Singapore Pavilion opens at Venice Biennale

Singapore Pavilion opens at Venice Biennale
At the Singapore Pavilion for the Venice Biennale 2017, Zai Kuning presents his most ambitious work to date, Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge, brings to life the imagined vessel, steered by the first Malay King Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, of the seventh-century Srivijayan Empire. Photo: National Arts Council
Zai Kuning unveils his Orang Laut exhibit, other Singaporean artists featured in spaces around Venice
Published: 10:15 PM, May 10, 2017
Updated: 1:49 AM, May 11, 2017

VENICE — Singapore artists will make their presence felt at the 57th edition of the Venice Biennale, the major international visual arts platform running from Saturday to November 26.

The key installation at the Singapore Pavilion — which officially opened yesterday at the Sale d’Armi building at the Arsenale in Venice — is by artist Zai Kuning, who has been onsite with a production team for three weeks setting up the exhibition based on his research on the Orang Laut people.

This is his most ambitious work to date. Called Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge, he is presenting a 17m-long ship made of rattan, beeswax and string. It is imagined to be the vessel by the first Malay king, Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, of the seventh-century Srivijayan empire.

In a press statement, Zai, 53, said that he hopes his work will “remind visitors that our history is a confluence of many different traditions and beliefs”.

Sitting alongside the ship is a large map depicting the Srivijayan empire’s expansion, giving the appearance of having been destroyed, excavated from a shipwreck, and restored. Portraits of practitioners of mak yong, a dying pre-Islamic operatic tradition, are also shown. Zai, who has studied the Orang Laut since 2001, travelled with Thai photographer Wichai Juntavaro to Mantang Island last year to capture portraits of living mak yong performers.

The Singapore Pavilion exhibition was commissioned by the National Arts Council (NAC) and supported by the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Paul Tan, deputy chief executive at the NAC, said: “Zai’s work opens a thoughtful dialogue on issues of identity, culture, and history in South-east Asia. We’re sure the work will strike a chord with international audiences.”

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, Ms Grace Fu, Minister for MCCY, acknowledged other Singapore artists who will be showing at the Biennale.

“We are proud to see our artists representing Singapore on the international stage and doing very well for themselves,” said Ms Fu.

London-based artist Erika Tan is presenting a video installation, The Forgotten Weaver at the Diaspora Pavilion. It explores the life of a Malay weaver who died in London in 1924. Multidisciplinary artist Sarah Choo Jing is staging an immersive video installation called Art of the Rehearsal at the Personal Structures showcase. Choo Jing’s work — which shows traditional dancers performing in the back alleys and lanes of Singapore — was launched earlier this year at the National Museum of Singapore. Ms Fu said she is “glad that her work will reach new audiences in Venice”.

In November, London-based Singaporean curator Annie Kwan will present performances by Singaporean artists Boedi Widjaja and Lynn Lu as part of a performance programme called MAP (Moving x Archive x Performance) Waterways in Venice, in partnership with the Diaspora Pavilion.

For the Biennale, Kwan chose to work with Boedi and Lu because their work explores migration, memories and “both will be delving into personal family heritage and histories to develop their public performance in Venice”.

This is the eighth time that Singapore is represented at the Venice Biennale.

“We recognise that this is an important platform for our visual artists and their technical specialists to present their works to the global audience. We have been particularly encouraged by the warm reception given to our previous editions. Our artists, such as Zulkifle Mahmod who represented Singapore at the 2007 Venice Biennale, have also used the Biennale to launch their international careers,” Ms Fu said.