UPDATE : In Shahrul Izani Suparman, who was sentenced to death in 2009 for drug trafficking, was officially pardoned. I have only just caught up with this important news that brings me some hope with regard to the fundamentals of justice in Malaysian society. I had written the following in a previous post made in May of 2016 – In Malaysia, anyone found carrying 200g or more of proscribed narcotics is automatically presumed guilty of trafficking drugs and subject to a mandatory death sentence. The law does not allow judges any possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence. It is under these laws that Shahrul Izani, then aged 19, was found one night in 2003, to have had in his possession 622g of cannabis. He was convicted and given the death penalty in 2009. Sharul has today exhausted all his appeals, and could be executed at any time. Malaysia’s laws relating to sentencing in drug trafficking cases are arguably contrary to international law and in July of 2012 the Malaysian government announced plans to review them. In this context, Amnesty International has started a campaign to have Shahrul’s sentence commuted. While the merits of a death penalty for drug trafficking are debatable, the justification for mandatory sentencing can only be made by considering the particular circumstances of our country and its situation within global drug conduits. In this light it seems unjust and even paradoxical to deny our judges the opportunity to consider the particulars of the accused in passing sentence. Regardless of ones position on the penalty and its mandatory implementation, what is undeniable in my view, is that it is unusually cruel to leave this young man, on death row, facing the reality of a sudden execution, while the laws themselves are deemed worthy of review. God forbid that he is executed, in administrative indifference or haste, on the eve of a repeal of these draconian laws. Please sign the petition here if you believe it is right that his sentence is commuted.
My installation for the KL Biennale 2017 at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya is titled The Gift of Knowledge. It commemorates the scholarly work of Durai Raja Singam which centered on disseminating the writings of esteemed art historian and metaphysician Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. This installation is also a way to mark my personal debt to Durai Raja Singam who was my periappa, my uncle. His generous yet insistant presentation of Coomarswamy and his ideas played a significant role in shaping my own worldview and my sense of the place of art in the order of things.
This installation presents select items of his furniture, personal effects, print layout/artwork, photographs, and most significantly, his publications. It is accompanied by a candid and clarifying video conversation with his son, my cousin Jawaharal Jai Singam, that sets Durai Raja Singam’s legacy within familial, communal, national and international narratives. This installation presents Durai Raja Singam holistically, as a man with a mission within a very specific social, historical and sclolarly milieu – that of Asia in a time of transition from a colonianlist paradigm to a nationalist one. Through his life and works we can glimple the the complex emergence and interplay of modern Jaffna Tamil, Indian, Malaysian and Asian identies in the post-colonial era. As Simon Soon of Universiti Malaya notes, Durai Raja Singam is an important figure in many different contexts – cultural history, diasporic imagination, 20th century transnational networks, Malaysian cosmopolitsnism, post-colonial forms of knowledge, the reconciliation between modernity and spirituality as well as non-mainstream approaches history.
My installation sits liminally at the boundary of art work, curatorship, family memorial and scholarship. It is the recognition of the passion of a man, his sense of duty and his belief that knowledge was a common property that belonged to all. Above all, and in keeping with the belas theme of the KL Biennal, it is the celebration of the charity and compassion of a man and of his ‘gift of knowledge’.
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.
As reported in an article arising from research undertaken as part of the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), and in the context of what has been called a free-for-all in the energy industry, 17 organizations including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) have called for a full public inquiry into natural gas industry fracking operations in BC. At the centre of this controversy is PETRONAS subsidiary, Progress Energy which built two massive unlicensed dams in violation of provincial environmental regulations.
These 2 dams are the largest amongst about 50 unlicensed dams that the CCPA brought to the British Colombian Government’s attention in May this year. In fact, the largest of these, the Lily Dam, is described as being 23 meters tall, the height of a 7 story building, while the threshold for the licensing requirement is 15 meters. Following on from the CCPA exposure of the situation in May, investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk has reported that BC’s Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) inspections revealed serious problems with 7 dams of which Progress Energy is responsible for 5. As a an initial consequence, the provincial government ordered Progress Energy to drain its two largest dams and has since government has since denied the company’s application for retrospective licensing.
Complicating the politics and the ethics of this corporate/ governmental relationship is the fact that the 2 massive Progress Energy dams, along with the 50 or so other such structures have built by energy companies on lands that are subject to the 1899 Treaty 8 made with the region’s First Nations. The Blueberry River First Nation (BRFN) lands manager Norma Pyle, affirms that the Nation has alerted the Crown about diminished water quantity, “We have been watching lake levels drop, muskeg disappear, mineral licks dry up and streams reduce to small versions of their former selves’. Further, BRFN’s legal counsel Maegan blames regulatory oversight as “hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of freshwater in their territory is being illegally impounded for oil and gas operations. ”
It is claimed that in the CMP article that documents obtained by the CCPA indicate that all of the unauthorized dams were built to trap freshwater used in the fracking process operation where huge quantities of water are pumped under intense pressure to fracture or crack open deep rock formations so that trapped methane gas is released. And it is further asserted that one such Progress Energy fracking operation. using 160,000 cubic metres of water, triggered a 4.6 magnitude earthquake near Fort St. John in 2015.
I am proud to announce my participation in Alami Belas the inaugural KL Biennale 2017. My work is titled The Gift of Knowledge: An Installation Commemorating the Person and Work of Durai Raja Singam (1904-1995). This installation will be on view at the Piyadasa Gallery, Universiti Malaya from 1 Nov 2017 – 31 March 2018.
The life and work Durai Raja Singam is the epitome of belas (charity/compassion) in the context of Malaysian scholarly work. Operating outside the realm of academia, he did his work with neither acclaim nor financial reward in mind. He funded his publications himself with no notion of profit. He collated, wrote, designed and published books on various topics, particularly on the life and work of Ananda Coomaraswamy. He pursued this work as if it were his karma (sacred duty) to disseminate this knowledge for posterity. The late Durai Raja Singam was my uncle and, in this installation, I present his place in Malaysian cultural discourse through the dual perspective of a familial recipient of his legacy and a Malaysian artist theorist and curator who has contributed to the study of Southeast Asian art. The exhibit takes the form of an installation of select items of his furniture, personal effects, print layout/artwork, photographs and publications. His books are presented in an accessible manner so that visitors are able to read them. There is also a video interview with his son Jawaharlal Jai Singam. This installation celebrates Durai Raja Singam as Malaysian scholar, historian, biographer and bibliographer of high international regard who operated with humility outside of the privileged precincts of the ivory tower.
There are reported to be at least 51 unregulated and unapproved dams in Northern BC built by oil and gas companies for their fracking operations. The two largest facilities, Lily Dam and the Energy Town Dam, both over 15 meters tall, are operated by PETRONAS subsidiary, Progress Energy Canada Ltd. The scale of these dams means that they should be classified as ‘major projects‘ under BC’s Environmental Assessment Act. requiring that they be assessed by the Assessment Office (EAO) prior to construction. On Oct. 31 2017 the provincial Environmental EAO rejected an application by the company seeking to exemption for these structures from an environmental assessment.The dams have reportedly been operational for many years under the watch of the previous Liberal government and the new NDP Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Michelle Mungall is reported to have stated that their government is “reviewing the details in order to strengthen oversight going forward,”
On Oct 10th this year, while the Progress Energy application for exemption was still in progress, Okanagan Indigenous leader, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote that “If the EAO grants Progress’s request, it sends a terrible signal that BC really is the Wild West. Rules and regulations are simply there to be ignored.” While the EAO has finally applied its own rules, saving us from the Wild West designation, this decision leaves us wondering, how well the authors’ terms, applied to our province in the preceding years of Liberal rule. More pertinently, it leaves us wondering if, under the new NDP/Green regime, we will finally get the proper oversight of such dams and if in future there will be prior consultation with the First Nations on whose traditional lands they are being built.
On July 26th 2017, the Federal application for judicial review brought by Yahaan, Donald Wesley in connection with governmental decisions made in the PETRONAS/ Pacific Northwest Partnership Lelu island development was dismissed. By the time it was made, however, this, once portentous Federal court ruling, was moot as PETRONAS had pulled the plug on its 36 billion dollar project just the day before. The decision by the Justice Robert Barnes, which was reported in the Northern View, was based on his finding that the applicant lacked standing to represent the Gitwilgyoots Tribe. In his judgment, he said, “Yahaan failed to produce evidence of community support” and that “what evidence there is suggests that he is opposed by a substantial number of Gitwilgyoots members,” Wesley had argued that the federal government did not properly consult with him as a one of the nine tribes of the Coast Tsimshian Nation, thereby invalidating the environmental assessment, in which such consultation is mandated. He had asserted that this flawed assessment led to a consequently flawed and invalid Federal approval of the Petronas LNG project in 2016. The judge found that Wesley was not “an appropriate person to act in a representative capacity” because, amongst other reasons, he had failed to prove both his leadership claim and his authority to launch the court proceeding on behalf of the Gitwilgyoots. As such the decision seems not to touch on the larger questions of the standing of a First Nation tribe vis-à-vis the Band Council in the eyes of the courts as well as of the government’s obligation to pay attention to indigenous law, as opposed to the Indian Act, in matters pertaining to the tribal and chieftan authority.