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Yee I-Lann Weaves A Tale Of Power On The Humble Banig

This domestic object is transformed in meaning in the hands of the Sabahan artist

The banig is the star of the show in ZIGAZIG ah!  Yee I-lann’s first solo exhibition in SILVERLENS Manila.  Her first exhibition with the gallery was in its Gillman Barracks, Singapore space in 2014.  Locally, Yee I-lann’s work was seen in Yee I-Lann: 2005-2016, her landmark retrospective show in the Ayala Museum in 2016, also produced in collaboration with SILVERLENS.

Yee is a Sabahan artist whose practice involves photomedia, through which she explores Southeast Asia’s turbulent history, and the implications of colonization in the region.  Within this dialogue, she speaks about power and the shaping of a social narrative from historic memory.  In her body of work, intricate stories are told through the use of photographs and images from historic references, archives and everyday objects.  In the recent years of her artistic practice, she has been working with sea-based and land-based communities in Sabah, employing indigenous media.

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Fresh from Kota Kinabalu! Here is a #Silverlens_Unboxing of Yee I-Lann’s mats for upcoming exhibition, ‘ZIGAZIG ah!’, opening this Saturday, 7 December, 5-8 PM. In her latest body of work, @yeeilann examines the utility and cultural relevance of mats (tikar in Malay, banig in Filipino). They are shared everyday objects that simultaneously create spaces where people can share their ideas and express themselves. Just like Yee’s commissioned piece ‘Tikar-A-Gagah’ for National Gallery Singapore, mats included in ‘ZIGAZIG ah!’ were woven with weavers from Keningau in the Borneo interior and Pulau Omadal, Semporna, in the Sulu Sea. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ‘ZIGAZIG ah!’ opens along with the gallery’s other two conclusive exhibitions, ‘Equation of State’ by Martha Atienza and ’59.59’ by Corinne de San Jose. See you in the gallery! #YeeILann #ZIGAZIGah #SilverlensGalleries #Tikar #Weave #Sabah #KotaKinabalu #Malaysia

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In 2018, Yee started working with weavers from Keningau in the Borneo interior and Pulau Omadal, Semporna, in the Sulu Sea. ZIGAZIG ah! is her first solo exhibition of new works emerging from these collaborations across her homeland, or tanahair (literally “land sea”).


To understand the artist’s message behind this exhibition requires an object lesson on the provenance of the mat and the table in the Southeast Asian context:


For Yee, the mat is an object with many names: tikar in Malay, tikam in Kadazan, tepo in Sama DiLaut/Bajau Laut or banig in Tagalog.  It is a shared everyday object, nearly always communally made, sold and used primarily by women. It demarcates space, is a site of gathering and conversation, work, performance, dreaming. Mats are often made for barter and trade. They become heirlooms, the patterns of their weave handed down through generations as a form of local knowledge. They can be assigned meaning through ritual; they map and tell stories of place, history, culture, change and exchange. Laid down, they are activated for use; hung, they become symbolic objects.


On the other hand, the table, in Yee’s work, is a signifier of administrative power – colonial, patriarchal, federal.  Thus, the work in the exhibition, referred to by the artist as 60 Tikar Meja, or Mat Table, woven using pandanus dyed in bold colors by the indigenous, semi-nomadic and stateless Bajau Sama DiLaut women of Pulau Omadal, speak (back) of a different kind of power.


Dusun Murut weavers in Keningau, using natural and blackened split bamboo pus weave worked with Yee to develop a pattern translating digital pixels into woven pixels, a language for the modern, connected world.


In this language, we read messages pieced together from the lyrics of English karaoke favorites in Semporna and Keningau: lines about love, longing, abuse, betrayal, regret, beautiful lands and stormy seas, and, from the Spice Girls’ breakthrough 1996 hit, Wannabe, “zig-a-zigah”


ZIGAZIG ah! by Yee I-Lann is on view from 7 December 2019 to 11 January 2020 alongside Equation of State by Martha Atienza and 59.59 by Corinne de San Jose at SILVERLENS, 2263 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City.