The Translation of Chinese poetry

Is there a decline in the prestige of rhyme and form? Does rhyme seem ‘forced’ and ‘artificial’ in the translation of Chinese poetry? (Since most ancient Chinese poetry rhymes.) What is the smart way to translate and convey the aesthetics of original Chinese poetry?

Here we compare rhymed and unrhymed translations of the same Chinese poem. The original, let it be said at once, does rhyme.

This is a quatrain, in seven-syllable meter, each line having a caesura. The even lines of a quatrain always rhyme together, and the first line may also rhyme, at the discretion of the poet. The present example is not part of a larger set, but it does resonate with other Tang poems. We judge it on its own. Here are two versions of Du Mu's quatrain, each of which has a note referring to the earlier poem which sets the stage for his effort.

Translated by Irving Y Lo
Sunflower Splendor (1975)

Soaring into the distant sky, a lone bird disappears.
Ten thousand ages dissolve and vanish in this instant.
Look, where are the deeds of the Han empire?
The Five Mounds* lie treeless where autumn wind rises

 

Translated by E Bruce Brooks
Other Mountains (1993)

An endless sky without a speck,
a lone bird fades from view,
Here the myriad ages have
their final obsequies;
This is what the House of Han
comes to in the end -
Not so much as a single tree
to stir in the autumn breeze*

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The first version implies an obliteration of the distance between the poet and the Han Dynasty, whereas the original (like the second version) is concerned with the distance: it shows the Han vanishing into the past as the bird vanishes into space. The second version is more faithful to the form (including rhyme) of the original.

As to which version presents Du Mu with more point, force, and connectivity, the reader must judge.

See original text here

Photo and text edited by Meng

From Königsberg to Kalininrgad – The Talk of the Town

Last weekend I travelled to my home city of Kaliningrad. These home trips always evoke some nostalgia. With the present blog in mind, this particular trip made me think about how visual culture has the power to change one’s identity.

The notion of mixedupness pervades my whole life. I’m a Russian of Ukrainian and Belorussian origins from a formerly German city (before World War II), known today as a Russian city of Kaliningrad. I’ve lived in London, UK half of my life. I neither have any German roots nor do I speak German, despite my home city’s being of German origin. Yet, I feel that the city’s heritage has the power to speak to and influence its inhabitants with its unique architectural language.

Kaliningrad is full of controversy and diversity as it combines German, Soviet and Russian identities.

Its cultural controversy starts with the city’s name. Königsberg means King’s mountain in Old German. Kaliningrad, means Kalinin’s (a Bolshevik revolutionary) city in Russian. It was part of Germanic land (known as Eastern Prussia) for more than 800 years. It’s been a part of Russia for the last 70 years. Yet, no ethnic Germans remain in the region. Most left after World War II when the Soviets took over the city.

Despite the Soviets’ attempts to erase the city’s European identity, Kaliningrad’s architecture inevitably reminds one of German heritage.

Only fragments of German culture remain following the bombings during World War II. Yet, these remnants have become deeply embedded into Kaliningrad’s Russian and Soviet cultures.  

What immediately strikes one as a tourist coming to visit Kaliningrad is how Soviet austere building blocks clash with German Art-Nouveau (Jugendstil) and Brick Gothic (Baltic Brick) architecture.

Two main buildings dominate the cityscape – the fourteenth-century Gothic-style Königsberg Cathedral (restored in 1992) and the 1970s unfinished neo-constructivist House of Soviets. They are striking testimonies to political power dynamics.

Königsberg Cathedral (left) and the House of Soviets (right), Kaliningrad.  Source

Königsberg Cathedral (left) and the House of Soviets (right), Kaliningrad. Source

To me, the House of Soviets has always looked like a monster associated with the austerity and deficit I experienced as a child. The building is a brutalist block of concrete built on the remains of the Königsberg Castle, the very heart of the destroyed city. It states clearly who was in charge. Today, it serves as a reminder of the utopian communist ideology. Cold, empty, dehumanised, the House of Soviets tells us about a once ambitious project that has never been completed, that remains unrealised.

House of Soviets, Kaliningrad.  Source

House of Soviets, Kaliningrad. Source

On the other hand, the Cathedral, built largely thanks to the donations made by ethnic Germans, became the centre of local and tourist attraction. To me, the Königsberg Cathedral and the surrounding grounds bring out the warmest of my childhood memories since they served as a recreational area where people enjoyed picnics and festivals. 

Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad.  Source

Königsberg Cathedral, Kaliningrad. Source

Another imposing building structure is the Russian Orthodox cathedral built in the modern city centre, further away from the House of Soviets and the Cathedral.

Built during the Putin era in place of the monumental statue of Lenin, it serves as another ideological tool - a reminder of who’s in charge today.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Kaliningrad.  Source

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Kaliningrad. Source

Despite the government’s attempts to promote Russian-ness, Kaliningraders openly embrace the Prussian German past. This attitude manifests itself in numerous landmarks built in pseudo-neo-Gothic architectural style, like the Clock Tower in the city square.

The Clock Tower (right), known today as Kaliningrad Passage, Victory Square, Kaliningrad.  Source

The Clock Tower (right), known today as Kaliningrad Passage, Victory Square, Kaliningrad. Source

These modern architectural pastiches are spread throughout the city. In fact, the so-called Fishermen’s village, constructed in 2006-2010 in pseudo-Hanseatic style, became a major landmark.

Fishing Village, Kaliningrad.  Source

Fishing Village, Kaliningrad. Source

I am not an avid supporter of pseudo-historical recreations. However, I admit that like many of my fellow Kaliningraders, I proudly embrace the city’s German past in favour of the colourless Soviet concrete blocks and propagandist religious edifices.

As I fall in love again with my city’s German heritage, I wonder whether it becomes my own…

United States of Colonizers

7/11/2016 5pm PST: I walked into the house I rented near campus. All eight of my housemates and four of their significant others were sitting around the TV talking and laughing. The banner running at the bottom of the map on screen of the USA predicted Hillary Clinton’s win. I felt a knot grow in my stomach, red spots were spreading across the country in big blotches as though each state was slowly contracting scarlet fever. I looked over at the people I considered my friends and was suddenly struck with an overwhelming feeling of otherness. They all had creamy skin and silky blonde hair, happily heterosexual, and no work experience. I was their opposite. My Filipino and Native blood have blended to make me a nice shade of caramel with chocolate curls cascading down my back. I identify as LGBTQ, and I have had a job since I was twelve. Pieces of their conversation filtered into my consciousness as I realized these differences.

 

‘I didn’t vote, it was too much work.’

 

‘I voted for Trump. It’s so funny.’

 

‘It’s not like it really matters anyway.’

 

Lying in bed that night I have never felt so alone, so ostracized. I know they did not mean to make me feel like an outsider. I doubt they even recognized the feeling pass in a shadow across my face. For the first time, I felt the differences between our identities open up a chasm between us. Living in Seattle, one of the most liberal cities in the US it had never occurred to me that the person sleeping in the room next to me would unironically vote for a man that would do me harm.

 

Two days later I was leaving the Starbucks by my house when a man began yelling racial slurs at me. He had read my name, Pilar, on my coffee cup and took it to mean that I was Latina. I am not Latina. I am Filipina, the Philippines was colonized by Spain for 300 years. My name, like my identity, is a product of colonization. As this stranger shouted at me others joined in saying that Trump would get rid of filthy people like me. Emboldened by anger and false confidence in my liberal surroundings I turned to them and told them where to shove it. They had been following me for two city blocks so I should have known that they had more on their agenda than just being loud racists. One of the men pulled out a knife and started making his way towards me. The reality of my situation hit me like a freight train. I am a small female; my full height is only around 154cm. I did the math. I was a small, bisexual, multi-ethnic female surrounds by six full-grown men. I was a walking poster child for a hate crime that would be written up by the US mainstream media as ‘a tragic accident’. Luckily nothing happened, the men left me alone after a few more sharp words -  I either wasn't worth the trouble or the fact I was standing in front of church leaned on their twisted moral sensibilities.

 

I got lucky that day. Lucky, they didn’t retaliate against my hostile response. Lucky, they didn't physically harm me. Lucky, I didn’t end up another non-white face on the evening news. From that day on my liberal bubble universe popped. I became acutely aware of just how deeply entrenched harmful and archaic Colonialist ideas were in America. America was built on the backs of imported slaves and the genocide of Native nations. The nation’s capital and hallowed halls were built by slaves. This hard work done by slaves, and the history and relevance of its native peoples is not however taught to our children in school. Instead, the harm done by colonialism has been rewritten by its descendants to form benevolent narratives that place slavery, civil rights, and native nations in the past. The narratives falsely claim that racism is a thing of the 1950s and 1960s, and that Native nations and their enduring traditions exist only in the past tense. These narratives ignore that Native nations are still fighting for their basic rights and the painful truth of Billie Holiday’s famous song ‘Strange fruit’ is still occurring. It is hard to speak of decolonization in America because the descendants of the colonizers are the ones running the country. The colonizers are still among us.

-Pilar 

Decolonising - ‘If I were you, I would not write about any sensitive issue’

Last year, I was in Hongkong, working in a Korean government organisation there for several months. My job was doing research about the contemporary art scene and issues in art and culture. I needed to submit monthly reports to the organisation. When I arrived in the city, it was the middle of July, and, looking for my first story, I began wandering the streets, doing research. Fortunately, I encountered a big ceremony in the center of the Wanchai district. I figured out that it was the annual ceremony of Farun Dafa (Falun Gong, 法輪功, 法轮功), a religious group from China that have been seriously oppressed by the Chinese government for the last two decades. I’d once heard about the religion, and the event was really big, so I wanted to write about the ceremony for my report. So the next morning I started to write about what I’d seen, and tried to find some general information about the ceremony on the Internet but it was hard to find. It was so strange for me, so I asked my colleagues how and where I might find some information. Instead of answering my question, they asked me whether or not I had a working visa; and actually at that time I didn’t have one. They advised me not to write stories that the Chinese government might dislike, if I wanted to get a visa from the Hongkong government. After hesitating, I finally decided not to write the story, just in case. I guess, it might not be that sensitive issue, and I probably over-reacted, but recalling this pevious episode still makes me feel embarrassed. I think my decision was a kind of self-censorship, and the experience confirmed the extent to which my own mind has become colonised.

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 Credit: An annual ceremony event of Farun Dafa. A picture taken by Hong at Wanchai, HongKong (July 2018)

Image selection and post written by Hong (To see Instagram post, please click here)

Decolonizing 4- Images from the United States

Image from Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via USA TODAY Network  In Charlottesville, Virginia 11/8/17 a group of neo-Nazis and White supremacists walked through the University of Virginia following a months-long debate over a Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many Confederate statues have come under debate over the last of years as the statues are remnants of racist ideals left by violent slave mongering colonizers that unfortunately still linger, persist, and are re-ignited far too often and far too easily.

Image from Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar via USA TODAY Network

In Charlottesville, Virginia 11/8/17 a group of neo-Nazis and White supremacists walked through the University of Virginia following a months-long debate over a Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Many Confederate statues have come under debate over the last of years as the statues are remnants of racist ideals left by violent slave mongering colonizers that unfortunately still linger, persist, and are re-ignited far too often and far too easily.


John L. Monroe/AP image taken from NPR  This is an image of Tonya Stands Recovering from being pepper sprayed by police. Stands and other protesters swam across a creek hoping to peacefully block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been highly protested and contested since its proposal in June of 2016 because the natural gas pipeline is to built on sacred tribal land and negatively impact the Missouri River, which is also the main water source for the Standing Rock Reservation. The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is not unique it is a centuries-old fight for indigenous people to protect the land and their rights from colonizers.

John L. Monroe/AP image taken from NPR

This is an image of Tonya Stands Recovering from being pepper sprayed by police. Stands and other protesters swam across a creek hoping to peacefully block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been highly protested and contested since its proposal in June of 2016 because the natural gas pipeline is to built on sacred tribal land and negatively impact the Missouri River, which is also the main water source for the Standing Rock Reservation. The story of the Dakota Access Pipeline is not unique it is a centuries-old fight for indigenous people to protect the land and their rights from colonizers.


Photo by John Francis Peters NYT vis Redux and The New Yorker  The French artist JR’s newest art installation is a child peaking over Trump’s border wall in the Mexican city of Tecate to stare at US boarder patrol. The artist states that the child, Kikito, lives next to the wall and his inspiration came from seeing the child peak out from the slats in his crib while the artist chatted with the mother. Upon seeing a rendering of the installation the child’s mother stated “I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop thinking of us like criminals or rapists. I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.”   Quote from ‘The New Yorker', ‘The Artist Jr Lifts a Mexican Child Over the Boarder Wall’ by Alexandra Schwartz (September 11th 2017)

Photo by John Francis Peters NYT vis Redux and The New Yorker

The French artist JR’s newest art installation is a child peaking over Trump’s border wall in the Mexican city of Tecate to stare at US boarder patrol. The artist states that the child, Kikito, lives next to the wall and his inspiration came from seeing the child peak out from the slats in his crib while the artist chatted with the mother. Upon seeing a rendering of the installation the child’s mother stated “I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop thinking of us like criminals or rapists. I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.”

Quote from ‘The New Yorker', ‘The Artist Jr Lifts a Mexican Child Over the Boarder Wall’ by Alexandra Schwartz (September 11th 2017)

Decolonizing-3 Images from South Korea

Pre-colonial

04_Hong 1.jpg

Cranes and Peaches (Haehakbandodo in Korean)

Credit: The Honolulu Museum of Art (Gift of Anne Rice Cooke in 1927). Anonymous. Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), dated 1842 or 1902. Pair of six-fold screens; ink, color and gold on silk.

These six-fold paintings are estimated from the era of the Korean Empire which was the last independent unified Korean state. It is known that they were painted by anonymous artists to commemorate the entry of Emperor Gojong (r. 1863-1907) into the Society of Honorable Seniors (Giroso) in his 51st year (1902). This is one of the paintings that have survived from the imperial court of the Joseon dynasty. Unfortunately, they were taken and sold by Japan in the colonial era and this one is currently in the collected of the Honolulu Museum of Art.

(Referenced website: http://honolulumuseum.org/art/exhibitions/11387-masterpieces_korean_art)

Colonial

05_Hong 2.jpg

Joseon Art Exhibitions

Image Credit: 『朝鮮』(朝鮮總督府, 1925), through the collection Information service of Seoul History Archive (Archive No. 75578)

This is a photography taken inside the Joseon Art Exhibition in June 1923. Korea was taken over by Japan from 1910 to 1945. During the colonized era, there were Joseon Art Exhibitions held annually as part of Japan’s culture governing policy. These annual exhibitions were held in Korea from 1922 until 1944. The exhibitions were meaningful because they were the first exhibitions open to the public as a competition format, however but they were limited since most of the jurors were Japanese, and the Japan government was involved in and controlled the artist’s artworks during exhibition process.

(Referenced website: http://www.museum.seoul.kr/archive/archiveView.do?currentPage=5&type=D&type2=&arcvGroupNo=2901&lowerArcvGroupNo=&arcvMetaSeq=25992&arcvNo=75578&realArcvGroupNo=2901&searchVal= )

Post colonial

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Image Credit: National Museum of Korea. 3D view image of the exhibition ‘Goryeo: The Glory of Korea’ which is on display to the public from 4th Dec. 2018 to 3rd Mar. 2019 at the Special Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of Korea.

The National Museum of Korea is currently holding a special exhibition to mark the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Goryeo (918-1392). It is accessible to everyone on these days via website using a VR service. I also had a chance to try the exhibition online and I found some interesting wall texts, which I have reproduced below:

07_Hong 3(2).jpg

This list represents art organizations that lent artifacts to the exhibition (two museums in USA, three from the UK, two of Italia, and six from Japan) and the website also indicates how long each artifact will be at the exhibition. Probably some artifacts cannot be in the exhibition at the same time for contractual issues, or for other reasons. Above all, I felt that it’s a shame that our artifacts belong to these other countries, and that we needed to borrow them for this exhibition.

(Referenced website: https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/exhiSpecialTheme/view/specialGallery?exhiSpThemId=319757&listType=gallery )

Image selection and post written by Hong

Decolonizing-3 Images from Hong Kong

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Credit: The picture depicting the pearl hunting activity from the book ‘Tian Gong Kai Wu, 天工開物’, Image from the Hong Kong Museum of History 

Hong Kong was a small fishing town before the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1921). Most of the residence make a living by pearl hunting, fishing and incense making (which is also where the name ‘Hong Kong’ came from, and literally means ‘The Harbor for Incense’).

The Qing Government set up several military spots along the coast of Hong Kong Island to defend it from pirates, but governing the area was never their priority. People were left to their own devices, and the lives and properties of these people were not considered ‘important’ to the government. The place is important simply because of its location and for its military use, never because of its people and culture.

This raises a question, now that Hong Kong is part of China officially: when, historically, your ‘mother’ country never actually cared about you, is it OK for some people not to feel too attached to it?

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Credit: The Queen visited the local market in Hong Kong in 1975. Image taken from Apple Daily (Available at https://hk.lifestyle.appledaily.com/lifestyle/culture/daily/article/20130313/18192934), by Ng Pong Mui

During the colonial period, The Queen visited Hong Kong twice, and received a warm welcome both times (Hong Kong people sometimes call her the ‘Boss Lady’), and the place seemed to flourish under British rule. However, the number of riots greatly increased, and the society was never stable. The 1967 leftist riots marked the climax of the conflicts between the Hong Kong British government and the local groups (those with strong ties to Beijing), and was often viewed as a watershed for the emerging of the ‘Chinese/Hong Kong citizen’ identity. Interestingly, there are views held that social conflicts are not the only reason for the outbreak of the riot, and that the Communist Party had also done some work to speed up the process in order to gain back control to Hong Kong as soon as possible (Ming Pao, 2017).

 Retrived from: https://news.mingpao.com/ins/文摘/article/20170122/s00022/1485067969029/周日話題-「六七暴動」-遺害至今(文-程翔)

 

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Credit: The statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park was enclosed in preparation for the exhibition of Chinese Science and Technology. The red banner read ‘Congratulations on the 20th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Reunification’ (Note: the statue was nowhere near the exhibition venue). Image taken from Headline Daily (Available at http://hd.stheadline.com/news/realtime/hk/938007/ )

After the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, the start of decolonization had caused many conflicts among the local people. The implementation of a ‘National Education’ and the efforts made by the Chinese government to promote Chinese culture (more like an attempt to ‘erase’ the local, British-affected culture, in some people’s eyes) had raised concerns, because, while we are teaching our younger generation about the positive aspects of China, but how and to what extent should we teach them about aspects side of the country? (No government would like their people to know their bad side, after all) How should we prevent the children from being ‘brain-washed’ and keep our cultures and most importantly, our core value (such as democracy) unchanged? China is the mother country of Hong Kong, however, Britain was the one in power when Hong Kong’s economy and society flourished. Now Hong Kong is being returned to a completely different cultural background and system to mainland China, and its people are lost between the local, so-called ‘colonized’ culture, and the exotic, ‘original’ culture from a ‘mother’ about whom we know nothing (or perhaps too much).

 Image selection and post written by Cheong

Decolonizing-3 Images from Singapore

Current Day.

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Image credit: The Straits Times. New statues erected beside iconic Sir Stamford Raffles statue along Singapore River. From Right to left, Sang Nila Utama, Naraina Pillai, Sir Stamford Raffles, Munshi Abdullah and Tan Tock Seng. 

Sang Nila Utama was a Palembang prince who first saw a vision of a lion and established the Singapura Kingdom in 1299.

Tan, Munshi and Naraina were among the first settlers to arrive in Singapore in 1819 and are widely regarded as pioneering leaders of the island's main communities.

Tan was a merchant, philanthropist and community leader who contributed to starting a hospital that is named after him.

Munshi was Raffles' secretary, interpreter and Malay tutor who documented key events in Singapore after Raffles landed, and is regarded as the founder of modern Malay literature.

Naraina was chief clerk at the treasury and a local leader of the Indian community.

The unveiling of these 4 new statues during the Singapore Bicentennial commemorates 200 years since Raffles’ landing and attempts to mark the contributions of a range of pioneers and early settlers. However, this is a narrative in question as recognizing the bicentennial inherently accepts the narrative that there was a start date for Modern Singapore and one that was characterized by the arrival of the British. The Singapore Bicentennial perhaps exposes the way in which the state thinks of itself and I think it is important that we make a conscious effort to probe deeper into the history as there can be much more to gather that will shape the way in which Singaporeans perceive themselves away from the colonial myths and I do believe many Singaporeans are indeed aware of this

Further reading: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/understanding-the-ambivalence-about-the-bicentennial-11039360

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/four-more-statues-join-sir-stamford-raffles-statue-along-singapore-river

Colonial Ties

pixmahi27315e_2x.jpg




Image Credit: The Straits Times. First Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew with his wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo photographed in Cambridge.

"Yet one of the most important lessons which he drew from the British - and one which, sadly, is seldom recalled today - is that independence neither required a complete break with the old colonial power, nor was an automatic ticket to prosperity.”—Jonathan Eyal, European Correspondent of The Straits Times.

Back in 1950, he reminded Totnes voters that the British were receiving at that time more money from Malaysia's rubber plantations and tin mines than war-torn Britain was getting in subsidies from the United States. Britain, he argued, had to pay attention to Malaysia and take the administration of its colonies seriously. It also had to prepare for life after the empire.

I thought that it was interesting to show and acknowledge that one of Singapore’s founding politicians had received his formal and political education from the British. I think this is an important perspective as an International Student from Singapore studying in the U.K. it is important to consider that perhaps decolonization happens on the daily. It is becoming an outsider to both cultures yet simultaneously in them allowing some sort of distance that allows a careful consideration of the pros and cons of each. Decolonization in this instance I would suggest is, in a privileged way, non-violent but rather a mental and emotional exercise in reflexivity and being vigilant against ideology. It is important to build on those ties that we have as I think the other end of the spectrum would be to adopt a nationalist ideology (as the world seems increasingly to be) and dangerously so if a people are inherently unsure of what their national identity necessarily consists of.

Link: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/mr-lee-kuan-yew-had-close-ties-with-britain-but-was-never-a-colonial-nostalgic

On a personal level, I am not the biggest fan of our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the idolatry that surrounds him but neither am I ignorant to the fact that his policies were crucial and necessary in the formation of the country as it is today.

Further Reading:  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/04/colonialism-work-singapore-postcolonial-british-empire

Pre-Colonial

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Image Credit: Goh Chiew Tong from Channel News Asia. Chinese coins from 13th/14th Century found at the Empress Place archaeological excavation.

"School textbooks say Singapore was founded in 1819. For generations, this has been accepted as the nation’s official start date, while many were taught that Raffles transformed the mangrove swamps into a bustling port.

“A 14th-century Chinese source said the people of Temasek lived on this hill, on terraces cut into it … implying that there were many people living here, not just the nobles. So it could’ve been already a large multi-ethnic group.”

This multiculturalism at work, however, contrasts with what he thinks has been “an emphasis, for tourism purposes, on marketing large blocks of areas in Singapore as though they were mono-ethnic”, when that “isn't true”.“There’s a danger that we’ll believe that artificial narrative, and then, by extrapolating from that, we’d assume that people lived in isolated blocs,"
The issue that is being presented here is one where historical facts seem to contradict existing state narratives. I think a big part of the decolonization discussion is about weighing up different facts and recognizing that narratives can and should change in the emergence of new information but most importantly, having the humility to accept and embrace these changes as they pertain to our sense of cultural identity. 
Link: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/search-real-singapore-story-beyond-stamford-raffles-bicentennial-11199116?cid=fbins&fbclid=IwAR3Ch-J2NIHZEE4Q3m2yuEp0tUNVLIJcrKKK7-2NhN_uuLld198HkDbEP8Q

 Image selection and post written by JJ

'Mixed Up, but in a good way...' A conversation about 'Decolonizing'

As the first group of UCL IOE Art, Design & Museology students to kick off the series, we want to acknowledge that we don’t claim to deal with the subject of decolonization with expert knowledge. Many of the claims we make here stem from a variety of positions: from personal anecdotes, and on to different readings we may make, or conversations we may have on the subject. We think this informality is perhaps a more interesting way to deal with the feeling of being ‘mixed-up’, and thus to open the conversation in ways that we don’t always expect when it comes to the subject, and hopefully that interests the readers here to begin having the same expansive dialogue on the subject as well.

In that spirit, we want to open the conversation we want to have over the next few weeks with, well, a conversation. Hopefully, through this we’re able to show some of the nuances of the subject as well as highlight our own uncertainties; that we may or may not go on to resolve over the next few weeks. 

The following conversation is contributed to by our group, which is made up of international students studying in the U.K.

Hong (South Korea)

JJ (Singapore)

Lanyi (China)

Cheong (Hong Kong)

Pilar (U.S.A)

Here are some of the excerpts from our first conversation as a group:

(0:50) Hong: I think there can be many kinds of colonization, so in my researchI have tried to discover some words relating to them. I am not sure if they are okay to use or not though. Out there at the moment, there is: self-colonization and re-colonization/ new-colonization. And also there is: un-intended-colonization, soft-colonization and renewed-colonization which seems to be the same as de-colonization, I guess.

We sometimes say that we have to re-write our history and I think that de-colonization can be a process for re-newing our history. I think we can think about some related words like these as a starting point.

(1:40) Pilar: There is a writer/philosopher/psychiatrist called Frantz Fanon, from the French colony of Martinique, are you guys familiar with him? He is really interesting on the cycle of the oppression that colonized places get sucked into: the colonizer comes in, they oppress and de-humanize people but then, what happens is that from that oppression comes assimilation, so, in the end, ironically, people forcefully try to assimilate into their dominant culture, yeah?

Cheong: Well to us in Hong Kong, decolonization is pretty violent, because Hong Kong… technically the Chinese government never actually paid attention to Hong Kong before British take over this place. The local culture in Hong Kong is based on British culture. Now, when the Chinese government try to give us their version of a new kind of authority or control over Hong Kong (governmental, educational, social services, etc.), we found that it is so different from us, from our own background. The Chinese claim that’s decolonization, but to us it’s more like colonization.

Lanyi: When Hong Kong talks about colonization, do they talk about decolonizing British culture? So are you thinking that British culture is already part of it? I think when we talk about decolonization, we should consider the original.. like.. when we talk about the Indian culture they were trying to take the British part off to go back to (before) when they were colonized. So does Hong Kong ever think 'about ‘going back’ to the culture that was established before the British rule?.

JJ: the British involvement in Hong Kong has undeniably accounted for some form of additional culture or cultural identity. I think It’s not so much like not going back to what it was like before, but also It’s more like giving it a chance to develop itself in a way. And of course that’s hard to do because you can never run away from your past, and there is always going to form a sense of who and what you are as an individual, a nation, etc. The thing is, we want choice and autonomy, the right as citizens to decide our cultural identity.

(9:45)

Lanyi: I think that’s the point. Because I think what residents of Hong Kong are concerned about is that they never have had a right to decide what the direction is that they’re going in, whether that’s under British or Chinese government control. Maybe they want to have their own culture, whatever that might mean!

JJ: I think there is a counter point there, quite interesting as well. Because for Singapore, we wanted get out from under British rule but the first prime minister was a product of the British education system. He studied Law at Cambridge so he was a product of the British education system. It’s really interesting because these traces still exist in Singapore. They have statues of Sir Stamford Raffles, there celebrating the founding of our civilization, in a sense. The whole narrative is: we were a quiet fishing village before colonization. I think this is funny because when we talk about ‘development’, it’s like the discussions about all these colonies is first and foremost economic, especially at this time. A lot of things happening are economically motivated, like neoliberalism and capitalized system and that they are effecting neo-colonialism.

(16:24)

JJ: Switching topics, it’s quite important to think of the different mentality of different colonial powers, right? For example, the British taught people in the colonies English right? Whereas, the Dutch were like ‘No, our language is reserved for the learned, we will never teach these savages (in Indonesia for instance) our languages’. It’s interesting to consider language as a form of leverage against dialogue between two cultures, right?

Lanyi: I remember last term, when we talked about the case of South Africa, and its efforts to deal with its colonial-era statues. Some statues have provoked protest because the figure was a hero in the colonial age, but in our post-colonizatial times, with calls for de-colonising, the ways these statues resonate has obviously changed. Is it still valuable to’ preserve’ objects and artefacts from the colonial era to remind us, daily, of its injustices?

(19:38)

Cheong: So we’re speaking about an attitude that we might take towards colonial history? Our conversation has definitely thrown up more questions than answers! Perhaps our individual posts over the next few days with raise these questions again, in new ways, and help us work towards ways of offering possible answers, however provisional.



3/3 (Notes from Marquard Smith)

Truth be told, I did actually ‘come out’ publicity once before, on 12th December 2018, during an event at the Institute of Polish Culture at University of Warsaw entitled ‘Image Lessons. Visual Pedagogies in Troubled Times’. I took that opportunity a couple of months ago to speak about the students’ ‘Mixed Up, but in a good way…’ project. Being in Poland for the first time, the country of my father’s parents’ birth, seemed like the perfect occasion for me to proclaim my German-Polish-Jewish-ness in all of its wonderful contradictions, irreconcilabilities, and, possibilities. My thanks to Iwona Kurz, Pawel Moscicki, Krzysztof Pijarski, Magda Szcześniak, , Łukasz Zaremba, and especially Katarzyna Bojarska for welcoming me ‘home’! 

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2/3

As a personal aside, for me this project couldn’t have come at a better (or worse) time: with the seemingly unstoppable rise of national populism, xenophobia, distrust, fear, and outright hatred that accompanies (and leads to) elections results we’ve seen recently in Austria, Brazil, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden, along with ongoing far-right-ism in Poland, post-Brexit Britain, and in Trump’s Divided States of American.

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'Mixed Up, but in a good way…’, an introduction from Marquard Smith, 1/3

‘Mixed Up, but in a good way…’ is a project led by graduate students in Art, Design & Museology at UCL Institute of Education, London, for the International Association for Visual Culture (IAVC).

 

The project is conceived by a curatorial collective of students who are of mixed heritage, or interested in how mixed heritage might shape their activities as artists, designers, artist-educators, teachers, curators, and museum and gallery professionals.

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