Imaginary Homeland: 我是不是該安靜地走開 by Boedi Widjaja, drawn negatives of photographs that can be viewed as positive images

I was initially attracted to the exhibition by the interesting techniques used by the artist, Boedi Widjaja. Upon understanding his use of the project to tell his personal life experiences (or the experiences that he had missed?), and perhaps also to seek solace and meaning through the process of making the works, I began to feel the emotional and humane side of the exhibition.

“The process started with the artist drawing negative images of press photographs of Indonesian politics in pre-Soeharto (1945-1968) and post-Soeharto (1998-present) periods. The drawings are then photographed into positive prints.

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Shifting between the modality of drawing and photography, the artist reflects viscerally upon the imagery of his personal history, seeking agency.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to use their mobile devices, with invert colour setting switched on, to view the positive images of the drawings.” – exhibition introduction, Imaginary Homeland: 我是不是該安靜地走開

Switch on the invert colour or negative colours setting on your phone and use your phone camera to view the positive image (i.e. the "normal" photo that we usually see) of this negative. Know who is this in the image?

Switch on the invert colour or negative colours setting on your phone and use your phone camera to view the positive image (i.e. the “normal” photo that we usually see) of this negative. Know who is this in the image?

Widjaja was born in 1975 in Solo City, Indonesia. With his sister, he was sent away to Singapore when he was nine years old due to ethnic tensions in his homeland. Hence, his historicisation of his “former country” was mostly through images and the imagined.

What is interesting is that, the artist started drawing negatives skipping the Soeharto period, with which the first nine years of his life (1975-1984) spent in Indonesia coincided. Is it because he has more vivid memories of that period (albeit being a child) as he was physically there to experience it, so there is no need to rely on too many press images and too much imagination?

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Are drawing the negatives of photographs (‘reverse mode’), and switching between photographic negatives and the positive images (i.e. developed into photographs that we are used to seeing) some kind of yearning that, one can return to a previous condition in a previous setting/place?

I feel a lot of mixed feelings and intertwined emotions in there. I am sharing below photos of the wall texts at the exhibition, please do read all of them so as to piece the exhibition together.

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Maybe your heart will wrench a little, especially if you particularly relate to Widjaja’s narratives. It may not be about the politics or the identity from a homeland, but about certain things that happened during childhood and how these things still take up a lot of space in our heart and mind through adulthood.

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Upon almost to the extent of examining another component of the exhibition – an installation made up of 28 peci (a type of men’s headgear that’s more commonly known as songkok in Singapore) modified into 28 pinhole cameras, I noticed what seemed to be brand labels were sewn on the inside of each peci, and the “brand name” was TANAH AIR, which also means ‘homeland’ in Bahasa Indonesia! I just cannot help wondering whether this was a poignant coincidence or somewhat intended.

An installation made up of 28 peci (a type of men's headgear that's more commonly known as songkok in Singapore) modified into 28 pinhole cameras

An installation made up of 28 peci (a type of men’s headgear that’s more commonly known as songkok in Singapore) modified into 28 pinhole cameras

Labels bearing the words TANAH AIR on the inside of each peci

Labels bearing the words TANAH AIR on the inside of each peci

And then there is the inclusion of a phrase in Chinese language in the title written in traditional Chinese characters. The phrase, which asks ‘should I walk away quietly?’, is also a song title of a ballad sung by Hong Kong pop star Aaron Kwok and released in 1991. If I were to place the profession of love and the dilemma crooned on one’s homeland, I think I can understand how it feels like.

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The exhibition, which was held at Objectifs from 13th to 24th January 2016, was part of Singapore Art Week 2016.

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