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’.