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Singapore artist Zai Kuning’s 17m-long “ship” is at last back from Venice Biennale

The artwork will be on exhibit at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, in the TheatreWorks space.

The 17m-long skeletal ship built by artist Zai Kuning for Singapore’s pavilion in the Venice Biennale last year has made its way home.

Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge will be on display at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, the space occupied by arts group TheatreWorks, until May 13.

Said Zai, 54, at the opening on Thursday (April 12): “Every day that passed in Venice felt like I was bleeding, to know the work would not come back.”

“Many people complained to me, ‘Zai, you have a big show in Venice but I cannot afford to go see it.’

“I think it is very important for my people to be able to see it.”

Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth parliamentary secretary Baey Yam Keng said the work “encourages us to think more deeply about the long-standing historical and cultural connections in South-east Asia”.

“I am very happy to see Zai’s work back on home ground and I hope more Singaporeans will come and experience this powerful and breathtaking work together.”

The work, which is named after the first Malay king of the 7th-century Srivijayan empire, is based on Zai’s nearly two decades of research into the history of the Riau Archipelago and its sea people, the orang laut.

Its centrepiece is a 17m-long, 4m-high rattan ship suspended in mid-air, flanked by hundreds of books sealed in beeswax, representing untold and forgotten history.

The exhibition also includes Chronicles Of Amnesia, a filmic work in progress about the orang laut, the performers of the ancient Malay art form known as Mak Yong opera, and the lost world of the Malay kingdom.

Zai had first embarked upon researching the Riau archipelago’s pre-colonial history during a TheatreWorks residency in 2001. This will be the work’s seventh iteration.

TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong, who was at the opening of the Singapore Pavilion at last year’s Biennale, approached him to bring the work back to Singapore.

The exhibition is supported by the National Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

There will be weekly guided tours, live performances by Zai and collaborating musician Mike Cooper, talks by archaeologist John N. Miksic and art historian T.K. Sabapathy, as well as the screening of a new film about Zai’s research.

Guests at the opening said they were glad for the opportunity to view the work in person.

Engineer Vincent Ong, 45, who was there with his six-year-old son Jon, said: “I didn’t expect it to be so big. It’s good to have the chance to expose kids to art.”

Mr Kuik Swee Boon, 45, artistic director of T.H.E. Dance Company, said: “It is a beautiful work. It is very meaningful that they brought it back and that it is free to the public.”

Mr Baey also announced at the opening that the next edition of Singapore Art Week would run from Jan 19 to 27.

This year’s edition, he said, drew a record number of half a million visitors to its key events, a threefold increase from last year.

 

VIEW IT/ DAPUNTA HYANG: TRANSMISSION OF KNOWLEDGE

WHERE: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Clarke Quay

WHEN: Until May 13, Tuesdays to Sundays, noon to 7pm. Closed on Mondays. Opening hours extended to 10pm on April 19 and 26 and May 4 and 5

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: dapuntahyang2018.wordpress.com

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.

Photo: SPH / ST