Mayhem in the South-East (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, 2007)

President Sukarno, President Diosdado Macapagal and Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman signing agreements forming the MAPHILINDO on August 5, 1963 at the Juan Luna Hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Image and caption courtesy of the National Library of the Philippines. 

Investigations on Curatorial and Contemporary Art Practices
in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia (2007)

Following the second Intra Asia Network (IAN) meeting in Seoul in September 2006, Norberto “Peewee” Roldan of Green Papaya Art Projects and various partners in the network began discussing an inter-city platform for exchange and knowledge-sharing, leading various ideas to meet up and propose projects. The text below was one such proposal: "Mayhem in the South-East" was proposed as a transnational collaboration between artists and curators from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, submitted by Green Papaya to  Arts Network Asia in late 2007 but failed to secure funding. 


Applicant’s Name: Norberto Roldan (Green Papaya Art Projects) 
Project Title: Mayhem in the South-East 

Mayhem in the South-East 
Investigations on Curatorial and Contemporary Art Practices in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia 

Mayhem in the South-East is an intensive research, study, and production camp involving contemporary artists and curators from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The title of the project refers to a particular period in history shared by these countries in the early 1960s when their heads of states were considering forming a united Malay race as a backbone to an economic regional alliance being tinkered at the time. Just like when there was a clamor to establish the confederation Malaya Irredenta, or Maphilindo,* seen as a united political front breaking free from its colonial frontiers, Mayhem in the South-East is a clamor to conspire and examine contemporary art practice against this backdrop of shared history, and within the context of Southeast Asian contemporary societies. 

These countries shared similar pasts, with Malaysia under the British rule, Indonesia under the Dutch, and the Philippines under Spain and America. But how similar, or dissimilar, is the development of contemporary art and art production in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Jakarta? Benedict Anderson writes that “the spectre of comparisons arises as nations stir into self awareness, matching themselves against others, and becoming whole through the exercise of the imagination.” Mayhem in the South-East provides a window to explore each nation-state, and the comparisons surrounding a range of contemporary cultural practices that include visual arts, film and video, fashion, architecture and design, relational practices, and digital media.

In recent years, contemporary art practice has expanded from being based on two or three dimensions to include temporary and site-specific installations, built environments, film-video, performance, digital, sound, and other technology-driven art. Exhibitions of contemporary art reflect this shift and the role of the curator has changed dramatically with the emergence of these new processes and art practices. Many people perceive that the developed world has evolved into a global monoculture due to the internet and increased mobility. On the other hand, artists, curators, writers, and cultural managers, being generally aware of cultural nuances, have a different take on this phenomenon. 

Mayhem in the South-East is designed as a research, study, and production camp, a meeting point for Malaysians, Filipinos, and Indonesians to look at history from disparate vantage points, and draw critical exchanges and reactions on the state of contemporary arts in these three countries. By bringing key people from varied disciplines, perspectives, and cultural contexts, the camp seeks to step over the boundaries that divide, and/or unite, artists of different cultures, social realities, and aesthetic standpoints thus fostering deeper mutual understanding and exchange among peoples in Asia.

Mayhem in the South-East hopes to identify participants (three artists and one curator from each country) to camp for ten days in Manila for intensive research, study, and art production. The camp shall facilitate the mechanics and the necessary environment to enable the participants to understand, experience, and contextualize the processes involved in curating and cultural production. 

Mayhem in the South-East aims to provide the participants cross-disciplinary communication and collaboration skills needed to work effectively in a professional environment. Sharing/learning specific work experiences with/from peers from different creative backgrounds, locations, and cultures, the camp aims to explore theoretical and practical connections, comparisons, and differences among a range of creative disciplines, offering valuable individual knowledge in line with contemporary cross-disciplinary creative art and curatorial practice. Since the project strongly advocates the need for a creative collaborative environment for interdisciplinary work, priority is placed on the idea of research, discussions, and experimentation, allowing spaces for mistakes but fostering communication among artists of different backgrounds and aesthetic agenda. The camp likewise intends to leave a significant impact — a mayhem of creative charges — on the artists’ and curators’ practices and encourage using the framework and experience of Mayhem in the South-East as a take-off point for future cross-border/multi-disciplinary actions.

Mayhem in the South-East also aims to strengthen the existing network of linkages among independent initiatives in Asia. While the last decade has seen the growth of artist-run initiatives in the region, few of the artists working in the region have had the opportunity to realize cross-border artistic actions mainly due to lack of funding and infrastructure supporting this type of endeavor. As new networks within Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia are revitalized and of particular interest, we take this opportunity to bring in a new generation of young artists who have the potential to open new doors in Asian contemporary art practice and innovate on the idea of cross-border collaboration and cultural cooperation.

The final output of the camp shall be a multimedia exhibition/performance Mayhem in the South-East, with an accompanying catalogue and documentation, and shall tour Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Jakarta by the end of 2008.
* Maphilindo was described as a regional association that would approach issues of common concern in the spirit of consensus. However, it was also perceived as a tactic on the parts of Jakarta and Manila to delay, or even prevent, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia. Manila had its own claim to Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) and Jakarta protested the formation of Malaysia as a British imperialist plot. The plan failed when Sukarno adopted his plan of konfrontasi with Malaysia. The subsequent development of ASEAN finally abolished all possibilities of Maphilindo being realized. 


The above text has been edited for length and clarity.

More info:
Norberto Roldan. “The Secret Society Behind Papaya Magazine.” (3 Sept 2020)

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Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya’s own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.