Exhibition returns from 2017 Venice Biennale


Artist Zai Kuning represents Singapore at the 57th Venice Biennale.


SINGAPORE 1 March 2018 – The exhibition Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge by multi-disciplinary artist Zai Kuning, commissioned for the Singapore Pavilion for the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017, will be presented by TheatreWorks from 12 April to 13 May 2018.  This exhibition is supported by the National Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.


The work, which represented Singapore at last year’s Venice Biennale, is a culmination of Zai Kuning’s ongoing body of work that investigates Malay history and culture, through the lesser-known narratives of the orang laut (sea people), mak yong (ancient Malay opera) and its ancient maritime Kingdom. The various presentations of the work over the years – from Singapore, Hong Kong (2015), Paris (2015), and Venice (2017) – have successfully profiled Malay cultural history and Singapore’s relationship to the larger Riau Archipelago on the global stage. In particular, over 165,000 visitors worldwide experienced the exhibition during its successful showing at the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale from 13 May to 26 November 2017.


“Haunting, mysterious, full of magic and beauty”, as described by commentator Karim Raslan in the South China Morning Post, is Zai’s re-imagined vessel of the Srivijayan Empire – an artistic re-imagination of the voyage of Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, believed to be the first ruler of the Malay Kingdom in the 7th Century. 


For the homecoming of this highly-acclaimed work at 72-13, Singapore audiences will experience a multi-disciplinary exhibition tracing the 17-year journey that Zai Kuning has taken since he first set off in search of the orang laut during a residency at TheatreWorks   (Singapore) in 2001.


The upcoming exhibition will be accompanied by public programmes such as 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 that captures Zai’s extraordinary sojourn in search of our regional history. The programmes also offer an opportunity for Singaporeans and visitors to be fully immersed in the work, and for audiences to better understand the multi-faceted issues of identity, culture, and history in Southeast Asia that the work explores.


Tay Tong, managing director of TheatreWorks, shares, “The presentation of Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge by TheatreWorks / 72-13 is a culmination of a journey we started with Zai Kuning in 2001. TheatreWorks offered Zai a residency that supported his research on the orang laut, and there were no expectations of any specific outcomes for that residency.  What we knew then was that we were supporting a passionate artist with a dream, and TheatreWorks believed that this dream would ultimately be realised.”


Mr Tay added, “Over the years, we see a deepening of Zai’s vision and through the various strands of his art works and performances, Zai shared his dream. He uncovered a myriad and complex   cultural map of the Riau Archipelago, which very much influenced the cultures and history of what is today recognised as present day Southeast Asia. The process of research and    discovery is very much a part of TheatreWorks’ artistic journey through the years, and   something we passionately share with Zai.”


Commenting on the exhibition’s return to Singapore, Zai Kuning said, “I was very happy when Tay Tong, managing director of TheatreWorks, came to the opening of the Singapore Pavilion at Venice Biennale. He was the first to persuade me to bring the work back to Singapore. Art historian, Mr. T.K Sabapathy, pointed out that my work is one of the first instances in the visual arts world to bring out such an old history of this region for discussion. I am happy that many Singaporeans will now have an opportunity to see and gain from it. Now with some pressure and pleasure, we will install the ship again and have audiences in this region see the work and talk about our collective history. I sincerely hope that we take a more serious attitude to our knowledge of the past, so that we are better informed in our understanding of the present. Thus the title of the work, Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge.


Paul Tan, Deputy Chief Executive, National Arts Council, says, “Dapunta Hyang, a work nearly two decades in the making, has unfolded the rich and largely-untold histories of Singapore and Southeast Asia among international audiences. Now that Zai’s journey has come full circle and returned home to where it all started at TheatreWorks, we encourage Singaporeans to visit the exhibition – one that is critical to our understanding of the region we are in, even while inviting reflections on the complexity of our cultural identity.”


Interested parties can join the conversation via Facebook and Instagram @NACSingapore, @Theatreworks Singapore, @theatreworkssg, and hashtags #dapuntahyang #NACSingapore #theatreworkssg. More information can also be found on the website here: https://dapuntahyang2018.wordpress.com/.


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