Skeletal ship back home from Venice

Artist Zai Kuning (left) discussing the artwork, Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge, with Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng, at the opening of the exhibition in Mohamed Sultan Road yesterday. The 17m-long skeletal ship was built for Singapo
Artist Zai Kuning (left) discussing the artwork, Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge, with Parliamentary Secretary Baey Yam Keng, at the opening of the exhibition in Mohamed Sultan Road yesterday. The 17m-long skeletal ship was built for Singapore's pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The 17m-long skeletal ship built by artist Zai Kuning for Singapore's pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year has made its way home.

Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge will be presented by arts group TheatreWorks at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road until May 13.

Said Zai, 54, at the opening yesterday: "I think it is very important for my people to be able to see it."

Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth, said the work "encourages us to think more deeply about the longstanding historical and cultural connections in South-east Asia".

"I am very happy to see Zai's work back on home ground and I hope more Singaporeans will come and experience this powerful and breathtaking work together," he added.

The work, named after the first Malay king of the 7th-century Srivijayan Empire, is based on Zai's nearly two decades of research into the history of the Riau Archipelago and its sea people, the orang laut.

Its centrepiece is a 17m-long, 4m-high rattan ship suspended in mid-air, flanked by hundreds of books sealed in beeswax, representing untold and forgotten history.

The exhibition also includes Chronicles Of Amnesia, a filmic work in progress about the orang laut, the performers of the ancient Malay art form known as Mak Yong opera, and the lost world of the Malay kingdom.

Zai first embarked on his research during a TheatreWorks residency in 2001. This will be the work's seventh iteration.

TheatreWorks managing director Tay Tong, who was at the opening of the Singapore pavilion at last year's Biennale, approached him to bring the work back to Singapore.

Visitor Wong Hui Yu, 24, who works with people with special needs, said: "I marvel at the workmanship, how the techniques of traditional craftsmanship were used in transplanting it from one setting to another."

The exhibition is supported by the National Arts Council and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Admission is free.

At the opening, Mr Baey also announced that next year's Singapore Art Week would be from Jan 19 to 27. He said this year's edition, which ran from Jan 17 to 28, drew a record number of half a million visitors to its key events, a threefold increase from last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2018, with the headline 'Skeletal ship back home from Venice'. Print Edition | Subscribe