“Slumb-a-Chamber, an exhibition curated by Dhiyanah Hassan, was a week-long installation feature, part of Lightforge’s Northern Hemisphere event for George Town Festival 2016.
The installation ran from 13th to 19th August at Wisma Yeap Chor Ee, with an opening night on the 13th August, 6pm, organized by our sponsor and featuring a spoken-word performance by Bali-based Canadian poet, Skid More.
‘Slumb-a-Chamber’ was partially sponsored by Penang Women’s Development Corporation (PWDC). Northern Hemisphere was sponsored/supported by Epson and George Town Festival.”
– quoted from a project report for the purpose of documenting and archiving.
CONCEPT NOTE in past tense
Visual and poetic elements meet in ‘Slumb-a-Chamber,’ where audiences were invited to explore the subtle commentary of how personal and public merge in a woman’s life.
The word ‘chamber’ is used today to describe a space made for the purpose of formal meetings or official events. It was, however, historically used to denote a more private space, specifically a bedroom. In this installation, the Northern Hemisphere dome was transformed to look like a bedroom. A mattress lay in the center, blanket and pillow ready for strange heads to rest on – a clothes rack held painted shirts in which the titles and blurbs for each artwork could be found. The artworks themselves were projected on a loop onto the inner wall of the dome, distorting and dancing in a play of light, color, and shadows.
Here, a woman’s bedroom acts as symbolism for how the private issues of her life are often turned into matter for public scrutiny. What happens behind closed doors reflect how she navigates the public, and vice versa. Gender-based prejudices accumulate and her daily life is a constant compromise between herself and spaces that are easily hostile towards girls and women.
‘Slumb-a-Chamber,’ at the very core of it, is a creative execution of stories that resist the alienation of women’s narratives from the universal human experience.
PERFORMANCE: ‘Madelyn’ by Skid More
“Once up on a time
in a town resplendent with sing song and rhyme
lived a spinster named Madelyn”
Playing with conventions of Fairy Tales, slam poetry and stand-up comedy, Skid More presents ‘Madelyn,’ a live performance that asks, how old is too old to have a baby?
The performance was strong and engaging, delivering a powerful message through an ecstatically sharp humor. The audience easily followed Skid’s voice, her gestures and expressions, as she switched from being spotlit, to being projected via a live video feed onto the wall behind her, to whipping out a flashlight and squirting water from a syringe on her face. It was immersive and engaging, a delicious extension to the featured artwork in the installation.
“They said she was too old to have a baby – truth be told
Madelyn never really wanted to
A Husband? I do?
Sounds a lot like a free pembantu
Then a baby? Going into labour?
Labour? ….there’s more unpaid work?”
Side note: Skid’s performance was such a big treat for opening night. Fortunately, the press had left by then so we could experience the uncensored poem of the show. Not so fortunate was the last-minute cancellation of the performance on Sunday night. I found out later that, despite no one showing up before the scheduled performance, some people did try to catch it. And in the team’s utter exhaustion, I didn’t think to make a cancellation announcement. Now there’s a lesson to learn.
Four visual art series were commissioned for the installation’s projection. Each series of projection highlights an aspect of the lived realities of women, forming a narrative that invites viewers to look, listen, and question the oppressive social forms they witness in their own day-to-day lives.
The initial idea was to have these projections triggered by an electronic contraption. This fixture could not be finalized on time for the show and so we decided to proceed with a streaming slideshow of the series, projected on a loop – the show must go on!
‘In My Own Space’ by ERYN
A series of drawings depicting the inner world of a female character – the quirks, charms, and mystique that happens in an individual’s personal space. There are conversations with little mind-creatures. Acts of searching, exploring and mending are gleaned in the intricate worlds spun by ERYN’s pen.
The drawings were compiled into a video presenting each in their original black and white format. As each drawing spins across the dome’s wall, the colors change into inversions accented by a sequence of hues ranging from blue to red.
‘Maybe Baby’ by Kim Khaira
A series of illustrations addressing the ridiculous pressure a woman’s community (friends, family, society) places on her to ‘settle down’ into motherhood. She faces these pressures and grapples with the stress of having her own decisions nearly taken away from her. In the sequence of drawings, she contemplates these external expectations while trying to find her own voice.
The illustrations were projected with their colors inverted, the high contrast and movements creating an experience wherein the audience could be immersed in the emotional atmosphere of the images.
‘Working Gal’ by Shieko Reto
This series of animated GIFs highlights the reality of a woman in the professional work environment. Her abilities are questioned and her personality under social surveillance, just because she’s a woman. She works just as hard – or sometimes harder – than her male peers, and still gets less acknowledgment or compensation for her work.
The GIFs were lined up in a streaming projection, dancing around the inner walls of the dome. Each GIF presented a short animation of an instance of gender-based prejudice in the workplace.
‘Warrior Walk’ by Dhiyanah Hassan
An audio-visual poem capturing the anxieties of a woman as she steps out of her private space into the public, peopled world. This piece aims to highlight long-term effects of gender-based discrimination, how these prejudices result in hostile spaces for girls/women. Every step then becomes a battle cry resisting aggression in favor of the hope for kindness.
Fore more on this piece, check out this post.
Wearing multiple heads (or hats) at once will always be a challenging feat. Artist, writer, curator, editor – these roles tend to melt into one another for me. With every project where I multiply myself, I learn more about these roles as a singularity. This can be overwhelming when you’ve no time to properly absorb and process the lessons.
By the time opening night rolled in, I was spent. I wanted to have been able to bask in the completion of this show, but my schedule has been fiery. I had more gears to grind, more heads to wear. After opening night, I had to close the ‘Slumb-a-Chamber‘ tab in my head to get on with progress on the other Loading bars on my To-Do’s, for the sake of work.
This show marks my third experience as a curator and I’m still waiting for that project in which I can play the curator role singularly, to see how I can maximize what I know and watch this knowledge materialize into something bigger than the theory I’m familiar with.
As a curator, I’m proud of ‘Slumb-a-Chamber.’ I was able to connect to the artists who let me into their process and found something useful in feedbacks and conversations. I worked with a team that was able to provide a nourishing experience for me, from start to finish. So I know I’ll want to work with these people again – and just being able to acknowledge that is such a big win for me. It’s hard to say if this show is truly completed, I can feel something still stirring, but I’ll have to wait and see what that’s about.
This was one of those projects where all elements came together with a lot of effort but also with seamless collaboration, starting off with John Kuan and Ammar Khalifa from Lightforge inviting me on as curator for an idea they had for Northern Hemisphere to address women’s issues. I’m grateful they let me steer this thing conceptually, providing support with logistics and tech. I wouldn’t have had the strength to pull this off without their or Rubi’s encouragement. The project then grew with support from PWDC, which allowed artists to be fairly compensated for the works they produced.
We’re so grateful to have Skid More fly in from Bali to put on a dynamic and spectacular performance, and to be able to feature works done by talented and hard working artists. Execution of the projections wouldn’t have been possible without Ammar‘s attentive eyes and ear by my side.
I’m thankful to those who sent positive messages before, during, and after the show, to the places and cafes/restaurants who put up our posters, to those who shared and reposted the digital posters. I’m thankful to kG who called a day before opening to say he probably can’t make it for the launch, then came a few days later and made sure to catch the installation before it was dismantled. The enthusiasm and support from all those who were involved or engaged with this piece is something I have no words for – just piles and piles of gratitude.