The National Arts Council, Singapore (NAC) announces the appointment of Singapore multidisciplinary artist, Zai Kuning, is the artist selected to represent Singapore at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Their proposal, Dapunta Hyang, is a culmination of over 20 years of Zai’s research on Malay culture and history in Southeast Asia as part of a broader inquiry on identity. This investigation had led to the artist spending more than a decade with and creating work on the Orang Laut (sea gypsies)—the pre-nation and pre-colonial inhabitants of both island and sea in the region.
The exhibition for the Biennale extends a recent series that takes as its vantage point Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, the first Maharaja of the early kingdom of Śrīvijaya. Considered the first large state of “world economic stature” of its time in Southeast Asia, the Śrīvijaya empire stood at the crossroads of the maritime route between China and India. The success and influence of the empire is captured within Zai’s work in a symbol of voyage central to the exhibition.
Dapunta Hyang also points to the history of the Malay language and the establishment of Old Malay as the region’s lingua franca. The transmission and spread of the Malay language is a subject that has also surfaced in Zai’s work on the Orang Laut and his documentation of the Mak Yong opera in Riau as a crucial part of the region’s cultural history. Where artefact may not survive the passage of time, in language we find traces of cultural development and transmission, in this instance, evincing regional and Austronesian connections.
- Zai Kuning, Venice International Performance Art Week 2014
- National Art Council appoints artist Zai Kuning (left) and curator June Yap to represent Singapore at the 57th Venice Biennale