Remnants and Requiem: A Phantasmagoria of War Memories
Why We Recommend it
The exhibition by Nobel Peace Prize-commissioned photographer Sim Chi Yin – featuring ethereal landscapes of an undeclared war – takes viewers on a cinematic journey through traces of hidden histories, evoked by long-buried memories of the twelve-year conflict between the British colonial government and the resistance led by the Malayan leftists (from 1948 to 1960).
The Singaporean photographer and artist takes her family history as a starting point, and unearths contested narratives, embodied trauma and silenced memories. Having just lost India in 1947 and Burma in 1948, and fighting to restore its moral authority in the region post-World War Two, Britain battled in the dense tropical jungles across the Malay Peninsula to keep its prized colony of Malaya — strategically important but also a key source of rubber and tin globally at the time.
This was the longest conflict Britain fought in the post-war era, but officially it was called an “emergency.” The army of the Communist Party of Malaya had fought alongside Britain during the war against the Japanese but then turned to ousting the British. As the Cold War took hold near and far, what most leftists saw primarily as an anti-colonial fight was cast internationally as a Communist insurgency. Tens of thousands were labelled “bandits” and “Communist terrorists” by the state. Along with sympathisers, they were detained without trial, jailed or deported. Sim’s paternal grandfather Shen Huansheng was among the more than 30,000 deported. He was a Chinese school principal and editor of a leftist newspaper in Perak state, northern Malaya.
In excavating the story of her grandfather who had been taboo in the family for 60 years after being deported from colonial British Malaya and dying a Communist in China, Sim encounters a generation who fought — and sometimes died — for their political beliefs during the Cold War.
In her first exhibition in Hong Kong, Sim presents a series of landscape photographs, still life images, and a video and sound installation, interrogating absences and erasures, multiple versions of memory and modes of spatial haunting.
Currently based in London and Beijing, Sim’s practice integrates multiple mediums including photography, film, sound, text and archival material, performative readings, as well as rigorous research. She was commissioned as the Nobel Peace Prize photographer in 2017 and created a solo show for the Nobel Peace Centre museum in Oslo on nuclear weapons, using video installation and still photography.