Rafi Abdullah
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...kum apa?

Salam   ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ , 

Thank you for extending an invitation for me to be part of this body of text you’re putting together. And also, for being open about the format of my participation and for allowing me to think of ways to shape this into a collaboration. I’m recollecting again some of the motivations in our earlier conversations: to veer away from familiar forms of communication; a refrain (rejection even) on my part from writing from an ‘authoritative’ gaze in considering my (non)‘position’ to speak of your oeuvre; for the writing to move beyond one that is passive in nature; and for our conversations, as much as possible, to remain informal - a borak (banter) session if you will.

Here I propose, for our conversation to loosely adopt the format of a particular Malay linguistic children’s game that I’m quite certain you will recognise and remember. I’ve come to learn that the game actually has a name - “Sep-Sep Tom-Tom” and has had its existence confirmed and immortalised in a book. The game involves two players who take turns to call out a word (whatever comes to mind) which should have a first syllable that rhymes with the second (or last) syllable of the preceding word offered by the other player. For those unfamiliar or finding it difficult to imagine the gameplay, an illustration is attached below.

From Nani Menon's Permainan, Lagu dan Puisi Kanak Kanak1

My proposition for such a methodology stems from realising the potential for the repurposing of such a colloquial framework. I personally think it’s not a stretch to think of such a framework as being on par with ‘more rigorous’ theoretical frameworks. In fact, I see parallels in this pinging between words (that we will both propose) and how it could be likened (unnecessarily) to Baudrillard’s concept of passwords and his thinking of how, aside from transmitting ideas, “words metaphorize and metabolize into one another”. Perhaps, in an increasingly complex, intersectional and hyperconnected world, there is, on the contrary, a need for revisiting more ‘unsophisticated’ modes of thinking?

I will begin then to propose a word: layu (wilt/wither).

I remember visiting your exhibition M ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ S ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ at Yeo Workshop just a year or two ago and seeing your series of bleached canvas depictions of what could be recognised as palm trees. It was strange and somewhat troubling for me, but that was the immediate thought and word that came to my mind — layu, as in a sense, dormantness. Perhaps it was the dullness of the copper and the black? Perhaps it was a mood I came into the exhibition with? I’m not too sure myself...

I’m actually also quite interested in the nuances of the word and the multiple meaning it carries. Layu also translates to being faded, to being tired, and even to being weak — all of which observably bear uninspiring connotations. I’d also like to further problematize things by bringing up an observation that the word layu is also present in Melayu (Malay). If one were to think of me- as an affix/prefix, then Melayu would mean to lay dormant (albeit inaccurate).

What do you make of such a word, its connotations and a projection (warranted or unwarranted) of such a meaning-association towards your work? From the charred defaced figures to the dark guillotined bodies; a certain dormantness is evident in my mind, perhaps in your older paintings from the Moه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ه҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҈҉҉҉҉҉҉҉҉ series. Do you personally feel that a certain dormantness reside in your works?

I don’t intend to be prescriptive with how you respond. You could reject the word and counter-propose, and riff off it with some other resonating word. But I do hope that my provocations can serve as fodder for us to begin conversing and I look forward in anticipation to your reply.

Layu selalu,
Rafi Abdullah

1. See Nani Menon's Permainan, Lagu dan Puisi Kanak Kanak. https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=p_IkQzNIlEMC&pg

2. See Jean Baudrillard, Passwords. Verso, 2011.