Mar 19 2019

Sharjah Biennial 14: March Meeting, Day 2

by HG Masters

KIDLAT TAHIMIK performing a solo skit in which he pretends to be a young filmmaker returning to his village to document rural life, at March Meeting, 2019. Photos by HG Masters for ArtAsiaPacifc

After two days of performances and screenings around Sharjah and the Omani Gulf town of Kalba, the 2019 edition of March Meeting continued on March 10 in the auditorium of the Sharjah Institute of Theatrical Arts. Writer and critic Lee Weng Choy, the co-convener of the day’s programming with Sharjah Biennial 14 (SB14) co-curator Zoe Butt, likened the day’s agenda to an album of songs, with its “components coming from very diverse backgrounds . . . organized around emotional or intuitive purposes.” The conversations and performances would follow what he described as Butt’s efforts in her exhibition platform “Journey Beyond the Arrow” to portray “art as life practice, a process of making and weaving, a historical unfolding with no end.” He shared two anecdotes—one about our relative temporal proximity to dinosaurs, the other about the standardization of time during the expansion of railroads—to illustrate how “the mapping of time constructs mobility, and how a commitment to time can never be quite finished.” 

After Lee’s introduction, the lights dimmed and a film began to play on the auditorium’s screen. In the movie, a man named Enrique, a slave of 16th-century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, has returned to his village, and hunts with a yo-yo, a weapon supposedly used by Filipino warriors. Then, a voice came from the back of the auditorium. Wearing a university-style gown and cap over his braided gray hair, 76-year-old filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik processed into the auditorium, mimicking the sound of a trumpet. Once on stage, he pretended to receive a diploma before enacting a scene about a filmmaker returning to his village to make films about life there. 

Following his one-man skit, Tahimik was joined by Butt who asked him to elaborate on two of his philosophical concepts. Butt described the first, kapwa, as an influential part of her process of de-learning her own academic training, while Tahimik explained kapwa as a cultural value of people in the Philippines that manifests as a projection of the self toward others in whatever one does, “a communal worldview, [and] a shared compassion.” It is an ethos evident in Tahimik’s films, such as Balikbayan #1: Memories of Overdevelopment Redux (1980– )—the full version of which was screened later that night in the outdoor Mirage City Cinema at al-Mureijah Square—where community begins with family and radiates outward. The second of Tahimik’s concepts is bathala na!, which the filmmaker outlined as an “orientation of doing the best we can; the final outcome we leave to the cosmos.” He told a story about a friend from the indigenous Ifugao people, among whom he has lived for decades, who described their community as a “indigenius,” which Tahimik likened to a “cosmological typographic error.” For Tahimik, his friend’s relationship with the world illustrates how the echo chamber dominating the world today is “the cocoon of industrialized dreams.” 

LISA REIHANA during a “relay” of short presentations, with a moving image from her project Pursuit of Venus [Infected] (2017). 

Next, Tunisian poet Anis Chouchene kicked off a “relay” comprising three short solo presentations, titled “On relation—beyond fixed gender,” with a reflection on women’s position in society. Lisa Reihana spoke about her newly commissioned 3D film Nomads of the Sea (2019), which looks at the relationship between technology and indigeneity through the story of Charlotte Badger, the first white woman to live with Māori. Reihana linked that project back to her earlier work in the Pacific Sisters collective, whose members tried to re-create a traditional way of sharing knowledge about food and child-rearing, and who, as “fashion activists,” used the catwalk as a place to display “Pacific bodies of all shapes and sizes.” The third link in the relay was Soweto-born musician and artist Neo Muyanga, who played a song by Miriam Makeba using the four-part harmonic language that became a signature of the anti-Apartheid freedom movement. Muyanga also spoke about his interest in how “the choir in townships [during Apartheid-era South Africa] was a technology for knowing.” 

The afternoon session began with Shubigi Rao, who delivered a polemic against the digitization of books, as well as the concomitant destruction of printed matter and the libraries that house them. Then, Lee hosted a conversation with two artists from SB14, Khadim Ali and Meiro Koizumi, titled “On militancy, truth and shifting normalizing violence.” Ali spoke about how the violence in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan has re-ordered the geography of cities like Quetta, where violent incidents become landmarks and the imagery of guns and weapons are commonly used in the education of children. Koizumi discussed his three-channel film work The Angels of Testimony (2019), shown in SB14, which includes an interview with a Japanese soldier who committed horrific war-crimes during the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937–45), and scenes of young people memorizing and performing his testimonies as a way of trying to accept societal responsibility. This was followed by a performance with Fazil Mousavi intoning excerpts from the Persian epic poem the Shahnameh (c. 971–1030 CE)—which Ali said is used by the Taliban to valorize their violent acts—along with a bleak contemporary narrative of destruction. 

SERIGNE OUSMANE MBACKE NOREYNI SECK performing a song about the Vietnamese-Senegalese community. 


Ideas of both indigeneity and cross-cultural influences were at the heart of artist and writer Léuli Eshrāghi’s presentation, where he lamented the vanishing or disruption of traditional cultures, while also describing some of his efforts to cultivate “queer indigenous ways of making” that draw on his mixed Samoan and Iranian lineages. Further elucidating these themes was a conversation between artists Ho Tzu Nyen and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, moderated by Lee. Ho talked about his project “The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia” (2012– ), in which he attempts to make sense of a region that has no obvious religious, linguistic or political cohesion, but was forced together by empires and consolidated in 1943 with the “Southeast Asia Command” by the Allied Forces. In his VR video from the series, R for Resonance (2019), Ho goes through the letters of the Latin alphabet, highlighting terms that link aspects of the region’s cultures, from gongs and bronze-cast musical instruments to mandalas. Nguyen’s presentation was related to his film installation The Specter of Ancestors Becoming (2019), which uncovers the stories of the Vietnamese-Senegalese descendants of colonial soldiers (tirailleur) who had been deployed to Indochina. The film itself contains fictional dialogues based on real events, such as between 62-year-old Macadou Ndiaye, who only realized in his twenties that his mother was in fact Vietnamese, and his father. Nguyen described the project as a collaborative work. He explains that three of the scenes were written by members of the Vietnamese-Senegalese community. “It’s not about re-enactment, not about history,” he said. “For me, it’s really about the creation of memory, and the agency that lies within that.” Lee confessed he had a personal revelation during the presentation—his grandfather, whose name he had never learned, had been a tirailleur and his grandmother who died before he was born had been metis. The session ended with a musician featured in the film, Serigne Ousmane Mbacke Noreyni Seck, singing a song from the work. The day’s program was concise and at times moving in its personal revelations, revolutions, and resonances. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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