Malaysian artist Okui Lala to share recent Singapore Biennale video work online


  • Arts
  • Friday, 27 Mar 2020

A video still from Olui Lala's 'National Language Class: Our Language Proficiency', which addresses the many languages used in Malaysian schools. Photo: Okui Lala

Contemporary art enthusiasts can now watch an online screening of Penang-born artist Okui Lala’s video installation work, National Language Class: Our Language Proficiency, on March 29 through Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/383250251) any time between 6pm and 9pm.

This three-channel video, which has a runtime of 46 minutes, simulates a classroom setting of a discussion among six people in different languages.

It was first shown at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore during the recently concluded Singapore Biennale (Nov 22, 2019 to March 22, 2020).

The video was shot at SJKC Sum Min in Penang and the physical screening was originally scheduled to be held there, during Open Studios Penang in George Town this weekend.

As the event has since been called off, the video presentation has now been moved online. The decision was made before the movement control order was announced.

“This work was inspired by Chua Mia Tee‘s painting National Language Class from 1959 and also my experiences of growing up in a multilingual society. For this work, five other individuals from different generations were invited to share their experiences of studying in Malaysian public schools. Our oldest participant in the video is in his 70s and the youngest is in her 20s, ” shares Okui, 29, whose real name is Chew Win Chen.

Okui Lala reciting a Teochew language poem together with her father in Penang. Photo: Okui LalaOkui Lala reciting a Teochew language poem together with her father in Penang. Photo: Okui Lala

National Language Class: Our Language Proficiency is a continuation of her earlier video work, My Language Proficiency (2017) where she positions herself as a case study on how meaning and nuance can change through each language and translation.

Her work doesn’t just stop at this video; at the Singapore Biennale, she observed a Chinese and an Indonesian audience watching it together.

“One group laughed when Mandarin was spoken, while the other reacted in a similar way when Bahasa Malaysia was spoken. The experience of watching the video also differs based on your own language proficiency, ” she muses.

The online screening on Sunday will be followed by an artist sharing session on Zoom (https://zoom.us/j/734393632).

Okui Lala's three-channel video installation 'National Language Class: Our Language' was shown at the recently concluded Singapore Biennale. Photo: Okui LalaOkui Lala's three-channel video installation 'National Language Class: Our Language' was shown at the recently concluded Singapore Biennale. Photo: Okui Lala

Okui has a few short short videos that are available to the public online, but this will be her first time sharing a longer video and doing an online artist sharing.

“Our initial plan was to have a facilitated discussion after the screening, as the topic - language and education - is quite close to a lot of us here in Malaysia. I am quite nervous about the current online arrangement as it is less (or more) interactive than in a physical space.

"I hope that this autobiography video will provide a space for reflection on how changes in education policy over the decades have affected different generations of students, from the classroom to the real world, ” she says.

Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/282710749380986/ for more details.

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