Rajinder Singh’s Saffron Songs uses sound to excavate buried memories

Rajinder Singh’s Saffron Songs uses sound to excavate buried memories

The artist’s latest exhibition is a paean to his late grandfather and a bridge to 1960s Malaysia

DOWN a laneway and nestled near the heart of Brickfields, on the second floor above an antique store sits Wei Ling Gallery. One of the premier galleries in Kuala Lumpur city, it has been operating for over two decades.

Wei Ling has organised 224 exhibitions as of last month, bringing the most innovative contemporary art through the works of international artists.

Saffron Songs is Rajinder Singh’s latest exhibition at the gallery.

It showcases the culmination of the artist’s acumen and breadth as an artist working on multiple levels and using all the muscles he has developed throughout his career working in different mediums like movement and choreography, sculpture, and mixed-media formats.

In Saffron Songs, Rajinder hones in on concepts of citizenship, nationalism, and identity, using the sonic substance and materiality of a specially commissioned Punjabi folk song (Lok Git) in his paintings.

The song, a paean to his deceased grandfather, investigates the nuances of a ‘space of refusal’ that he carved into his existence amidst the constant conflict and colonisation that took place around him in Malaya, in the first 60 years of the last century.

Influenced by the study of Afro-sonics or Black sounds, similarly, Rajinder intends to explore the cultural heritage he has inherited using sounds as a channel through time and space, which he has dubbed ‘Saffron Sonics’.

Rajinder chose saffron because it is the primary colour present in the day-to-day life of Sikhs, as seen in their Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag), turbans and shawls.


Rajinder Singh describes his latest work as a paean to his late grandfather. – ALIF OMAR/The Vibes pic

Through these latest works, Rajinder captures the conflict, violence, and chaos of our collective past and propels them into the forefront of the national consciousness, in hopes to address the turmoil that is still present today in Malaysia.

In a conversation with The Vibes, the artist provides further insight into his process and the impetus behind his latest work.

The Vibes (TV): Could you tell me the story behind Saffron Songs? And how did the project start for you?

Rajinder Singh (RS): I am a third-generation Punjabi Sikh. My grandfather on my mother’s side, came to Malaya in 1951. I started the process about three years ago, first by just talking to my family, collecting interviews, snippets of conversation and photographs.

That was what started it. And then I found myself thinking about what was going on, and the idea that I was in this pocket that ‘sound’ allowed to happen; it allowed two bodies to come together to share this connection.

Despite being in London, we were speaking primarily in Punjabi. That made me look at sonics, and where I found the premise that a single sound carries a whole history and culture. Not just words and language, but the material of sound.
The sound we make when we breathe through our teeth, or the gestures we create through sound, and all the little things that you do that make up language, that is not just the words. These echoes and vibrations open up the rhythmic nature.

Sound is anxious. It is restless and promiscuous. It can be a channel for us to understand and keep the world today, but there are many different perspectives, all melding together and all bouncing off each other.

TV: My first impressions of the paintings were how much movement was present in the paintwork.

RS: Yes, it is a big brush paint, and it is done fast. I used acrylic, because of the nature of that medium and the strokes being large, it dries quickly, which allows me to move on quickly. I have several of them going on in my studio.

That [the confidence] comes from practice after two years of doing it. And the moment I deliberate at any point in this painting, it ruins it. A lot of the content of these pieces is just years of sketching.

Saffron Songs runs until September 10 at Wei Ling Gallery. – ALIF OMAR/The Vibes pic
As a choreographer, I work a lot with gestures, movements, and rhythms. How would you raise your hand when striking or movements in the limbs? I break that down and try to visually describe it with separate brushstrokes, and allow movement to come into play.

I want to stand in front of the painting and immediately feel the energy, feel the motions and how it moves around.

TV: What discoveries did you make during this project?

RS: I made the journey to find out about my grandfather and I found out about sound and the power of it, how it might be used for me to understand the world around me today.

In discovering my grandfather, I learnt how he was surrounded by conflict, colonisation, the occupation, Japanese oppression, and the communist emergency yet he manages to carve a space where he allowed himself to get away from all that was going on.

Today, I think that is an important lesson. This idea of being able to refuse when everybody around you insists on what you must do or resisting the demands of the system and capitalism; as a model or as a way of understanding our world today.
It is a way of occupying and living today, which gives birth to this idea of presence, self-reflection, of decolonising yourself. That is a lesson that I am learning and taking from this that is in here somewhere.

‘Saffron Songs’ is running at Wei Ling Gallery until September 10.

source – The Vibes

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