The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver is an installation which assembles together for the Diaspora Pavilion in Venice, two video works from an ongoing project designed to establish a presence for Halimah-The-Empire-Exhibition-Weaver-Who-Died-Whilst-Demonstrating-Her-Craft. Halimah Binti Abdullah lived and performed in the Malayan Pavilion during the Empire Exhibition (Wembley, 1924) until her untimely demise and removal to her final resting place in an unmarked grave in Woking, UK. For this project, Tan employs a variety of positioned voices and media to foster a spectral return of this minor historical figure.
The first video work, APA JIKA, The Mis-Placed Comma is a work in 3 parts commissioned by The National Gallery Singapore and filmed within its exhibitions spaces during the final stages of its transition from colonial period law courts to National Gallery. The video brings together a displaced, deconstructed and orphaned loom, a performer of ‘Malay’ dance, and a group of young Chinese female amateur debaters who deliberate on the legacy of Empire, the provenance of exhibition histories, notions of representation, indigeneity, the position of craft in relation to modernism, and the validity of archival returns. The work calls into question the place of the artist and that of grand exhibitions and uses the form of ‘debate’ to instigate a discussion around Halimah’s relevance in the postcolonial reframing of modernism. The work is supported by a structure which echoes that of an expanded loom, place of projection, or physical encasing (or trap). A second video work, Balik Kampong – a return by proxy, appears as separate interludes between the main video, acting like supplementary threads. Here a different approach to voicing Halimah takes place through a dialogue between both ‘artists’. Historical returns are seen as complex in their desires and methodologies, faulty and faltering, weaving together both past and present to challenge received narratives and produce space for discussion.
The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver installation is supported by the National Arts Council Singapore, The Arts Council England and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts. Design support for the structure: Harry Smithson. Strapping support: Chiara Bagtas.