Customised Postures, (De)colonising Gestures


    Following its successful showcase in Singapore, Gajah Gallery will present the major group show, Customised Postures, (De)colonising Gestures, in its space in Jakarta, from 25 May to 16 June 2024. Curated by Dr Alexander Supartono, this exhibition explores the intersection of colonial photographic imagery and contemporary art practices in Southeast Asia.

    The decision to extend and bring this showcase from Singapore to Jakarta was driven by a desire to amplify its impact and reach a broader audience. Jakarta, with its rich cultural heritage and dynamic arts scene, offers a unique platform for the exploration of complex themes such as colonialism, identity, and artistic expression, sparked by Customised Postures, (De)colonising Gestures. Through this extension, we hope to deepen cross-cultural understanding and foster meaningful dialogue around the enduring legacies of colonialism within the regional art community, as well as inspire new perspectives on the intersection of history, art, and identity.

    How does colonial photographic imagery materialise in the works of contemporary artists today? Bringing colonial photographs and contemporary artworks in conversation, this show aims to establish an interconnectivity between photograph practices in colonial Southeast Asia, and contemporary art practices from the region.

    The region’s shared political, economic, and social conditions of colonial relations arguably produced common visual conventions in photographic portraiture. The historical photographs featured in the show focus particularly on the way the camera customised postures and colonised gestures of subjects in the colony. They examine how subjects’ body language adopted and adapted, alongside the modern technology of representation in indoor and outdoor portraiture.

    Spanning painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, to multimedia installation, the contemporary works in this exhibition then reveal how this adoption and adaptation emerges today. Employing her signature lens medium, Singaporean artist Suzann Victor liberates (retrospectively) the humanity of photographed subjects in Singapore’s migrant histories — who had otherwise been captured in dehumanising ethnographic portrayals. Using image, sound, and video, Philippine artist Jao San Pedro employs artificial intelligence to generate 100 portraits based on a voice message transcript, resulting in haunting and distorted faces. Manipulating early 20th century studio portrait photographs, Indonesian artist Abednego Trianto highlights the subtle gestures of sitters to expose the unique, ongoing struggles of Javanese women against oppressive patriarchal cultures.

    In line with the algorithm of universal Darwinism, these works demonstrate how contemporary artists in the region develop, replicate, and mutate the Southeast Asian tradition of customised postures through variation, selection, and heredity procedures. This iconographical evolution not only transforms the vernacular of the colonial past to the artistic refinement of the present — but also, crucially, decolonises gestures in Southeast Asian photographic representation.

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