Murugan and Rajinikanth 6

“The borders are blurring through art!” – A. R. Rahman retweeted, who as appears Rajinikanth (Chitti) from Enthiran in a new music video titled ‘Action’ using what he calls ‘deep fake technology.’ Other films reprised in this music video are Singham, Maryada Ramanna, Aambala and Kopps.

I have, in my Koboi Project (2013 -present), been using the image of Rajinikanth as a signifier for just this kind of cross-boundary cultural communion. Please see –

Kedualan Si Koboi (Anamalai)
Cowboys and Indians (Kabali)
Kiasu Cowboys (Anamalai / Kabali)
Anugraham (Kabali)
Momotaro San (Muthu/ Kabali/ Kaala)

Murugan and Rajinikanth 5

In my 2016 exhibit for the Singapore biennale I performed a ritual offering to lord Murugan. I recited the third stanza of the nerisai venpas  (closing verses) of the “Thirumuruhaattup-padai” – a hymn, to the glory of Lord Murugan, composed by the poet Nakkirar. This verse is a veneration of the sacred weapon of Lord Murugan, his Vel.

Heroic  Vel
Radiant Vel
Valiant Vel that set free imprisoned celestial beings
Vel of the glorious one’s Sacred Hand
Vel that plunged the oceans deep
Regal Vel
Vel that pierced Suran’s breast and hill
Our extant Refuge 

Murugan and Rajinikanth 4

In the course of my performances at the Singapore Biennale 2016/2017, I offered prayers to lord Murugan (also named Skanda or Kanthan) and salutations to Superstar Rajinikanth. I recited a stanza from the ​the nerisai venpas (closing verses) of the “Thirumuruhaattup-padai” – a hymn, to the Lord’s glory, composed by the poet Nakkirar. I ended my prayer with with the exaltation “Murugmikku Arohra!” I then praised the SUPERSTAR thus, “Thalaivar Vallha!” My bringing together of Murugan and Rajinikanth in this event, foreshadows the recent Tamil Nadu media spectacle ensuing from the Periyarist Facebook Channel Karuppar Koottam‘s denigration of Lord Murugan. The State authorities swiftly shutdown the offending site and arrested two parties who were allegedly responsible. Rajinikanth praised the crackdown tweeting , “At least henceforth, let there be an end to religious hatred and demeaning of gods. It should end,” ending his tweet … “Kandhanukku Arohara!”

Murugan and Rajinikanth 3

5 Valthal

Superstar Rajinikanth is one of the highest paid actors in Asia. He is a renowned philanthropist and an influential figure in Tamil Nadu public life who is respectfully referred to as Thalaiva or ‘leader’. The SUPERSTAR, who recently spoke up in the context of the Karuppar Koottam  affair, was himself the first dark-skinned (Karuppu) leading man in the context of Tamil cinema. 

Upon meeting Rajinikanth in the early 1970s, director K Balachander is supposed to have been struck by “the fellow’s fragile health and powerful eyes and his chiselled face… [a]nd of course, his skin colour, you know. The dark skin I thought was an advantage because again it is different from others. All the people who are very fair and all that, they have an easy entry into films. Why shouldn’t I take this boy, give him a good role, and see what can be drawn out of him?” While he seems today to be veering away from his promised Tamil Nadu political entry, this dark Dravidian cinema icon has thus far been showing signs of a decidedly ‘saffron’ or Hindutva leaning.  

In my 2016 exhibit for the Singapore biennale I performed a ritual offering to both lord Murugan and to Rajinikanth, thereby attempting to articulate the relationship of Traditional Hindu iconolatry and contemporary Kollywood idolatry.

Dari Pusat Tasik 11

Pipinya bagai pauh dilayang …. During the opening reception of the Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront on 25 Dec 2019, I had the privilege of serving kueh pauh dilayang to my dear friend Nur Hanim Khairuddin. Hanim is Co-director of the Malaysian Art Archive and Research Support, General Manager for PORT (a Perak state creative agency) and Artistic Director of the Ipoh International Arts Festival 2019. I have known Hanim, since the late 1990’s when she was working for the Pekan Seni Ipoh and we were reunited more recently, when she presented the Koboi Project as part of the Malaysia section of the Singapore Biennale 2016.

Intervention: Boundaries

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.