To begin with
by JB2021 ESOK Curatorial Team
JB2021 ESOK’s curators in conversation with Sidd Perez and Michelle Wong to explore how they got involved with the biennale, their views on ESOK, as well as their individual approaches in curating the biennale. Sidd and Michelle have been in conversation with the curators since January in framing the biennale’s blog and their future involvement as collaborators and editors. This talk unravels their experiences so far, thoughts, and ways to begin with JB2021 ESOK.
Sidd Perez is a curator. Their practice is parented by independent communities in Manila and the regions surrounding the Philippines, chiselled by museum employment and softened by peers who, like them, contend with oblique prompts on public histories and think about the rehabilitation of personal legacies. Sidd is currently affiliated with the National University of Singapore Museum where she facilitates the circulation, education and other curatorial expressions of contemporary projects and the Museum’s Southeast Asia Collection. They are also 1/2 of Planting Rice, a curatorial platform that continues to reorient lost, unloved, poorly circulated, misrepresented archives and approaches to exhibition-making.
Michelle Wong is a researcher, curator, and writer based in Hong Kong. From 2012-2020, she was a Researcher at Asia Art Archive, where she researched on histories of exchange and circulation through exhibitions and periodicals, and the personal archive of the late Ha Bik Chuen (1925-2009). She was Assistant Curator of 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016). She collaborates with artist Wei Leng Tay on the long term collective project Sightlines. Since Yokohama Triennale 2020, she works with curator Kabelo Malatsie and artist Lantian Xie, exploring how curatorial thinking expresses itself infrastructurally. She is currently a PhD student of Art History at The University of Hong Kong. Her writing has been published in Ambitious Alignments: New Histories of Southeast Asian Art, 1945–1990 (2018), the journal Southeast of Now (2019), Oncurating and Ocula Magazine.
Grace Samboh lives and works either in Yogyakarta, Jatiwangi, Jakarta or Medan. Believing that curating is about understanding and making at the same time, she jigs within the existing elements of the arts scene around her. With June Yap, Gridthiya Gaweewong, and Anna-Catharina Gebbers, she is curating “Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories” a joint venture between Galeri Nasional Indonesia, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, Singapore Art Museum, Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and Goethe-Institut (2021-2022). She is attached to Hyphen —, affiliated to RUBANAH Underground Hub, and struggling for her doctoral thesis at Arts and Society Studies, Sanata Dharma University.
Sally Texania is an independent curator based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She earned her bachelor degree from the faculty of Art and Design at the Bandung Institute of Technology (2009) and her master from the faculty of International Relations at University of Indonesia (2012). served as head of Ciputra Artpreneur Museum (2014-2016). Her past curatorial works includes: the collection exhibition of Ciputra Artpreneur Museum (2014-2016), Senandung Ibu Pertiwi, Art Collection of Presidential Palace of Indonesia (2017)& the new narrative of Museum of Fine Art and Ceramics Jakarta (2019).
Qinyi Lim is Curator at National Gallery Singapore. She completed the de Appel Curatorial Programme, Amsterdam in 2012, and holds a Masters in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore. Her research interests look at epistemological conundrums and transhistorical dilemmas posed by the different modes of post and de-colonization. Lim previously held curatorial positions at Para Site, Hong Kong; NUS Museum, Singapore; and Singapore Art Museum.
by Akmalia Rizqita and Rachel K Surijata (Curatorial Assistants of JB2021 ESOK)
‘To begin with’ is the title of this first iteration of JB2021 ESOK Monthly Event. In conversation were the curators: Grace Samboh, Sally Texania, and Qinyi Lim with Sidd Perez and Michelle Wong, collaborators and future editors of this curatorial blog. This event is framed as a ‘slametan’ or communal feast, with everyone sitting on the ground, gathering and conversing around (an image of) food.
The conversation covers the genesis of discussions, approaches and methodologies that have helped frame the curatorial team’s approach to ESOK so far.
In a way, this event left us with a peculiar feeling of reassurance. Although it is public, it felt no different than any of our regular meetings or even our day to day conversation within the process of working for the biennale. There is also a nice comment from our friend who was present; they said that ‘it felt like a fly on the wall that’s listening to a group of friends chatting in a cafe’. The curators did emphasize that they intentionally wanted to share the intimacy, as Grace said—’in that way we can be safe, knowing that everyone has vulnerabilities in the process.’
We joined the team quite late, just a few months ago in February 2021 so it was already in the midst of the pandemic. As the curators mentioned in the event, we have never even all been in the same space together. At the beginning, we felt a bit like we were thrown right into the deep end of this process. Things moved quick, and we went into this with just two texts in hand, Bu Dolo’s notes, and Grace’s reply to it. Let alone to think about what Esok is, we were even still trying to figure out what working for the biennale meant for each of us. There were doubts and lots of questions, but these thoughts and questions were not something to be answered by anyone but ourselves.
Hence it gave us great pleasure to read each curators’ letters for the blog and listen in to their conversations with artists to guide us in figuring out the answers or in some cases actually figuring out whether our thoughts and questions really needed answers. As Sally mentioned in the event, the letters aim to accommodate different stages of experiencing and learning and that’s what we felt as we slowly got into the routine of seeing each other through the screen.
Recalling Qinyi’s statement, trust is an important thing that we have. Apart from acknowledging that all of us have different vision of what ESOK would be, we consciously go into this process in the spirit of openness and excitement towards what is to come for the biennale, for us both, and for everyone who is involved, be it directly or indirectly.