Mon 5, Mar 2007
Kg Berembang was a place I knew about only because its children had been staging, with the efforts of a group of volunteers, wayang kulit performances to tell the history of their village. I was also vaguely aware that the community was having problems with the Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya. When I heard, on Monday morning, that an unexpected attempt at demolishing the kampung was taking place, I finally decided to make my way there.
By the time I arrived, there was a large presence of RELA recruits, flanked by heavy machinery and contractors, against the fresh rubble that remained of the kampung’s buildings. I’ve not seen the wayang shows, but this, I guess, was enough.
One of the baton-wielding RELA recruits had anonymous velcro straps on his uniform, in place of the usual name and registration numbers. I asked him where his identification was. He shrugged, casually dismissing the question. He looked victimised by my questioning, and said that he didn’t want to be there.
One of the volunteers helping the people of Berembang warned me to watch out for the RELA people without ID tags, if the situation got violent. The People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) has a long history of brutality, both to foreign nationals (five migrant workers died in a raid RELA conducted on the Selayang open market in February 2006) and to fellow citizens — as this action so aptly demonstrated to me.
A few hours into the sun’s heat, several RELA recruits sought shelter under one of the few remaining structures they had not fully demolished. I pointed out to them the deep irony of this action. They laughingly replied that my word had poison, and turned their backs to my camera. One of them, disgruntled, then asked why I felt no shame in photographing them.
A villager asked me why this was happening to them; they were, after all, Malaysian citizens. I had no answers. Some truck drivers, there with the demolishing crew, proclaimed themselves blameless: they were just doing their job. Then they smiled for my camera, and asked that their faces be glamourised on posters. A woman yelled at them: “Korang jangan jadi alat!”
Later, I spot a young boy returning from school. He made his way past RELA’s makeshift blockade and caged dogs, and started walking down the main road that would lead him to his now-demolished home. ”Nanti bila sampai, tentu terkejut,” observed a young girl. – Lainie Yeoh
The children of Kg Berembang will be staging another wayang kulit performance based on their experiences, at the Central Market Annexe on Fri 30, Mar 2007. It has been tentatively titled: RELA.
Lainie Yeoh is a blogger.
3 Young Contemporaries
Wed 7, Mar 2007
At eight, 27-year-old visual artist Sharon Chin, in a red dress and leggings, begins to hand out name-card-sized slips to satay-munching guests. One discovers that the card says: ‘Please SMS me a secret’, and includes a cell-phone number underneath. “Send me a message at eight forty-five?” Sharon says.
For those who’ve been following the trajectories of Malaysia’s crew of young practitioners, it may be obvious, with a once-through of her work at Valentine Willie’s latest edition of 3 Young Contemporaries, that the artist has been training in the Wong Hoy Cheong school of engagement: two out of her three pieces here deal with the Malaysian General Elections, and Sharon’s name-cards are part of ‘Secrets Act’, a performance ostensibly connected to her ongoing research into restricted texts, and the kind of bureaucratic negotiations involved in accessing these works.
Not to say that the works are derivative or ineffectual; ‘Executive Toy’, a glass-entombed Newton’s cradle made of 28 ceramic balls, is one of the tersest summations of Malaysian democracy recently seen. Each fragile ceramic orb is inscribed with a party currently (or previously) active in the politics of our country — except at both ends, where Barisan Nasional bookends the arrangement. The cradle cannot function because the balls will shatter, and the case prevents rabble-rousers from even setting the reaction into motion.
“There is one way I can get to it!” proclaims one such deviant; he mimes grasping the glass box and smashing it on the floor. “You could have a revolution, I suppose,” Sharon concedes.
Her last solo exhibition, in April 2006, was the internal and fanciful Fourth World; its feature was ‘Mare Clausum’, an installation that suspended green scaffold netting in the Australian High Commission like lost, ethereal sails. This willingness to be personal is, perhaps, the strongest quality of Sharon’s work, and it is heartening to see it return. ‘Making Night’ is a side-by-side video recording, where points of light appear in a black field — executed, lo-fi style, with a cell-phone inside a shoebox, a needle, and a freakishly geeky knowledge (in a tropical, urban environment where light pollution and cloud cover obscure the view of amateur stargazers) of how constellations are configured. The work may have something to say about closeness between cultures — its left frame is a comparison of the Ramadhan night-skies of Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Jerusalem; the differences are very, very subtle — but even without this element ‘Making Night’ is an irresistible bit of pure, esoteric fun.
At eight-thirty Sharon disappears; she has stepped onto the second-storey ledge of the gallery’s façade, pen in hand, and we cannot see her because the windows are plastered with A4 sheets. Guests fiddle with their phones, then watch. After a while the leaves of paper overturn: ‘I had unprotected sex last week’, ‘I still dream of my ex’, ‘I farted on my brother’s face when he picked me up from school’. This being a Malaysian audience, it isn’t surprising to see the evasive ‘I don’t have any secrets to tell, really!’
In Adeline Ooi’s essay on the exhibition, she quotes Sharon as saying: “It is interesting for me that the state is as concerned with keeping its demons hidden as I am!” Some people are less occupied by notions of the state, however. Occasionally, a capitalised message with Sharon’s signature appears. ‘Someone finds me very attractive’, says one; ‘Someone wants to go to bed with me’, says another. – ZS
First Published: 09.03.2007 on Kakiseni