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Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Wearing History and Independence
Hasnul J Saidon (in collaboration with M. Hanif and Shamsul 
 Ikhmal Mansori)


The work was originally conceived by me as a part of a museum display of key characters in the history of Penang.  Under my capacity as the Director of the Muzium & Galeri Tuanku Fauziah (MGTF), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), I have outlined several key paradigmatic shifts in driving MGTF’s rejuvenation and transformative plan since 2005. The shifts were further complimented by an audience research through several outreach programs, survey and surveillance methods. The objectives are to profile its visitors, understand their visiting behaviors, motivations and needs, and develop a more engaging, meaningful and fulfilling visiting experience. These shifts were also applied to MGTF’s curatorial approach towards historical subjects.  Several key shifts were implemented including for examples: from static to dynamic, from passive to interactive/participative, from artist-centred to visitors/audience-centred, from exclusive to inclusive, from prescriptive to interpretive, from singular meaning to multiple meanings and many more. 
In regards to the history of Penang, three main characters were indentified, namely Tok Janatun (early settler), a British colonial officer and a Japanese soldier, each representing three different characters and phases in the narratives of Penang’s history. The narratives and characters were then interpreted and visualized through a ‘cosplay’ concept by M. Hanif.  Talents were hired to pose as the characters with outfits prepared by M.Hanif. Since cosplay normally relates to fictional and popular comic characters, both M. Hanif and I then came up with our own term– ‘art-we-ar ‘(can be pronounced as both ‘art we are’ and ‘art wear’). The idea is to propagate the notion of ‘wearing art’ instead of just looking at it. In wearing, one becomes an ‘embodiment’ of the arts or simply ‘being’ art.

Occasionally, especially during a scheduled visit or special event, few people (talents) were hired to play out the historical characters while moving around the MGTF’s premise.  The three historical characters were then accompanied by another fictional ‘alien’ character (red guard) to add a twist to the whole historical setting. These characters have been placed at the main entrance of MGTF, other than brought to several outreach locations for the past two years. Throughout this period, many visitors have worn and ‘embodied’ the characters in their own idiosyncratic ways. Many have also taken photographs of their ‘embodiment’, with some even posted the photographs on their fb sites. 
 Shamsul Ikhmal Mansori was then invited to recollect some of the best photographs and convert them into a video sequence. 

In the case of ‘Wearing Independence’, the idea is to allow the ‘Petronas Gallery’ visitors to ‘wear’, ‘embody’ or ‘be’ the historical characters themselves, instead of just reading about them.  


The deployment of a ‘art-we-ar’ allows visitors to ‘conceptualize’ their own notions of independence and historical narratives.  It is extremely important to note that this work can only conceptually work through audience-participation, that is by allowing visitors to wear the cloths and take photograph (minus the flash). In doing so, they will perhaps go through a process of self reading, interpretation, construction, or even ‘deconstruction’ of historical characters and narratives. Instead of passively subscribing to given history and independence, audience may participate in the constructing their own reading and interpretation of history and independence, in this case, of Penang and Malaysia.


This work was actualized through seven stages:
3.1   Research
3.2   Conceptualization
3.3   Visual interpretation by M. Hanif (making the outfits)
3.4   Installation at the main entrance of MGTF and several outreach locations
3.5   Audience participation (collecting visual data of audience’s responses)
3.6   Video editing by Shamsul Ikhmal
3.7   Installation at Petronas Gallery

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