Playing With & For The Community
SCYA celebrates the nation’s birthday with a review on Seelan Palay’s 1st Solo Painting Exhibition.
by Cher Tan
I was not sure of what to expect while on the way to Seelan’s exhibition. The exhibition poster did not give much information, due to, I am sure, Seelan – prominent human rights activist du jour – being on the radar of the Thought Police in this Orwellian state. It was a very simply poster, really: the face of ISA detainee Vincent Cheng occupying almost three-quarters of it, the rest of the space taken up by information regarding the exhibition. Would this exhibition have some relation to Operation Spectrum (in which Vincent Cheng was arrested by the ISA and thought to be the mastermind of the Marxist plot)?
I am immediately greeted with the familiar voice of the late JB Jeyaretnam as I enter Seelan’s exhibition, tucked away in the second storey of a residential quarter in Hindoo Road, Little India. The voice of JBJ wafts through the speakers and fills up the room, acting as accompanying dialogue for a video (Walking Streets, Haunting Ghosts) that Seelan is presenting as part of the exhibition, and on the screen one sees image after image of the typical Singapore backdrop – people milling about minding their own business outside MRT stations and neighbourhood estates; places where (not incidentally, I imagine) JBJ used to stand hawking his books, complete with placard, which is also gleaned and exhibited as part of this piece. The title seems eerily apt in this respect: as one revisits these places, the familiarity is at once comfortable yet jarring, and you almost feel like JBJ is still alive, speaking in his usual conviction and fervency, but he is – very much still alive in the minds of those who are passionate about human rights as he.
The next thing in the exhibition that captures one’s attention is the huge stencil portrait in the middle of the room, the face of former ISA (Internal Security Act) detainee Vincent Cheng, his piercing eyes and peaceful façade seemingly keeping watch. On the table below it are a set of printed booklets with stark titles staring back at you, just like the portrait above. “The Ghosts of the Past Will Return to Haunt the Guilty” contains text extracted from the 1998 book by Dr. Chee Soon Juan, delving into the intricacies of the politically repressive system in Singapore. Seelan gives me a booklet and asks me to turn to page 28, where there is a particularly graphic detail of how an ISA interrogator made Peng confess to being a communist through forceful means, including the use of violence, threat and derogation, which I had not known about prior to this, having not read the book the text was extracted from.
The rest of the exhibition is made up of 2 series of collages (Little Revelations and New Collage Work), and a series of drawings (Pink Red Hot Drawings). Every single piece from each series is especially interesting, as not only do they act as a mouthpiece for Seelan’s personal beliefs, they also serve as political commentary for these ideologically turbulent times.
The ghost imagery is a recurring theme in Seelan’s exhibition, as much as the simulacrum which permeates most of it, which as late modern social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. And although that is much argued as a negative construct, in Seelan’s exhibition it is not; one can sense the immediacy of what Seelan is trying to portray, the outrageous atrocities that one is submerged in living in this society.
The gallery is located at 91A Hindoo Road (the Jalan Besar end), Little India, Singapore. It is close to Mustafa Centre, along Jalan Besar Road, and is closest to Farrer Park MRT. To arrange for an appointment to visit this exhibition, contact Seelan Palay at email@example.com or visit his blog at http://seelanpalay.blogspot.com.
The exhibition runs from 25 July to 17 August.