9 'current generation' Malay artists invite you to a Ramadhan fast breaking buffet on the dusk of 14 November 2003 at The Substation on 45 Armenian Street.
This buffet is part of Berita Harian, an exhibition curated by artist Khairuddin Hori and co-presented by The Substation. Berita Harian, translated Daily News, is a rare presentation of young and active practicing Singaporean Malay artists. These artists will put forward their explication of news and issues persistent, current and significant through their various genres of practice.
Amongst the works showing at Berita Harian are; 'ReDiscovery Channel', a computer generated 'animation teaser advertisement trailer' by Ridzuan Saari, 'DE-stress kapa', a site-specific de-stressing sound installation in The Substation's toilets by Zulkifle Mahmod and 'Window Shopping', a CCTV installation showing real-time events inside various pockets of The Substation by Harman Hussin.
As clichéd as any gathering of Malay artists can be, Berita Harian however promises to be a landmark event in the history of local art development. This is also the first time that 9 current generation contemporary Malay artists are working together on one show. The exhibition provides a chance for the public and the local art community to view the opinions, statements and psyche of this 'current generation' of contemporary Malay talents.
Witness Berita Harian because it is NEWS on current state of contemporary Malay art
Exhibition of 9 'current generation' Malay artists featuring installations,
sound installations, computer animation and video art.
Opening, 14 November 2003, 7pm
Exhibition, 15-29 November 2003, 11 am - 9 pm daily
Exhibition closed on 25 November 2003 (public holiday)
The Substation Gallery
45 Armenian Street
Gene Sha Rudyn
by Audrey Wong
A few months ago, two of the artists in the Berita Harian exhibition, Zulkifle Mahmod and Rizman Putra, performed leading roles in a film/video essay by Ho Tzu Nyen, "Utama". In this film, Zul performed the role of Sang Nila Utama, the mythical royal founder of Singapore, and Rizman performed the role of Utama's court jester. (I use the word "perform" because they were not "playing" roles in the manner of conventional film actors.) Among other things, "Utama" was a reflection on the construction of history, myth and icon, the artifice of representation, and the otherness of the past. The film was narrated in Malay with English translation, featured Malay and Chinese actors, and was made by a Chinese artist. By doing so, and by playing up the artifice of the narration and imagery, the film defamiliarised the story/myth/fable from our own backyard and asks what relevance this myth has to our own time. And how Singaporean is Utama, how Malay is Utama? How do we claim him or the myth of him? Do we want to?
Berita Harian, similarly, deals with these issues of past and present/traditional and contemporary, and draws attention to the ways in which we construct our present, which in turn influence the construction of history. What is today's news soon becomes history. This implies that we need to be careful and responsible in writing today's news, and this is where issues of representation come into play. Apart from "reporting" news - we know there is no such thing as objective journalism - the newspaper also plays a major role in constructing representations of its community/ies, who see themselves reflected back in the stories and articles carried in the paper. Each newspaper imagines what its constituents are and what they want to read, thereby constructing its readers even as it constructs a picture of the current state of affairs.
In my conversations with Khairuddin Hori over the years, he has been a source of information for me on the Malay community/ies. I feel myself excluded from much of this community/ies even though I have Malay friends and watch Malay theatre; the main reason, I believe, is the language barrier. I cannot read Berita Harian, the Malay paper, and see for myself what the construction of the readership is or how they represent Malay people and culture. One of things Khairuddin talked about in preparing for this exhibition was how 'art' is not given importance in the Malay media and how 'art' is often equated with 'entertainment' in the media. This does not sound too dissimilar from the way that the local English press deals with art. Khai also asked, "who are the significant Malay artists in Singapore and how are they recognized, if at all?" We came up with a few names, whom Khai noted are recognized as "Singapore artists", not "Malay artists". Are these distinctions important or necessary? Do we talk about "famous Chinese artists" or "famous Indian artists"? Who is claiming who? It's the Utama question again.
Khai also spoke to me once about how the Malay press liked to present successful Malays as role models for the community and how, as an artist, he wanted to resist this stereotype. (He, Rizman and Zul were all featured a few months ago in Berita Harian). Artists cannot avoid the process of representation by the media. You want to be featured in the media in order to get more audiences for your work, but how can you negotiate the representation of yourself or your work in the media? The rules of negotiation often do not favour artists, especially in a country not known for its diversity of voices in the media.
The artists deal with issues of identity, representation, the intersection of communities, and deliberately play with ethnic stereotypes. While advertising itself as an exhibition by young Malay artists, the artists know that their guests and visitors will not be mainly Malay. They would normally also resist identifying themselves as "Malay artists", preferring to describe themselves as contemporary artists living and working in Singapore.
While the artists deal to a certain extent with the "Malay identity" in the works in this exhibition, they do so without referring greatly to traditional markers of Malay ethnicity - craft and folk art, for instance, preferring the conceptual route. The artists have all chosen to use new media and technology, which, as Khai pointed out to me, turns on its head the stereotype that Malays are less "advanced" compared to the other ethnic groups in Singapore.
The image on the invitation card captures some of the ideas percolating among the artists in this exhibition: two monuments near the mouth of the Singapore River, a location redolent with history. (Didn't Sang Nila Utama also encounter some adventures at this location?) One old monument is juxtaposed against a new one that now overshadows it. The war memorial, erected in colonial days, is almost a forgotten landmark; the spiky durian roof of the Esplanade arts center, Singapore's new centerpiece trumpeting its arrival (or so its builders hope) among the first league of nations. What was once news is history. As cultural beings, how do we deal with the knowledge that what is new will soon be old or forgotten? How do we construct today's events into news that is meaningful to us as people and as a society? How can we ensure a just representation to the future of who we are, or is that at all possible?
The perspective of the image suggests a resistance to dominant ideology. Colonialism constructs the subjects ruled by the more powerful nation; a large, mainstream venue has the power to construct a definition of 'art' for the people. The exhibition Berita Harian, it appears, practises a strategy of resistance, opening up questions, playing with stereotypes, and accommodating the diversity of 10 individuals.
One final word: the timing of the exhibition dates with Ramadhan is not deliberate. These were the only available dates in The Substation Gallery this year. Coincidence? It's certainly given the exhibition a news angle.