Coinciding with their six-year anniversary, Museum MACAN presents their largest exhibition of living artists to date: ‘Voice Against Reason’. Through an intriguing blend of traditional and contemporary mediums, 24 artists across the Asia-Pacific come together to offer their own interpretations of the question: “What does it mean to speak out?”
For the artists, it’s a chance to self-reflect and articulate the turmoils of memory and collective experiences; for the audience, it presents centuries of history through striking visuals and gripping stories. Amidst an uncertain world, Voice Against Reason arrives with uncannily perfect timing. “We can understand each other through the works of the artists,” shared Museum Director Aaron Seeto, who was also part of the exhibition’s curatorial team.
Upon entering, visitors are immediately graced by ‘Migrations of Flora and Fauna’ (2023) by Indonesian artist Jumaadi, a piece commissioned by MACAN for this particular exhibition. The vast painting is dotted with miscellaneous illustrations in dusty hues: villagers in manual labour, cut-down trees, animal heads, and lonesome houses that all map out something more akin to a diaspora than a civilisation. The artist describes this work as a manifestation of “what we feel during Covid”, insisting that “loneliness is not singular, it is collective.” Hence, albeit existing in a shared space, the painting’s motifs never overlap—evoking how we’ve grown “more conscious of space” since the pandemic.
The canvas used, known as Kamasan, must be dipped in rice paste prior to painting over it. The cloth was typically used in religious ceremonies by the people of the Majapahit Kingdom who fled to Bali centuries ago due to political unrest—a culture to which the artist’s ancestral roots can be traced back to. Adopting such a historically rich medium is only fitting to base the product of Jumaadi’s solitude during the lockdown, an isolation that echoes that of his displaced ancestors many generations ago.
Jumaadi also refuses to limit himself to a single medium, venturing out to reimagine the ancient craft of Indonesian shadow puppetry, Wayang. Running exclusively throughout the exhibition’s opening week, Jumaadi, along with artist and musician collective The Shadow Factory, presents ‘Sirkus di Tanah Pengasingan: Oyong-oyong Ayang-ayang (Shadows from the Land of Exiles)’ (2023). Hundreds of intricate paper cut-outs narrate the riveting story of Indonesian captives during Dutch colonial occupation. Exiled to Papua, they found solace in art and music—melting down weapons, cans, utensils, or any metal they could get their hands on, and turning them into DIY gamelan.
Artist Khadim Ali, who grew up in Pakistan, stuns with his exquisite handmade embroideries. With sombre stories woven into each thread, ‘Fragments of Identity’ (2023) is a tapestry depicting scenes from the Shahnama, a Persian epic poem that Ali’s grandfather would recite to him as a child. Bold royal blues and burnt siennas denote the poem’s mythical landscapes that come from the artist’s distant past back to his home in Quetta, a city near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where he was forced to flee after his home was destroyed in a suicide bombing.
Together with fellow Hazara artisan weavers, Ali creates what he calls ‘living entities’, tapestries made alive by an accumulation of memories passed down through poetry and immortalised by art—just like the rugs his grandmother bestowed upon his mother, salvaged from his razed house; survivors amongst the surrounding rubble.
Meanwhile, Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn from Vietnam engages in historical memory and explores it as a form of empowerment, as showcased through his Calderesque mobile sculptures ‘Saturated Sparks’ (2023) and ‘A Couple Small Blasts’ (2023). Constructed from remnants of unexploded ordnance from the Vietnam War that he collected himself, Nguyễn has tuned the metal elements specifically to the 432Hz scale so that when struck, it will produce a sound containing frequency believed to have a therapeutic and healing effect on past traumas.
Voice Against Reason reminds us that people’s experiences do not exist in a vacuum; rather, they are woven into the fabric of humanity through threads of history and emotion. Having empathised with the artists through their creations, one can deduce that speaking up and going against the grain is in fact an act for the sake of others. One’s voice is resonant of the collective pain, fear and joy that reverberate through generations.
‘Voice Against Reason’ at Museum MACAN is running from 18 November 2023 to 14 April 2024. For more information, go to: https://www.museummacan.org/