ON THE ACT OF PLANTING ISLANDS
(Digital prints, dimensions variable, 2014)
A keen naturalist, William Farquhar in his stint as resident of Malacca from 1803 to 1818, commissioned a Chinese painter to produce 477 watercolour paintings of the flora and fauna of Malaya. While the commissions were real, the identity of the painter remains unknown. Not so much a mystery, but simply because no record of his identity was ever left behind. More artisan than artist, these paintings are seen as Farquhar’s legacy.
A compendium piece to the film, To the Eastward (The Lines Divide), on the act of planting islands reflects upon and problematize the history of these paintings in relation to the colonial exploits of that era. The work is an amalgamation of the commissioned paintings and colonial maps of Singapore and the extended regions of the Malay Archipelago.
Ultimately, the absurd blend of these illustrations speaks of more than just a history of colonial expedition, but of the West’s fascination with the exotic Far East.