photo: KIOKU Keizo

From the series “Brutality of Fact”

ArtistZai Kuning
Material/ Techniquepencil, Chinese ink, oil, wax on paper
Size/ DurationH29×W20cm, H29×W20.2cm, H29×W23cm, set of 3
Copyright Notice© Zai Kuning
Year of acquisition/ donation2017
DescriptionBorn in Singapore in 1964. Lives and works there.

After graduating in 1989 from LASALLE College of the Arts with a major in ceramic sculpture, Kuning’s interest in the human body led him to begin creating artworks on the theme of the “tortured body.” He is one of Singapore’s leading artists, known for producing work in an array of modern and contemporary art fields including installation, performance, painting, music, video, film and dance. Since around 2007, in addition to exploring the possibilities of experimental performance as a musician in all forms of music from classical ghazal music, traditional Melayu Asli music, punk and sound art to experimental noise, he has also been producing artworks that deal with social concerns in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

Influenced by his own experiences of wandering from place to place as a child, Zai Kuning has a keen interest in the history and lifestyles of the “sea gypsies” who live semi-nomadically on the ocean. Singapore, where Zai was born, is known today as a highly urbanized country, but its territory is made up of over 60 islands, various languages are spoken there including Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, Cantonese and English, and it maintains a high level of cultural diversity as a place where different ethnic groups intermingle. However, history that is neglected during modernization tends to fade from people’s memories without leaving a mark on the fabric of the country, or anywhere else. “Brutality of Fact” focuses on just such a forgotten history of an ethnic group, reminding us that while the ocean is plentiful, it does not necessarily lead to a place where one can escape from the maelstrom of fate. Here, Kuning references the history of the Orang Laut, the “sea gypsies” who inhabit the waters around Singapore, northwestern Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, but the result is comparable to an investigation into his own origins. It is as if by covering the surfaces with beeswax he is sealing the passage of time to ensure that no more history is lost.