The overarching title of my Assignment 1a is H-O-H, symbolising the mythical phoenix of Japanese lore, ho-oh, and the chemical formula for water. Both undergoes a never-ending cycle that reflects a sense of eternity yet ephemeral.
I. Ma’af Zahir Batin
This series of self-portraits uses hands to portray my identity as it is the most pliable anatomy and how they are able to portray different emotions. A gesture of opening and closing.
Left hand – batin (esoteric)
Right hand – zahir (exoteric)
#1: The left hand represents my religion, covered in a veil. The Arabic calligraphy on my hand are verses from the chapter Al-Kafirun (The Unbelievers). It talks about the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, which is that of non-interference. It is a simple chapter that is often overlooked by Islamophobes and Islamic extremists alike, who use verses and take them out of context. The hand is under a veil, representing the irony of how in the process of reaching enlightenment, we end up heading deeper into darkness. The image is in black and white to further reinstate the idea of being frozen amidst the flow of time.
Inspired by Shirin Neshat‘s Rebellious Silence (1994), I used the hand and a veil to express myself. Chinese ink is the medium used here as it is more ephemeral than henna, depicting how it is easier to change one’s religion that race.
#3: Right hand shows a deep-rooted yet fleeting connection with my Malay heritage. The usage of the paisley batik-printed cloth represents the connection to my culture and how it is easily malleable, as it adapts to the times. The usage of wayang kulit, or shadow puppets, shows the deterioration of certain elements of the culture and the preservation of some, like henna, which is the medium used to illustrate a dead tradition, the wayang kulit.
This image is inspired after Datin Paduka Marina Ibrahim’s speech on Arab’s supposed sovereignty in Islam such that other cultures are deem inferior or heretical even.
#2: The middle picture is me trying to get out of this assumption of a Malay-muslim identity that I am but at the same time not. These two elements are not mutually inclusive.
II. Transcient Timelessness
The water lies still,
dormant in its vessel.
An outpouring of emotions,
resulting in spilled essences of being.
#1: The vessel is a reflection of me, laying dormant. The first image shows me in a state of ennui, lying down and unmoving, eyes glazed by the distortions of the water.
#2: The outpouring of water from the bottle shows a wastage potential, years of education and I never did take them seriously.
#3: As I soon realised the importance of this reservoir of knowledge, I start to devour them but it is too overwhelming to contain everything, with some dripping down the chin. This is composed in a close up shot to show the elements on the face and highlight the emotions on the face.
I use water as a tangible manifestation of knowledge because like water, knowledge is omnipresent, it is just up to a person to harness it.
A pastel pink tone is added to give a transient quality to the photos; in an attempt to create an environment where time does not exist.
III. Catching Boundaries
As a child, I often play around one of the pagodas in Chinese Garden with my friends. We used natural elements (the rocky outcrop and various distinct trees) as boundaries of our play space, with the pagoda at the centre. We played “tag”, “ice and water” as well as “lawan-lawan” – where we split into two groups and one side become the heroes and the other, villains, and we “fight” a la Power Rangers style. The inside of the pagoda forms a spiral; the other four images are positioned at the four cardinal points surrounding the pagoda to represent the boundaries.
I get a sense of nostalgia from this place. The boundaries are still there, yet the surroundings has changed. The pastel hues shows a passage of time. Follow the spiral and you can see how there is less human/mad-made features depicted in the images. This represents the world we live in now as compared to the past; with the advent of technology, children are more interested to play the apps in their phones as compared to interacting and running around with their peers.
I attempted to apply the Fibonacci sequence in composing my shots (though cropping the middle photo does not seem to do it justice) and it works for the shots. It works as it enables the eye to travel easily from the details in each picture and also for the curation of the shots.
I tried to be as exploratory as I possibly can while remaining true to the rubrics of this assignment. Ma’af Zahir Batin allows me a way to portray my displeasure of the Malay-Muslim synonymity. I tried to challenge the notion of using a tangible object for Transient Timelessness by using knowledge as an object (though it manifests in physical form in the form of water).
As John Coplans was my artist for the group research work, I quite like his idea of using body parts as self-portraits, which can be seen in Ma’af Zahir Batin and Transient Timelessness. Gestures play an important part in discerning messages and the challenge is to convey these messages across with as little dissonance as possible.
Catching Boundaries is an attempt to explore space in my favourite place and an interpretation of The Seven Sleepers, a biblical tale of a group of youths falling asleep in a cave to avoid prosecution only to wake up 300 years later. However, in my series, the youths have yet to wake up, hence the reclaiming of nature as your eye follows down the spiral.