Tropical: Stories from Southeast Asia and Latin America
Exhibition @ National Gallery Singapore
(This post also appears, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)
Fantastic multimedia exhibition with a comparative approach to decolonization in the twentieth century, with paintings, sculptures, movies, and installations that kept me spellbound for more than four and a half hours.
The paintings, to start with, aren’t hung on the walls. They are distributed across an open grid system—adapted from a 1970 design by Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi—built from recycled timber planks salvaged in the 1980s from Singapore’s Jurong Shipyard. That way, the observer moves through arrays of paintings in ways that preclude a rigid observer-object relationship; the paintings become accessible from different vantage points across shifting contextual arrangements.
Then, there are three fairly long movies all of which I watched in full. Basil Wright’s legendary documentary The Song of Ceylon from 1934; Harun Farocki’s 1975 documentary About “Song of Ceylon” by Basil Wright, with an analysis of the movie’s use of expressionist montage to communicate the island’s cultural and economic conditions; and Naeem Mohaiemen’s 2017 documentary Two Meetings and a Funeral, a three-channel installation about pivotal points in the Non-Alignment Movement, particularly the 1973 Non-Alignment Movement in Algiers, Algeria, and the 1974 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Lahore, Pakistan.
(As an aside: to illustrate a particular expressionist technique, Farocki’s documentary features shots from Eisenstein’s abandoned Mexico project, a scene where bright sunlight and deep shadows from tropical plants throw moving patterns across a Mexican woman’s face. I didn’t know these shots exist, and they are just incredible.)
The sculptures and installations, finally, are impressive too, some with sound, some with short films, some with physical interactive components.
The exhibition runs from November 18, 2023, through March 24, 2024. If you happen to be in Singapore early next year, this is something you don’t want to miss!
If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!