Durai Raja Singam

fb_img_15109859470251353543407.jpgMy 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’.

Image: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2423733217850959&id=2082567601967524  

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Bumi Larangan

zulkifli dahlan inviteThe official opening of an exhibition of the hitherto unreleased drawings of Zulkifli Dahalan was held on the 17th of May at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. This exhibition was curated by Nur Hanim Khairuddin who kindly included an essay by myself in the catalogue. After I had completed and submitted my essay to Hanim, I was alerted to Hasnul Jamal Saidon’s extended review of the then newly released film Arrival on his Jiwa Halus Blog. The review was titled THE LATE ARRIVAL OF NON-LINEARITY: A NON-OBJECTIVE REFLECTION ON THE MOVIE “ARRIVAL” and was written as a series of three letters to the films director. I was delighted to find that Hasnul had chosen to conclude PART 3 of this innovative series by citing my own application of Keith Critchlow’s ideas on geometry in my essay on Sulaiman Esa for his Petronas Gallery retrospective Insyrah. Indeed, in Islamic geometry,  the extension from point to line to plane, and back again, carries the allegory of space into that of time. The non-spatiality of the point in geometry and the bindu in Tantra are indifferent from the intemporal consciousness of the Sufi Ibn al-wakt or ‘son of the moment’. Beyond my superficial delight in finding my name at the ‘point’ of closure of Hasnul’s marvellous serial letter, I was profoundly moved by the fact that after nearly two decades with only occasional contact, our inner rhythms seem to be in perfect synchronicity. You see, Hasnul had appraised Arrival in terms of abstraction, geometry and the Islamic ideas of Shirik (interdiction against life-like representations or concentrations), Tawhid (multivalent singularity) and Fitrah (the original state of man). And I, in my newly submitted catalogue essay, had attempted to interpret the figuration and humanism of Zulkifli Dahlan in exactly the very same terms.