Mind Set Art Center is delighted to present Yee I-Lann’s solo exhibition “Like the Banana Tree at the Gate” from 3rd of December 2016 to 7th of January 2017. This is Yee’s second solo exhibition held in Taiwan after “Fluid World” in 2011, also took place in Mind Set Art Center. The artist will give a talk at 2:30 pm on Saturday, 3rd of December 2016, followed by the opening reception starting from 4:30 pm.
Continuing with her interests in collective culture, historical memory, and social power of Southeast Asia, Yee I-Lann references the folkloric figure of the Pontianak and its association with the ubiquitous banana tree in her new body of work to probe into the social image and cognition of the individual, especially female individual, and further explore different possibilities. Through her photocollage and video works, the artist not only contemplates on collective cultural consciousness, but also renders the ancient allegories with contemporary meanings that give rise to various reflections. The female image under the social frame not only concerns the female, but also reflects the male’s cognitions toward the others, the land, and self-existence.
The exhibition title “Like the Banana Tree at the Gate” references the quotes of the 17th century Sultan Marhum Panambahan, as well as the eponymous book title of a study on the early economic form of resistance against colonial forces in Borneo by anthropologist Michael R. Dove (The Banana Tree at the Gate: The History of Marginal Peoples and Global Markets in Borneo. Yale University Press, 2008). By not planting the banana tree at one’s gate, was to not present wealth to passing visitors, and therefore was able to conceal one’s true potential and resources from being exploited through system of colonial plunder.
Gender power and the social-political system are the major topics in this latest exhibition by Yee I-Lann. The series of Like the Banana Tree at the Gate present women playing the role of the Pontianak responded to a public mobile studio set up in the Arts For Grabs market in Kuala Lumpur; many are well-known activists and artists. Shots of the legs of women and men of different ethnicities from Sabah standing on a table strewn with strands of hair were composed into the series named Conference. The video Imagining Pontianak: I’ve Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day shows a group of women whose faces obscured by long, black hair chatting and singing. Where the folkloric stories speak of the evil vengeful wild woman, I-Lann sees recalcitrance and advocates of the female self. On the other hand, the installation Tabled features 50 ceramic plates with Delft-inspired blue prints that depict contemporary street shots taken by the artist in Malaysia and Indonesia, revealing the influences of the colonial history that lasts till now.
The Pontianak is a vengeful female spirit who has died at childbirth in Malaysian folkloric stories. Such a female spirit that possesses overlapping characteristics appears throughout different regions of Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines by different names and similar backgrounds - she died of childbirth, rape or a man’s betrayal, and turned into fearful spirit with supernatural power that resides in the wild banana tree and threatens people’s lives. The undertone is clearly moralistic and serves to strike fear in the hearts of men and to contain women. Its popularity as a horror subject in cinema moreover speaks of its enduring appeal in modern day Southeast Asia.
Born 1971 in Kota Kinabalu, Yee received her BA in Visual Arts from the University of South Australia in 1993 and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur. Yee has established herself over the past 20 years as one of the region’s leading contemporary artists, known for her digital photocollage and video works that deftly employ a complex, multi-layered visual vocabulary drawn from historical references, popular culture, archives, and everyday objects – works that speculate on issues of culture, power, and the role of historical memory in social experience, often with particular focus on themes and motifs that reference the indigenous cultures of Borneo. Yee has exhibited widely in museums and biennials around the world. Selected highlights include: Body/Play/Politics in Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama, Japan (2016); the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Australia (2015 and 1999); the Jakarta Biennale, Indonesia (2015); The Roving Eye, ARTER Space for Art, Istanbul, Turkey (2014-15); Finding your place in the world: Asian photomedia, at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2014); Afterimage: Contemporary Photography from Southeast Asia, Singapore Art Museum (2014-15); Suspended Histories, Museum Van Loon, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (2013); Contemporary Commonwealth, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (2006); the Singapore Biennale (2006); Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves, ZKM I Museum of Contemporary Art, Karlsruhe, Germany (2007); and the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka, Japan (2009). Fluid World, a solo exhibition surveying her major works to date, was presented at Adelaide’s Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia in 2011. She was a member of the curatorial team for the 2013 Singapore Biennale.