Updated on 19th May 2017: “At the opening of the Singapore Pavilion in the Venice Biennale last week, …… Zai said he was channelling a spirit of Dapunta Hyang, the 7th century ruler of South-east Asia, to partake in the blessing ceremony.” More about Zai Kuning’s work at the ongoing Venice Biennale, read it here.
Updated on 12th May 2017: Read the latest write-up about Zai Kuning’s 17 metre-long ghost ship now ready to set sail anytime from an old shipyard complex known as Arsenale, in Venice. Article by Helmi Yusof, published in Business Times.
Updated on 19th April 2017: Recalling a forgotten kingdom in Venice Biennale: at the world’s biggest art showcase, Zai Kuning will evoke the 8th to 12th century Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya. Read the write-up here, by Helmi Yusof, published in Business Times.
Updated on 1 September 2016: Zai Kuning to represent Singapore at Venice Biennale 2017, it’s said to be “a culmination of over 20 years of Zai’s research on Malay culture and history in Southeast Asia”, read write-up by Art Radar here.
Original post dated 28 March 2015:
Singapore artist Zai Kuning has long been researching and learning about the Orang Laut (sea gypsies) in Indonesian seas and coastal areas that have inspired his creation of many artworks, from mark making to installations. His study led him to a wider knowledge of the sea community as well as the history of the pre-Islamic Malay world prior to the 13th century.
His recent participation in Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 adds to the list of exhibitions at where his marine series of works are showcased. Amazed by the story of ambitious Malay king Dapunta Hyang Jayanasa (Srivijaya empire, 7th-13th century) conquering numerous important straits within what is now known as Southeast Asia, the artist has imagined how a 7th-century ship was ‘a house of knowledge and a dungeon of death and torture’.
Entitled Dapunta Hyang (Transmission of Knowledge) and presented by Ota Fine Arts, Zai Kuning’s artwork at the Hong Kong show is a large-scale installation mainly made up of rattan (rattan cane) and old yellowish books completely sealed in wax, never to be opened and read again, perhaps referring to lost stories and histories of the long-gone? So how is knowledge going to be transmitted then?
It is an intricate and intriguing hull of a ship, “hovering” in the air, yet “weighed down” by rock-looking features hung to its bottom, with a pile of wax-wrapped old books on the ground just beneath the ship skeleton.
If you have missed the opportunity to view his installation in Hong Kong during mid-March, you may view a variation of the same title, at the Concourse level of Esplanade, 1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore 038981, from now till 19th April 2015. This piece is in collaboration with Mohamad Riduan.
Otherwise, you may also like to see a similarly-themed installation by Zai Kuning at Palais de Tokyo at 13, avenue du Président Wilson, 75 116 Paris, France, from now till 17th May 2015. At the same exhibition, Secret Archipelago, you can also discover contemporary artworks by other Southeast Asian artists, such as Ahmad Abu Bakar, Le Brothers, Tran Luong, Svay Sareth, Angie Seah, Lee Wen, and Anida Yoeu Ali.