Main Exhibition

Since the inception of photography, practitioners have been directing the camera on the human body. This group exhibition features eight bodies of work made in Southeast Asia from the 1970s to the present moment, marking photography’s transition from an analogue practice to the selfie age. The featured practitioners explored the possibilities of the body and portraiture/self-portraiture in their works. Through their varying practices, the body becomes a site of collaboration and performance, a vessel of obscured memories and narratives, and a medium of experimentation and communication.  

Featuring Artists

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Surat Thani)

Nap Jamir II (Manila)

Erik Prasetya and Ayu Utami (Jakarta)

Dansoung Sungvornveshapan (Bangkok)

Samantha Tio (Singapore / Bali)

Nurul Huda A. Rashid (Singapore)

Adrian Mulya (Jakarta)

Nguyễn Uyên Minh (Saigon)

Curated by Zhuang Wubin

Winners of Life (2007-15)

Adrian Mulya, Jakarta

The attempted coup in 1965 swept Major General Suharto into power, followed by widespread reprisals across Indonesia. Today, half a century later, the events surrounding 1965 are still shrouded in mystery.

This is a series of portraits featuring the Gerwani (Indonesian Women’s Movement) activists who suffered and survived the reprisals. During Suharto’s reign, they were constantly portrayed as cruel and savage women.

In fact, when they were younger, the ladies were passionate about contributing to Indonesia’s progress, especially on women issues. They told stories of opening a kindergarten, pioneering a day care centre for labourers, eliminating illiteracy and speaking up against polygamy.

Why then were they prosecuted? This question remains unanswered. Hopefully, these photographs signify a comma, a sign to continue the discussions that will lead us closer to the truth.

[Written by Adrian Mulya; Edited by Zhuang Wubin]

Bio

Adrian Mulya (b. 1974, Jakarta) graduated from the Faculty of Law, Tarumanagara University. His interest in documentary photography grew through his friendship with senior photographers in Indonesia and his photographic education at Antara Photojournalism Gallery. In 2016, Gramedia published his photobook, Winners of Life. 

Dharma Text Next to Image (1972-91)

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Surat Thani)

By 1972, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906-93, b. Chaiya) had already attained the age of 66 and the stature of a famous enlightened monk; he struggled to reject all attempts to turn his portraits into icons of superstitious worship, which at that time (as is the case now) was all the craze. He wanted people to realise the essence of Buddhism, not to cling onto the egoism of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. When he finally saw that his fight against the holy picture craze was futile, Buddhadasa embarked on a series of self-portraits in Suan Mokh Monastery (Surat Thani), making use of all its symbolic objects: a statue of Bodhisattava Sri Vijaya, lotus flowers, mounds of dirt, a flat rock, even monastery pets. At times he is seen posing alone, employing tricks in the monastery darkroom to create double and triple prints in the form of dharma riddles, inviting the viewer to interpret with wisdom. Each picture was accompanied by a dharma-teaching poem that he’d written for it. The series is entitled Dharma Text Next to Image.

These 423 Buddhist poems and photographs clearly reveal Tahn Buddhadasa’s understanding of art and technology, particularly the power of photography in spreading dharma—a visionary idea far ahead of his time, when the Thai art world still had no inkling of terms such as ‘Conceptual Art’ and ‘Conceptual Photography’.

[Written by Manit Sriwanichpoom / Images courtesy of Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives]

Translator’s note: “Poetic License,” wrote Tahn Buddhadasa in a footnote to a poem of the same name (POETIC LICENCE), “is a right given to poets, so there’s no need to hold rigidly to universal rules when the case calls for such an exemption in order to reach a better result without sacrificing poetic flavour. This is necessary for rendering dharma into verse.”

I have tried to keep as much of the original flavour as possible, including the rhythm and use of (his) contemporary slang, but always sacrificed these, as he did, if they interfered with his meaning and his great charm.

Ing K
April 6, 2013
[English translation of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s poems courtesy of Ing Kanjanavanit] 

Time Delay (1988)

Dansoung Sungvornveshapan (Bangkok)

It was a mind-blowing experience to create these images. At that time, we still did not completely understand the non-linear structure of the digital workflow. We could not see the images in real time, unlike today. In Time Delay (1988), we see a persona presented in another state, blending the real and the cyber. I digitised and imported my self-portraits via NewTek DigiView onto the Commodore Amiga 500 computer. I then used Deluxe Paint to manipulate the imageries.

[English introduction written by Dansoung Sungvornveshapan; Edited by Zhuang Wubin]

Bio

Dansoung Sungvornveshapan (b. 1958, Nakhon Si Thammarat) is a photographer, painter and graphic illustrator.

Selected group and solo exhibitions: Weatherproof, WTF Bar & Gallery, Bangkok, 2015; Last Homo Sapiens, The Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 2003; Month of Photography, Bangkok, 2001; Nude Experimental Photography, Bhirasri Institute of Modern Art, Bangkok, 1985. 

From Lust to Trust (2002)

Ayu Utami and Erik Prasetya (Jakarta)

In From Lust to Trust (2002), acclaimed writer Ayu Utami invites her partner, photographer Erik Prasetya, to create a photo essay on sadomasochism. Erik relinquishes control of the camera by shooting with the inbuilt timer, as both of them enter the frame to perform and create the visuals.

Before that, Erik had tried to photograph women in his work. But he was always unsure if he was really interested in the shoot or if he wanted merely to see them in photographs. The collaborative nature of this work allows Erik to approach Ayu on equal terms. Here, he is simultaneously the photographer and the performer, the object and the subject.

[Written by Zhuang Wubin]

Bios

Ayu Utami (b. 1968, Bogor) is an award-winning Indonesian writer and the Prince Claus Award Laureate in 2000. During Indonesia’s military regime, Ayu was a journalist and a press freedom activist. She was one of the founders of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, which was later banned by Suharto’s government. Her published novels and writings include: Saman (1998), The Single Parasite (2003), Enrico’s Love Story (2012), The Confession of A (2013) and Banal Aesthetics & Critical Spiritualism (2015; co-authored with Erik Prasetya), amongst others.

Erik Prasetya (b. 1958, Padang) is one of the most influential practitioners of street photography in Indonesia. Selected group and solo exhibitions: Banal Aesthetics, Galeri Salihara, Jakarta, 2015; Open City Jakarta, Erasmus Huis, Jakarta, 2010; artconneXions: Bangkok Version, Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 2005; CP Open Biennale 2003, Jakarta; Plastic (& Other) Waste, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 1998. 

Foto-Me Series (1974)

Nap Jamir II (Manila)

These images come from a series of experiments that I did in 1974 using the Photo-Me booth, a self-operated automatic machine that produced identification photos. I rediscovered some of these images recently.

In these experiments, I wanted to “twist” the photo booth to create different images. To do so, I used mirrors to expand the fixed viewpoint of the photo booth’s camera. At the start of his filmmaking career then, Amable “Tikoy” Aguiluz appeared in the images with me.

The Foto-Me, Foto You sub-series was a pun to show that the photo booth could also photograph itself.

In another sub-series, I would shift the mirror to reflect the scene outside the photo booth. A crowd had gathered, attracted by my antics and curious about the output. They were delighted and surprised at the kind of images I was producing.

Unfortunately, I have misplaced some images from this project. I remember one sub-series, which utilised two mirrors: one positioned inside the booth to reflect what’s outside the booth; the other positioned outside to show the reflection of the photo booth. In effect, the photo booth created a “self-portrait”.

Bio 

Nap Jamir II (b. 1952, Manila) is a Filipino photographer, cinematographer and director. As a photographer, he has had several group and solo exhibitions at Shop 6, Cultural Center of the Philippines and Luz Gallery, amongst others. In 1974, he was given the prestigious Thirteen Artists Award.

Presently, apart from shooting or directing film and TV work, Nap Jamir II lectures at the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute, the UP College of Fine Arts and the Asia Pacific Film Institute. He is a board member of the Filipino Society of Cinematographers. 

An SMS From Mom (2014-15)

Nguyễn Uyên Minh (Saigon)

“I’ve lived in misery and become so indifferent towards my present life. Watching you grow up has given me enough strength to get over my past sufferings. Your younger brother still needs a well-rounded upbringing before I can leave. Nevertheless, I’m not sure if destiny is with me on this last journey.

“Before being sent to eternity, I wish to witness your lives attain stability, to see all of you starting your own families in peace and happiness. I wish that especially for you, my beloved daughter. If I lie down tomorrow, I’d like to ask for your help, dear, to take care of your younger brother, not so different from how I took care of you when you were little. My life has not had a grain of happiness since your father came. However, your maturity and your camaraderie with your siblings are the greatest treasure of my life, knowing that my sacrifice has not gone to waste. From above, I would be fulfilled seeing your accomplishments.”

I took these photographs from the viewpoint of a daughter, observing my family and my life, perhaps as self-remedy. My mother’s body and that of mine are inextricably interwoven. This connection does not need further explanation.

Bio 

Nguyễn Uyên Minh is a photographer and collage artist based in Saigon. Since 2014, her work has been shown in several exhibitions across Vietnam. 

Untitled (2016) + Hijab/Her (2012)

Nurul Huda (Singapore)

Untitled (2016) highlights the ways in which the hijab is viewed when removed from the body, with the cloth as remnant. This calls to question the perceptions and stereotypes accorded onto the Muslim woman when she dons the hijab, a piece of cloth that when disembodied, is displaced from its social, cultural and political symbols.

Hijab/Her (2012) explores the relationships between the woman and her hijab. The hijab is a piece of cloth that covers her head, used as a way of concealing areas on her body, which should be covered from view. Based on stories by different women who don the hijab, this series presents the hijab as a site of discourse, articulated in relation to the society, the wearer’s body and her inner self.

Interview Excerpts

- I wear the hijab because it is part of my religion. And I wear it gladly. But sometimes, I miss having the wind in my hair. During my schooling years when I didn’t wear the hijab, it was nice having my hair fly all over the place.

- My husband is the very by-the-book kind of guy. He likes to make sure that there is food on the table when he comes home. And since I am a housewife, I have to do the cooking. Sometimes, I spend the whole day just cooking and cleaning, when most of the time, I would much rather read a book than cook.

- I’ve been called a terrorist before. It was a horrible feeling. I felt ashamed initially. But why should I feel ashamed? It wasn’t my fault. It was his. And this happened randomly at the bus stop.

- People like to ask me if I wear the hijab because of religion or fashion. I find that a bit offensive be- cause it means that if you are wearing it for religion, it should look a certain way—boring, plain, black. It doesn’t mean you can’t be fashionable and practise your religion at the same time. I can wear colours and still be a good Muslim.

Bio

Nurul Huda is an educator, writer and photographer. Lecturing in various subjects across Anthropology, Liberal and Visual Arts, she commutes across different classrooms with a love for facilitation and perfor- mance. She is also a researcher who focuses on the visual and sentient body, methodologies and feminism. This often intersects with notions of identity, expressed through both the Self and the Other. 

The Hall of Hyperdelic Youths (2009-10)

Samantha Tio (Singapore / Bali)

In this work, I’m interested in painting a portrait of gamers, extracting imageries from their psychological landscape and the landscapes of the games they play. The virtual world holds infinite possibilities for these gamers—its landscapes defy yet mimic the logic of space. Shot on long exposure, the camera records the gamer’s movement (or the lack of it) while playing the video game, using the computer screen as its light source. Text and visual cues form the memories of the gamers.

Bio

Samantha Tio (b. 1986, Singapore) is a visual artist who works between Singapore and Bali. In 2009, she graduated with a BFA in Photography from the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

As an artist, her work prioritises the process while maintaining a high level of craft in creating the images. Tio is director of the Ketemu Project Space in Bali, which facilitates socially conscious interactions with communities through art and creativity. Her works are collected by the NUS Museum Baba House, Singapore Art Museum and the Art in Embassies Program (American Embassy). 

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