Singapore history docks at Venice Biennale

The Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, featuring a 17m-long ship made of rattan, string and wax, was launched by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu yesterday.

The work by multidisciplinary Singapore artist Zai Kuning, 53, is the culmination of almost two decades of research into the pre-colonial history of the Riau Archipelago.

Titled Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge, it references the first Malay king of Srivijaya, Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, and reimagines his voyage through his vast empire, which included Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

This is the eighth time Singapore is taking part in the Venice Biennale, a prestigious global contemporary art exhibition, which runs from Saturday to Nov 26.

The Singapore Pavilion is located within the Arsenale, a key site of the biennale.

Speaking at the launch, Ms Fu thanked Zai and his team for "helping to bring ancient Malay cultural history to life through this stellar piece of work".

She added that the Venice Biennale is an "important platform for our visual artists and their technical specialists to present their work to the global audience".

 Transmission Of Knowledge, and reimagines the voyage of Dapunta Hyang Sri Ja
Singapore’s early history reimagined at Venice Biennale: A 17m ship made of rattan, string and wax is the main item at the Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. The work by artist Zai Kuning, 53, is titled Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge, and reimagines the voyage of Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, the first ruler of the maritime Srivijaya empire in the late 7th century, through his lands that included Singapore. ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

Ms Fu also spoke of the strides Singapore has made towards arts excellence, mentioning the upgrading of the Singapore Art Museum to "meet new demands" and platforms such as the Singapore Biennale which create opportunities for experimentation and meaningful exchange.

"As a young, vibrant nation with a rich multicultural heritage. I am confident that our artists will continue to practise and innovate, to take our arts scene to new heights," she said.

Ms Fu is in Venice till today and will meet other Singapore artists participating in shows in the Italian city.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore history docks at Venice Biennale'. Print Edition | Subscribe