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  • Writer's pictureCristea Zhao

3. Tarun, 2020

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Still from video, "Tarun", photo courtesy of the artist (2020)

Tiyan Baker

Tarun, 2020


Similar to Phu’s work, Tarun is another example of how two dimensions (personal and socio-political) interweaving with each other. The artist went back to her mother’s hometown, living with her maternal family, learning her mother’s mother language Bidayuh and working at her aunt’s plantation. The process of learning is a process of unfolding her mother’s life story of how she grew up in and then left Sarawak- she listened to her mother’s narration through headphones, and then speak out word by word. At first she might faltered, then she became fluent in Bidayuh so the story got to flow in the work.

In the artist statement, this work is ’a reflection on the intergenerational impacts of migration, the discomfort of confronting ones own cultural heritage and the impossibility of crossing cultural divides.’ ( Which remind me of how my old works always wanted to talk about the impossibility of communication and comprehension.

In the interview, she mentioned this discomfort being there mainly came from three prospectives. The shift of the position of church, environmental conservation and her own cultural deficiency. The church which used to existed as a mediation for British colonization and a symbol for dispossession of culture now became an important religious role in local community. Then, even widely in Malaysia, there’s no environmental movements emerging so far, let alone in Sarawak, where today the plastics and harsh chemicals directly go into the river while before they only used materials from the nature (here is where the curator explained there’s no garbage before colonialism).(

Furthermore, the artist mentioned that she was insured when doing domestic tasks – harvesting durian, working in the padi fields, chopping bamboo and cooking rice in bamboo shoots. The insecurity is resulted from her being culturally deficient as half a white person coming from a white background. Of course understandable, but then I was thinking what’s the intention of this work? What the artist wanted to achieve going back to make such a work?

Immediately, this reminded me of the interview of 2019 Singapore Biennale ‘Every Step in the Right Direction’’s Artistic Director Patrick Flores, he mentioned: ‘I believe that Southeast Asia must be geopolitically unburdened, released from its colonial and Cold War psycho-geography. The contemporary and the curatorial can initiate this redistribution.’ ( Indeed, we are still in the post-colonialism era, and we are still dealing with the aftershock from the colonization. But how to develop a new narrative for Southeast Asia, is what the artists and curators need to collectively contribute efforts to. I am not sure if the whole idea of this kind of short-term field research where the participant claims to experience and understand the indigeneity (in this case) on their own terms, but still come back with results that could been speculated through the outside would do anything good to the unburden. This is even tricky when this is part of ‘going back to the root’ as a ‘diaspora’. Obviously, comprehension is not possible, but furthermore, is it true that even trying to comprehend is not possible either?

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