Texts by Simon Soon

On the original cover of Claude Lévi-Strauss's
La Pensée Sauvage (1962) sits an image a flower. Though translated into English as 'The Savage Mind', this ordinary picture of an unassuming plant alludes to the other possible French meaning - 'Wild Pansies', a variety of flower that is thought to resemble a person's face so much it shares the same word for 'thought'. The pairing of a garden variety plant, which is normally subjected to horticultural breeding, with the idea of wilderness provides a striking contrast. It suggests that beneath the veneer of cultivation and domestication is the human mind as unfettered, an unbridled grassland of energy that is inclined towards transformation, change and ceaseless reinvention. It grows it all directions, sprouts from cracks, invades foreign grounds, find new ways to counter controlled patterns.

There are institutions threatened by such unrestrained diffusion, structures that seek to impose a semblance of uninterrupted order, which can be gleamed from the annals of Malaysia's young and modest modern history. The most obvious and relevant episode that comes to mind is OPERATION LALANG (1987). This was allegorised in Wong Hoy Cheong's performance/installation Lalang (1994), where the artist, donned gas mask and protective gear, performed the spraying of herbicides over a flower bed of lalang weeds (Imperata cylindrica) he had earlier planted in the front lawn of the Pusat Kreatif, at the old Balai Seni Lukis Negara (National Visual Arts Gallery). It was an ironic statement, a trenchant critique of the stifling space that shapes Malaysian society as well as the kind of creativity it purports to sustain and support but also keep things in check and smother, all laced with a morbid dose of pessimism.

But weeds never stay dead, do they? They bide their time.

Fast track a little to 2013, they have witnessed and at times strategically interfered in the decades long struggle against the consolidation of state power or imperium under a coalition government that has governed Malaysia since her independence. Once again, they are taking flight, invading and creeping into the sacrosanct symbols and spaces that represent the ambitions, structures and strictures that make up our political landscape today. What began as a DRAWING EXERCISE conducted in one's own backyard, Sharon Chin's Weeds/Rumpai grafts itself onto the nation's political trellis when she found political party flags being put up across Port Dickson in anticipation for this year's General Elections. She has mused on this annoyance sometime ago on HER BLOG. We especially like that the impetus for this series was when political big guns encroached upon her little seaside turf by festooning their party flags across the Port Dickson township outside of campaign season. This ticked her off immensely.

As a consequence, the personal space becomes a possible space for politics. This series seem to consider weeds, not as that unwanted interference, but as an untameable persistent force, a timely metaphor of creative transformation, the personal struggles to make meaning and political space in our urban jungle and the ability to move beyond the narrow limits of partisanship by waving the flags of the many diverse aspirations that make up the complexity of a people. As Sharon has put it, the weeds 'have time on their side'. They survive against the tide of unfavourable histories by dint of their cunning, patience, perseverance. And when we get right down to it, aren't we all weeds?

Come 10 March 2013, Sharon Chin's series of WEEDS/RUMPAI painted on political party flags will be exhibited at MERDEKARYA.

Weeds/Rumpai celebrates ordinary people and their daily lives. The exhibition is especially timely, given the current political events and discourse dominating all aspects of Malaysian life.

This one night art show will include DJ Set and open mic night organised by singer-songwriter Jerome Kugan. Those who come are also able to assemble your own zine made-up of garden flora and fauna hand-drawn by Sharon and take it home as a memento.