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Recalling a forgotten kingdom in Venice Biennale

Recalling a forgotten kingdom in Venice Biennale by Helmi Yusof, 14/04/2017, The Business Times

Zai Kuning will be showcasing Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge at the Singapore Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale from May 13 to Nov 26, 2017.

After18 years criss-crossing South-east Asia, Zai Kuning’s artistic journey is now going beyond the region to make a stop at the most important art event in the world: the Venice Biennale.

There, at the Singapore Pavilion in Arsenale, Zai is constructing a massive Phinisi ship out of rattan, string and beeswax. It will be 17 metres long – a metre perhaps for each year he’s spent exploring the history of Malays in South-east Asia – and it will be surrounded by 100 books that have been dipped in wax, never to be opened and read again, a metaphor for lost histories.

Since 1999, the artist has been obsessed with the meta-historical questions of: « Who am I? Where do I come from? Whom do I belong to? Whom do I answer to? » He’s less interested in issues of national identity and family genealogy than the broader field of the ethnogenesis and migration of Malays. The central figure in his research is Dapunta Hyang, the first ruler of the Srivijaya kingdom that dominated the Malay Archipelago from the 8th to the 12th century. As a Malay Buddhist, Dapunta Hyang also helped spread Buddhism throughout his kingdom.

At the Venice showcase, Zai will be putting up 30 photographic portraits of living mak yong performers on a facing wall running parallel to the ship. An audio recording of a mak yong master speaking in an ancient Malay dialect will also be played on loop.

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