Contemporary artist Sharon Chin recalls that she was in a state of shock when she heard the results of Malaysia’s historic 14th General Election (GE14) last May.
At first, she had no reaction to it: only blankness. A few days later, however, she was suddenly struck by a mysterious image in her head: a blank blue sky.
This image has inspired her next art project, which is to stitch together “soft monument” banners made of political party flags collected post-GE14, mostly from places near her home in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan.
“The solid colours and basic shapes are like building blocks for a new chapter. But they are sewn carefully from existing fabric, because the new is made from what came before. Politics can be very divisive, but we must all exist under the new sky. What we do under the new sky of Malaysia Baharu is all that matters,” says Chin, 38, about her new community-minded work.
To create her work In The Skin Of A Tiger: Monument To What We Want (Tugu Kita), Chin is calling out for 100 volunteers to help her with this project, which has been commissioned by the Singapore Biennale 2019.
Chin’s sewing event will take place at KL’s National Art Gallery on Aug 17 and 18. She is inviting members of the public to sew on 13 plain banners made from recycled flags she collected after recent elections.
At the Singapore Biennale 2019, which opens on Nov 22, these solid-coloured, geometric-shaped banners will be hung as a monument in National Gallery Singapore, symbolising the collective hope and effort that leads to change.
“I’ve been collecting flags post-election and making art with them since 2013,” reveals Chin.
“Partly, this work is a clean-up exercise. I’m trying to salvage all that fabric, otherwise it ends up in landfills, rivers and oceans. For awhile, I’ve been trying to make things out of what is already there. The reason is both artistic and ideological: I’m not looking to produce anything new, but to rearrange or transform what is there to reveal a kind of truth,” she elaborates.
The one hour participatory performance at National Art Gallery will take place in two sessions: Session 1 is 3pm-4pm on Aug 17, while Session 2 is on 3pm-5pm on Aug 18. Each session is limited to 50 people.
“Change isn’t the result of any one person, but long years of effort from untold number of people. I want this work to be a monument to the all unrecognised and unseen labour that is the foundation of our society. In this participatory performance, I’m inviting people to sew stitches with the same colour thread as the banners,” says Chin.
“This way they are adding their own touch to the monument, while strengthening it at the same time. The actual stitches aren’t visible, but the act of sewing together is the performance and it’s very visible! The invitation to participate is an invitation for people to step up to the work of making our society what we want it to be.”
Sewing on the banners, she reveals, will be done with a basic running stitch, which is simple and can be learnt on the day of the event.
Session 1 will end with participants walking down the spiral ramp of National Art Gallery’s rotunda, while Session 2 will end with participants taking the banners on a short walk on the streets near the National Art Gallery.
“Because the change is momentous, I felt the need to commemorate it in monumental way. Some of the banners are up to 12m long. But if you look closely, you will see that this monument is made out of individually sewn squares,” says Chin.
As for her hopes for the future of the country, Chin remains optimistic.
“I hope we don’t waste time being distracted, but to work on finding out what we truly want, and enact the change we want by working steadily towards it. I hope that we learn to weather change, that we find common ground despite all our differences, and learn how to disagree and live together. This to me is the meaning of being a people and a nation that’s solid in its own skin,” she concludes.
In 2013, Chin was also part of the fourth edition of the Singapore Biennale, where she presented her Mandi Bunga art project (a flower bath ritual) at the National Museum of Singapore on the opening night of the art event. That participatory work was inspired by Malaysia’s Bersih movement.