Zai Kuning’s ‘Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge’ is finally in Singapore
Sail to the past
Singapore multi-disciplinary artist, Zai Kuning, is showcasing his exhibition of Malay culture and history through the eyes of the orang laut and mak yong under the Srivijayan rule
Zai Kuning's work, 'Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge', has finally landed on our shores. Presented at the 57th Venice Biennale last year for the Singapore Pavillion, it was also featured in Hong Kong and Paris prior to its homecoming.
After over 165,000 people have witnessed his work in Venice, ‘Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge’ is presented by TheatreWorks and supported by the National Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. 17 years in the making since his residency at TheatreWorks, he has travelled to places like Bintan Island, Mantang Island in the Riau Archipelago and the Phatthalung province in Bangkok to gain a stronger insight on the orang laut — the sea people from the Riau Archipelago and known to be the first ones to step foot into Singapore — and mak yong, a Southeast Asian spiritual well-being dance/drama on Malay folklore from the Srivijayan Empire.
Zai also experienced the landscapes and influence of Dapunta Hyang, the earliest documented Srivijayan king, who, with 20,000 soldiers, performed a 'sacred journey' known as a Siddhayatra in the 7th century. It is this same voyage that gave a bigger rise to Buddhism and allowed him to establish his kingdom in Southeast Asian countries. "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," said managing director of TheatreWorks, Tay Tong. "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."
This exhibition introduces four components. The first is The Ship, made out of rattan, waxed sting, books and stone, standing at 17m long and 4m high. Other versions of it were featured from 2014 to 2016, with the one at the Venice Biennale being the fifth and largest. Suspended on trusses, this ship served the king during his voyages around Southeast Asia and allowed his empire to become a prime trading port till the 13th century.
The second component allows visitors to take a look at the 24 photographs of performers of mak yong, taken by Thai photographer Wichai Juntavaro. The third component displays a hand-drawn map of Dapunta Hyang's route during his Siddhayatra. Voice recordings and ambient sounds from a mak yong master make up the final component of the exhibition, which explains how this art form came to be. Other than viewing Zai's works, there will be guided tours, a live performance by artist and British musician Mike Cooper, talks helmed by archaeologist John N. Miksic and art historian T.K. Sabapathy. You can also catch a screening of Zai's new film about his research process.