How do people without a land earn the right to use it? If the land could be distributed and privatised, who has the say in the ownership of the land? When does this ownership start or end? And is humanity the only one entitled to the land? Curator Ting Tsou and artists Minia Biabiany, En-Man Chang, and Naomi Rincón Gallardo together interrogate land ownership and rights in the exhibition How to Sing Our Songs on Their Land. In a closely woven narrative and artistic practices that resonate with each other, they examine through animal fables and songs, the improper allocation of contemporary social resources, as well as the historical silencing, plundering, and marginalisation of indigenous peoples during the colonial period that has largely gone unseen.
Moving with imagery, narrated in song, this exhibition accentuates the interrelationship among different cultures, histories, stories, humans, and nonhumans, juxtaposed against a backdrop crafted from sound and scene that aims to captivate the viewer. Inspired by concepts of how-to, other and self, land and song, the exhibition embodies both an attempt to delineate the land through imagery, and a curatorial experiment with song as a narrative device.
To initiate a context with how-to is to introduce practical methods or instructions, with which to facilitate the understanding of something new or the entering of a new situation. The idea of other and self identifies a relationship of duality that begins with the individual, and remains in a constant state of flux according to the environment: when the boundary between self and other is distinguished, different gestures of people arise. These countless collectives born out of shifting positions are a temporary assemblage of differences, anchoring what defines them and me.
On the land of others, how does one sing, about whose land, and with whose song? Land and song morph into a mise-en-scène and common lands in this exhibition—a temporary amalgamation of time and space. Land specifies human geography, while singing becomes an approach to lure the viewer into staying. Whenever the melody starts playing, it seems like we can't help but stop and listen to the strange yet familiar music, no matter where we are. Could the moment when the visual narrative unfolds before our eyes and resonates in our ears, manifest itself in song and lead to new/unknown knowledge?
Hailing respectively from the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico; the mountains and islands of Guadeloupe, France; and the indigenous houses in Taitung, Taiwan, together Naomi Rincón Gallardo, Minia Biabiany, and En-Man Chang narrate in singsong a hybrid fable about contemporary humanity with animals as protagonists, mapping dreams of motherland and land struggles in real life. The immortal opossum, which stole fire and gave it to humans in Native American folklore, encounters a mining tycoon illegally forcing the indigenous people off their land. Gently holding a chrysalis that guides them home, a child from the French-colonised Guadeloupe sings a Creole nursery rhyme, and waits for the road home to unfold. As imperialism invades Taiwan, the tapestry of an imagined motherland is slowly woven from Austronesian peoples, the paper mulberry, and the Giant African Snail—both an agricultural pest and a delicacy. Cast in new light, these animal-centred tales escape from an anthropocentric perspective, and sing of a homeland in reality limned through oral history, social issues, and survival dilemmas. These very tales further transcend knowledge backgrounds, and appeal directly to the senses by conjuring an experience that probes a complex palimpsest of colonial history, land conflict, and ethnic politics.
When the music stops and the screen dims, we are transported from a fictional song to the real life. Beyond the boundary of art, amid justice unsought and voices stifled in the strata of colonial history and depths of the contact zone, how does the silenced sing a song of their own on the land of others?
Press release courtesy TKG+ Projects.