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Bearing Point 5 - Residence Time

Curated by Diana Campbell

Bearing Point 5 - Residence Time

Standing in the air on scaffolding, laying telecommunications cables while submerged under the sea, or manning call centres while suspended on a foreign time zone– the toiling bodies of the over 20 million migrant South Asian workers around the globe are mostly invisible, and yet instrumental in creating many of the world’s most picturesque cityscapes as well as to the simultaneous socioeconomic development of South Asia through the money they send home. Bangladeshis are moving beyond the countries geopolitically comprising South Asia, further west to the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia and further east to Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. These people are often treated as bodies without souls, having no culture of their own beyond their otherness. They are often written out of the narratives of the very nations they help to build, as reflected by the sparse South Asian cultural discourse in Southeast Asia. Works by Subas Tamang, Gan Chin Lee, Liu Xiaodong and Shahidul Alam attempt to humanise this issue through technique of portraiture. South Asian culture is present all over the world via complex relationships of labour, and this Bearing Point serves to reorient our thinking about South Asia away from land-bound definitions - no longer sufficient markers of where a culture lives. Even if you watch a Hollywood  3-D film such as Harry Potter, the film was post-produced via a global assembly line running from Los Angeles through Bombay and beyond, capitalizing on low labour costs and government subsidies to supply the painstaking work going into each frame of a film. These digital networks are beautifully captured in the work of Lucy Raven and Anoka Faruqee, and the diversity and complexity of these interwoven movements can be seen Nabil Rahman, Yasmin Jahan Nupur and Pratchaya Phinthong’s work.Overseas workers often inhabit a suspended condition of statelessness, literally going underground as in Charles Lim’s haunting video or being forced to cross unfamiliar black waters as in Andrew Ananda Voogel’s chronicle of the pain of indentured labour. Bangladesh has its own migrant labour situation now that over half a million Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh. Just as there are instances of Bangladeshi workers being trafficked or falsely enticed into exploitative labour contracts in Southeast Asia, there are also cases of Rohingyas being trafficked in Bangladesh as a cheap labour source as chronicled in Kamruzzaman Shahdin’s monumental quilt made from material traces of displacement.We build the world around us through our labour, and it is important to remember that the post-industrial economies in which many of us participate are built on the backs of cheap, often coerced, migrant labour in the Global South. Transnational flows of labour create new cultural economies, which need to respected and celebrated as having as much legitimacy as national narratives.


Andrew Ananda Voogel 

(b. 1983 in Los Angeles, lives and works in Taipei)

Kalapani: The Jahaji’s Middle Passage (2014)

Video installation

Courtesy of the artist

Andrew Ananda Voogel chronicles the legacies of longing from exile in his work, much of which explores the history of the Jahaji’s of Guyana. Through a new form of debt-bound slavery termed indenture, about 3.5 million South Asian workers (primarily from Bengal), including Voogel’s great-grandmother, were tricked, forced, or manipulated by the British before being loaded on boats and sent to Britain’s 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritius, Ceylon, Trinidad, Guyana, Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa between 1834 and the end of World War II.  As our eyes adjust to the darkness of the room in Kalapani: The Jahaji’s Middle Passage (2014), we enter a state of uncertainty about the ground we stand on, thrust into the trauma of being separated from loved ones on alien lands across the “black waters.”

Anoka Faruqee 

(b. 1972 in Ann Arbor,  lives and works in New Haven)

2016P-08 (Wave), 2016

2017P-08 (Wave), 2017

2017P-10, 2017

2017P-27 (Circle), 2018

2017P-05, 2017

2017P-11, 2017

acrylic on linen on panel

Courtesy of the artist and Koenig and Clinton. Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew

Anoka Faruqee’s hypnotic technicolour paintings create uncanny surfaces reminiscent of digital screens. The glitches and bruises break the illusion, speaking to the imperfect and unpredictable translations from the virtual to the physical, and the role of the human hand in this translation. In the context of Bangladesh, Faruqee’s patterns and motifs also call to mind the histories of the textile industry, where it is said the fear of superior craftsmanship lead British administrators to cut off the thumbs of weavers; today, this once venerated industry feeds a global cycle of cheap fast fashion and accelerated consumption. Faruqee creates delicate topologies in her hand-combed paintings, where the imperfection, or glitch, plays a crucial role in the formation of otherwise smooth-milled surfaces.

Charles Lim Yi Yong 

(b. 1973 in Singapore, lives and works in Singapore) 

Sea State VI, Phase I, 2015

Single Channel HD digital video, 7 minutes, sound

Courtesy of the artist  

Presented here with additional support from National Arts Council Singapore and technology support of Sharjah Art Foundation

Singapore continues to grow, both above and under the sea.

The Jurong Rock Caverns are Southeast Asia’s first underground liquid hydrocarbon storage facility. Located at a depth of 130 metres beneath the Banyan Basin on Jurong Island, the Caverns provide infrastructural support to the petrochemical industry that operates on Singapore’s Jurong Island, a cluster of islets reclaimed into one major island and connected to the mainland in the 1980s. Opened in September 2014, Phase 1 of the caverns holds some 1.47 million cubic metres of oil storage tanks. This is about the size of 600    Olympic swimming pools. The volume of undersea rocks excavated from Phase 1 equals 1.8 million cubic metres, enough to fill 1,400 Olympic swimming pools.

The SEA STATE, which exists as the frontier of a climatic and ecological complex, takes us to places that were until recently only a thing of oneiric theory. This place is occupied by submerged migrant workers from Bangladesh whose labour here contributes to the residual climactic effects plaguing their country back home.

Gan Chin Lee 

(b. 1977 in Kuala Lumpur, lives and works in Kuala Lumpur)

No Place for Diaspora, 2015 

Oil on linen

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur

Post-Colonial Encounter, 2015 

Oil on jute

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur

Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew and Noor Photoface

Gan Chin Lee’s paintings grapple with the changing urban landscapes of Malaysia, tracing demographic and cultural shifts that accompany the influx of international labour and capital. He examines the lives of diasporic South Asian communities, tracing their occupation of already-existing urban infrastructures and creating new spaces of cultural hybridity. The patterns evoked in these mesmerizing paintings also call to mind batik fabric techniques which carry histories from South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and also Africa, speaking to the wealth of existing cultural memory found in these hybrid spaces reactivated by the movement of labour. Labour and conditions of precarity, where the circumstances of citizenship often become murky, become the basis of the invention of new ways of living together. 

Kamruzzaman Shadhin 

(b. 1974 in Thakurgaon, lives and works in Dhaka)  

Haven is Elsewhere, 2017-2018

Used clothing, embroidery, video

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2018 

Produced by the artist and Samdani Art Foundation

Courtesy of the artist. Photographer: Noor Photoface

Kamruzzaman Shadhin’s work Haven is Elsewhere (2017-2018), the newest iteration of an ongoing community project, embodies the common quest of most migrants and refugees: the search for a “safe haven.” In Kamruzzaman's work, internally migrated people in Thakurgaon in Northwest Bangladesh, create a quilt from the used clothes of displaced people from Southern Bangladesh - the border demarcating South and Southeast Asia. Many of these clothes and narratives of displaced people were collected over a period of a year and a half by the artist from people who were illegally trafficked as forced labourers into Thailand and Malaysia, some of these were abandoned by the newly arrived Rohingya refugees who accepted new clothes given by local people in Bangladesh and NGOs. These are then sewn together by the internal migrant community in Thakurgaon and embellished with the traditional Bengali kantha embroidery techniques through a therapeutic ritual. These monumental quilts form a projection surface for video documentation that attempts to capture the stories of displacement through these once-used clothes. This quest for freedom often continues as the new migrants and refugees become targets for illegal trade and trafficking, continuing a cycle where the safe haven shifts its axis further and further out of reach.

Liu Xiaodong 

(b. 1963 in Jincheng, lives and works in Beijing) 

Steel 8, 2016

Oil on canvas, diptych

Courtesy the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London/Hong Kong

Refugees 7, 2016

Oil on canvas

Courtesy the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London/Hong Kong

Refugees 8, 2016

Oil on canvas

Courtesy the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London/Hong Kong

Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew

Liu Xiaodong’s portraits of refugee and migrant workers from South Asia in Europe intervene in the narrative of what is often termed “the refugee crisis” – of the “non-Western Other” arriving in droves on the shores of “Fortress Europe”. He produces intimate encounters that disrupt the dehumanisation of these men, where often the only self-image allowed to them are stamp-sized photographs on identity documents that no longer hold validity in the countries where they have arrived. 

Secrecy often surrounds the sites where migrant labourers live and work. Chinese migrant workers are a growing force in Bangladesh with heavy Chinese investment in infrastructure projects. In 2016, Xiaodong created hopeful portraits of Bangladeshi workers at infamous ship-breaking yards in Chittagong, encountering difficulty in the process as his presence as a Chinese artist created a sense of heightened tension in the workplace in an industry fearful of being shut down.

Lucy Raven  

(b. 1977 in Tucson, lives and works in New York City)

Curtains, 2014

Anaglyph video installation, 5.1 sound, 50 min looped.

Courtesy of the artist

Technology supported by Sharjah Art Foundation 

In Hollywood, the incredibly labor-intensive process of creating visual effects for our 21st-century cinema is called “post-production.” But the industry still relies on 20th-century modes of industrial production: its global assembly lines run from Los Angeles through Bombay, Beijing, London, Vancouver and Toronto, capitalizing on cheap labor and government subsidies to supply the countless hours of painstaking work going into each frame of a film. Viewed with anaglyph 3D glasses, Lucy Raven’s video installation Curtains explores the digital creation of location and space insofar as they relate to contemporary movie-making. The work brings real-world geographies (and real workers) back into the computer-generated virtual spaces today’s moviegoers inhabit.

Nabil Rahman 

(b. 1988 in Sylhet, lives and works in Dhaka)  

Old Bond Street, 2017

Found cigarette foils from Bangladesh

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2018

Courtesy of the artist

Richmond, 2017

Found cigarette foils from the Philippines

Commissioned by Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2018

Courtesy of the artist and Bellas Artes Projects. Photographer: Noor Photoface

During a residency at Bellas Artes Projects in the Philippines in 2017, Nabil Rahman was surprised to learn that several of the artisans with whom he was collaborating spoke a few words of Bengali due to their time as migrant workers in Dubai, during which time they had Bangladeshi friends. The artist has woven together found cigarette foils from both countries into two sculptural forms reminiscent of emergency blankets. Cigarette foils are gleaming golden motifs that indicate the depth of colonial traces in Bangladesh and the Subcontinent, stamped with subtle symbols on their surfaces such as the Benson & Hedges (a British Tobacco company) logo. The patterns proliferate in terms of psychological preference to foreign branded products, even if the tobacco itself is grown locally. Nicotine is consumed during breaks- so whether working for foreign companies abroad or smoking foreign tobacco – there exists a problematic addictive cycle, manipulating human behavior rather than selling an actual product.

Pratchaya Phinthong 

(1974 in Ubon Ratchathani, lives and works in Bangkok)  

Untitled (Jeans), 2016-2018

Jeans, performers

Courtesy of the artist and gb agency

Produced by the Bétonsalon, Paris for the exhibition Anywhere But Here (2016)

In Untitled (Jeans), Pratchaya Phinthong questions ideas of value, localizing transnational flows of workers and capital by producing a participatory system of exchange. The artist borrowed pairs of jeans from two migrant Cambodian construction workers residing illegally in Thailand. They had purchased these jeans at the Bangkok weekend market, known for selling items stolen or cheaply bought from the stocks of clothing donated by charity organizations in the West to NGOs in Cambodia. Much of the clothing for sale had  previously been  intercepted by middlemen, who sell them to Western tourists and local workers alike for profit. These jeans purchased in Thailand were sent to Paris to be worn by the staff of the exhibition Anywhere But Here (2016) at the Bétonsalon, Paris, which originally commissioned the work this work was originally commissioned. In return, Phinthong used the production budget of that exhibition to buy bicycles for the workers back in Thailand, as they had requested. These jeans are now worn by DAS staff working as art mediators in Bearing Point 5. 

Jeans are a powerful symbol of the networks which we are forced to participate in everyday in a global economy, and carry the material history of denim’s association with industrial capitalism, including with Indigo in Bengal. The Levi’s jeans used in this work are themselves knock-offs, alluding to out-sourced assembly-lines, where garment workers in countries such as Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico, work to produce cheap clothing which feeds the international demand for fast fashion. Bangladesh alone produces one of every seven pairs of Levi’s jeans, so it may be speculated that the jeans were originally produced here. Knock-offs feed a parallel economy of needs, where items such as Levi’s jeans are status symbols, despite being unaffordable to many who want them, particularly those from the very class that produces them. By introducing these knock-off jeans into the space of an exhibition, Phinthong raises the question of the value of copying, particularly in the context of contemporary art, where the idea of originals still holds considerable importance. 

Through this process-driven artwork, the artist brings to the surface the already-existing entanglement between two unregulated spaces of labour – of the migrant labourer and the cultural worker, both frequently working contract-to-contract jobs, with no fixed working hours – and the precarious conditions within which they operate. The work becomes a system through which both sides are able to imagine possibilities for their own parallel economies of exchange.

Shahidul Alam  

(b. 1955 in Dhaka, lives and works in Dhaka)

The night before a migrant is about to depart, his family members pray for his safe return, 1988

A woman bids goodbye to her man, unsure of whether they will meet again, 1996

Workers and relatives wave at each other unaware that they are too small to be visible, 1996

Giclée prints on Hahnemühle Digital Fine Art Paper

Courtesy of the artist.

Photographer: Noor Photoface

Shahidul Alam chronicles the moment before the departure of Bangladeshi migrant workers, in the suspended state of Dhaka’s international airport. Migration is often a collective experience, where entire villages contribute to raising the funds necessary to pay the recruiting agencies, and extended family and friends accompany the to-be migrants to the airport. He unpacks the almost ritualized gestures that accompany this journey, in the moments before dislocation, as men are herded through the theatre of airport security, and these families reconfigure the in-between space of the airport to act as spaces of intimacy, of prayer, of hope.

Subas Tamang 

(b. 1990 in Amardaha, lives and works in Kathmandu)

I Want to Die in My Own House, 2017

Carved slate with metal armature 

Commissioned and produced with support from Samdani Art Foundation for DAS 2018

Courtesy of the artist and Samdani Art Foundation. Photographer: Noor Photoface

Subas Tamang’s work I Want To Die In My Own House (2017) uses the traditional form of a slate roof – a motif of vernacular architecture formerly prominent in his native Nepal and elsewhere in South Asia – when immortalizing his parent’s labour and dreams by carving their image into stone. This is an autobiographical commentary on the dreams of thousands of family members in Nepal who move from small villages to bigger towns and cities or even abroad in the search of a better life. When people move, they usually rent a room as part of the struggle for survival. The continuous challenges of securing their daily needs and a decent livelihood for their families while nursing a hope to have a permanent roof above their heads, often traps such families in an unending cycle of struggle. The money that overseas Nepali workers send home keeps the country afloat, and the dreams of one day being homeowners help them to endure adversity.

Yasmin Jahan Nupur  

(b. 1979 in Chittagong, lives and works in Dhaka)  

The Long Way Home, 2011

Fabric with embroidered maps

Courtesy of the artist and Exhibit320. Photographer: Pablo Bartholomew and Noor Photoface

Yasmin Jahan Nupur is inspired by multicultural connections forged across linguistic barriers in spaces created by the transnational flow of labour. Nupur spent six months immersed in the community of migrant workers in Mauritius, which was once of the destinations for debt-bound labourers during the British colonial period from 1833-1920 when about 3.5 million South Asians were transported to Africa, the Caribbean, and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In the miserable housing conditions Nupur encountered, occupied today mostly by Chinese and Bangladeshi migrant workers, the artist found that strong community bonds formed when people from different countries were forced to occupy a single small room , leaving them no choice but to find ways to survive together. In the suspended fabric sculpture The Long Way Home (2011), Nupur sewed and embroidered the routes of connections that forged this vast network of friendships.

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