sure enough, he won the mango.
When Murugan came flying back, expecting to win, he saw Ganesha with the prize. Stunned and feeling cheated, he became enraged. He pierced his brothers generous belly with his Vel (this part of the story seems to be a particularity of my grandmother’s version) and abandoned his Heavenly abode. Discarding all his celestial accoutrements, he journeyed South, to stand alone on Mount Palani in a meager loin cloth. To this day, he stands there and is hailed as Palani Aandi (Mendicant of Palani), a form of the Lord that is dear to the hearts of the Shivites of South India and the diaspora.