14 Post-Tradition

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.

0 Performance
1 Keling Maya
2 Cyberspace
3 Model
4 Heterotopia
5 Rajinikanth
6 Heroes
7 Telinga Keling
8 Keling Babi
9 Duchamp
10 MGG Pillai
12 Praxis
13 Dochakuka
15 Philosophia Perennis

Mahathir’s Error on the Jews

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s reputation for being ‘antisemitic’, was recently brought to mind by the problems experienced by his family in the movie business (in the context of investments made in the production of the film Dr Strange). In the interest of the truth, of his legacy, and perhaps even of his family’s business interests, I urge him to make one specific correction in his world Jewry rhetoric. As evidenced by the Senator Ilhan Omar affair, there is an urgent need to cleave in two the confused referent/s of these signifiers  –  ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist.’  In fact, as explained by Rabbi Dovid Weiss in the Al Jazeera interview above, the conflation of these signs serves the cause of Zionism. Haderim (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews are amongst the firmest and truest defenders of Palestine and Palestinians. Many Muslim nations, communities and leaders have been fair weather friends of the Palestinians, but not these gentle, archaic and God fearing Jews. Just listen to the humility, clarity, love and courage expressed by the Rabbi, bearing in mind that his people resist Zionism from communities across the world and even, at great risk, from the within the heart of Israel (Haderim Jews constituted over 12% of Israel’s population in 2017). While I am tickled by the reflexive candour of Mahathir’s taxonomy of noses and comprehend the political expediency revealed in his explanation that ‘the people’  will understand better if he says ‘Yahudi‘ (Jews) instead of ‘Zionist’, I am nevertheless perplexed by, even ashamed of, his  perpetuation of this Zionist conflation, not least because it obscures the diversity of  positions held by the Jewish peoples, amongst whom are these staunch allies of Palestine! I hope that the good Dr. will be more nuanced in his use of the terms ‘Jewish’, ‘Zionist’ and even ‘Israeli’ before he ends his time on the world’s stage.

Maksud saya Yahudi bukan semestinya Zionis. Sila rujuk kepada – Yahudi yang Anti-Zionis, Yahudi yang Pro-Palestina)

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUppu2OHVTY&feature=youtu.be&t=98







Portuguese/ Malay Fusion

Jinkli Nona sung with Kristang and Malay verse  … How beautiful is the hybridity of traditions in Malaysia and the world! From Branyo to Joget and back again!

Jinkli nona, jinkli nona; yo kereh kazah
kaza nunteng porta nona; klai logu pasah?
Teng kantu teng; kantu teng falah nunteng
amor, minya amor; amor minya korasang

Puluh lapan dan I jauh ketengah
Gunung Lah daik bercabang Tiga
Hancur lah badan I dikandung tanah
Budi yang baik dikenang juga

Tek Kayu Tek Pucuk Pisang bunga Ramping


Post Traditional Praxis 5

Event: Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary Dialogue Session /
Speakers: Dr. Simon Soon, Niranjan Rajah and Audience! /
Date: 17th March 2018 (Saturday) /
Time:  2 pm to 4.30 pm /
Venue: Seminar Room 1 and Piyadasa Gallery, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya /

This Dialog Session is presented as a part of –
The Gift of Knowledge: An Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995)
by Niranjan Rajah as part of ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017

The strength of traditional values and the revival of theocentric approaches to social issues makes it incumbent upon contemporary artists and theorists who practice in the modernist and postmodernist idioms to engage reflectively with traditional values in art. Conversely, it seems imperative that traditionalists reflect on the impact of the resurgent traditional mores in contemporary life, and that they do not develop their worldviews in isolation from modernity and from one another.

In post-traditional situations like ours, where diverse religious orders have survived both the singularity of modernism and the relativity of postmodernism, we are required to be attentive to art that goes beyond both the chronological and stylistic modes of art history and wholesale adoption of critical theory. We may need to unpack and explore the depth, the meanings of tradition and not sit satisfied within the aura of its superficial significations. With the historical and bibliographical researches of Durai Raja Singam as a point of departure, our afternoon speakers will explore what his practice means for both contemporary art and the writing of art history in Malaysia today.

There will be two presentations followed by a dialogue with the audience. The presentations are –

“Durai Raja Singam as a pioneering proponent of Ananda Coomaraswamy – Traditional worldviews and implications for our national sense of being”
by Niranjan Rajah, Assistant Professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada.


“Who Is This Coomaraswamy? Durai Singam and the Impossibility of Not Writing”
by Simon Soon, Senior Lecturer, Visual Art Program, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya.

A tour of the exhibition currently on view at Piyadasa Gallery will be conducted by Niranjan Rajah after the talk at around 4PM. Refreshments will be served.


Post Traditional Praxis 2

rememberingThe dialog session titled Tradition as a Measure of the Contemporary: Towards a Post Traditional Praxis in Malaysian Art, takes place on 17th March 2018 from 2 pm to 4.30 pm at the Piyadasa Gallery/ Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya.  Presenting the lifework of work of Dr. Durai Raja Singam, the session will go on to explore the place of tradition in contemporary Malaysian art and life. To what extent do contemporary art and theory engage with the forms and values of tradition. Are traditional forms meaningfully conceived in isolation from the theories of modernism and postmodernism. Given our national culture and life, wherein diverse religious paradigms coexist, we need approaches that art that unpack and explore the deeper meanings of tradition and as a contemporary or a post-traditional practice. 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) which is a part of  ALAMI BELAS – KL BIENNALE 2017, Bali Seni Visual Negara.

Image: https://artklitique.blogspot.ca/2017/12/kl-biennale-ii-gift-of-knowledge.html





Indians on the Playa


So we did it! My fellows at The Camp With No Name, my family and I – we realized the image I had visualized for Cowboys and Indians at Burning Man. We did one performance on the evening of the 31st August at camp where I presented the Krishna icon, the Thalaivar banner, and the Indian Cowboy image and 40 perfectly ripe mangoes. I told Krishna stories of love and truth to the gathering. Tara played an improvisation on the melody of Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy on the Cello and Jane read her Poems on the Megaphone. Durga took photographs for future editions of the Koboi Project. The next day on the 1st September, Jane, Tara, Durga, Lucas, Guy, Saren and I took Cowboys and Indians onto the playa. This time we distributed 80 mangoes and interacted with burners as they came by on the their vehicles, their bikes and on foot. We shared love and truth … and mangoes till the sun went down on the Playa.

Cowboys and Indians


The Koboi and family are off to Burning Man festival 2017 in Black Rock City, Nevada. This year’s theme for projects at Burning Man is Radical Ritual, and I propose to present a special edition of Cowboys and Indians. In keeping with the theme, this work will exemplify how, even traditional rituals are constantly being revivified and radicalized. This presentation consists of two images – Pazham Neeyappa and Indian Cowboy, as well as the Mango of Truth performance which will be carried out at the  [The Camp with No Name] on the Black Rock City Playa.