Treasure Island, 2017

National Museum of Singapore, 28 April to 25 June.

MAMAKAN

TREASURE ISLAND

2017 Singapore

 

"It (Singapore) abounds in an endless variety of plants equally interesting to the botanist, the agriculturist and the gardener, with unrivalled facilities and opportunities of disseminating these treasures and exchanging them for others".

 

These words were written in 1822 by Nathaniel Wallich, a Botanist and the first Dane to arrive in the newly established settlement of Singapore. He found so much value in Singapore’s plant diversity he dubbed the local botanicals “treasures.”

To colonial settlers the native plants were treasures because of their potential market value. In Wallach’s case, he was simply passionate about the wonders of mother nature. To the pre-colonial native inhabitants, the plants were valuable as the source of life itself. And yet, to most of us who live on this "Treasure Island" today, the local edible plants are barely visible at all.

To find a treasure, sometimes you need to borrow someone else’s eyes. Or tastebuds. Or sense of smell.  

That is not enough: we must experience these treasures for ourselves in our own time and in our own modern way.

You may begin to see what I have seen as I started on my own botanical love affair, and all that Wallich saw, and all that our ancestors have seen before that. Not only what they have seen, but also what they have tasted, touched and smelled.

Through this alchemy, what was once of no value becomes immensely valuable, not because we can put a number on it—in fact, often we cannot—but for all that it teaches us about the world and our place in it. We are not apart from nature, we are a part of it.

The year that Wallich arrived he met with the first resident of the island, Colonel William Farquhar, a friendly Scottish gentleman. Farquhar had also been so impressed by the flora and fauna of the region that he had commissioned a collection of 477 natural history drawings to be made between 1803 to 1818, the "William Farquhar Collection".

This Mamakan exhibition is a premiere peek into what will grow into a contemporary collection of 477 new original artworks depicting edible botanicals in today's Singapore. "The Mamakan Collection" will be finished in 2018, or exactly two hundred years after Farquhar had his collection ready, thus linking the two worlds into a living heritage piece.  

_______

In a past life, Kristine Oustrup Laureijs (b. 1971, Denmark) was the embodiment of the restless cosmopolite, with a horizontal network that traversed the entire globe. It came to a point where she found herself stretched too thin, and she knew then that what she had to do was to ground down and discover her roots.

Mamakan was born out of this impulse in 2014. It is a synthesis of three words: “Mama,” for mother nature, and “makan", for the act of eating and also, home. How can we grow roots, if we never eat from the soil? By sensing the plants that are rooted in the places we live, we can hope—even if it is only temporary—to internalize their sense of gravity and connectedness.

 

Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Girl.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Pink Hair.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation Discovery.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Senior Love 1.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Senior Love 2.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Botanical Spirit Collection 4.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Women.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation 1.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View artist statement 1.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Artist Statment 2.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Botanical Spirit Collection 2.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Spirit Collection 1.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Botanical Spirit Collection 5.jpg
Treasure Island by Mamakan National Museum of Singapore Art Installation View Botanical Spirit Collection 3.jpg

Partners

Treasure Island is presented by National Heritage Board (NHB) as part of Singapore Heritage Festival with National Museum of Singapore (NMS) as the venue supporter. Thank you to also to Mahota Commune, Food for Thought, National Parks Board (NParks), Toh Kim Bock (TKB) and The Tropicalist for their gracious support for this exhibition.


Impressions

"I had the pleasure of meeting one of Singapore's most exciting new art groups on May/Labour Day weekend in their new exhibit "Treasure Island" at the National Musuem. Mamakan has an ideology which takes city folks from the ground up to their roots, so to speak, literally with the rediscovery and classification of the flora and fauna indigenous to Singapore. Mamakan is keen to share and re-introduce the concepts of foraging, gathering and looking by way of photography in a large scale data collection artwork for Singapore. One segment of her long term conceptual interactive and viewer inclusive art project was in the Singapore Biennale 2016. ****Highly recommended". Jane M Shishido

"Thank you for having us at your Treasure Island Exhibition and sharing with us the interesting stories and taste of the plants and flora, it was really very eye-opening and educational". Juliana Yeo, One Faber Group


Special note about the music by artist

I chose music for Treasure Island by Danish composer Christoph Ernst Friederich Weyse (5 March 1774 – 8 October 1842). He was a Danish contemporary of Wallich, but where Wallich was an explorer, Weyse was a complete "homebody".

Weyse was born in Altona, a city in Germany, then administrated by the Danish Royal family. Only 6 years old, his father passed away and at 15 he lost his mother. Friends and family helped him to move to Copenhagen, Denmark to live with an uncle and study classical music. But the voyage to Copenhagen of five days in bad weather made him terrible seasick. Despite being the most talented composer of his time, Weyse never travelled again.

I was especially inspired by one of his songs about a place on quiet contemplation amidst the stress of the urban life, surprisingly relevant today's busy "Treasure Island" of Singapore.

Here is my own loose translation from Danish: 

Untouched by the city's bustle by Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse

 1

Untouched by the city's bustle and the traffic's heavy noise,
On a hill in the middle of the noise are the strangest joys.
Silence, missing from our life, exaggerates today's demands,
Here, where mother nature opens her house for rich and poor.
Here is the day of forever,
Here love has its place,
Where our mother is with us with her presence and grace,
And then we feel for a while,
That we stand on a treasure isle,
And that the meaning of life shines from our creator's own smile.


2

The noise level rises around us, everyone chasing for something,
So mother nature must whisper to reach a split mind;
But then one morning it happens that
She greets us at the door: "Your stress is over!"
Here is the day of forever,
Here love has its place,
Where our mother is with us with her presence and grace,
And then we feel for a while,
That we stand on a treasure isle,
And that the meaning of life shines from our creator's own smile.


3

Footsteps of working slaves during the forgotten years,
Dance-light or heavy as they felt their destiny,
When the wise came with their little ones to the life of life,
When they clenched their sorrows, their dearest were dead.
Here is the day of forever,
Here love has its place,
Where our mother is with us with her presence and grace,
And then we feel for a while,
That we stand on a treasure isle,
And that the meaning of life shines from our creator's own smile.

4

Life’s own silence falls upon us word for word,
When we kneel young and old around this table of food..
Selfishness is almost comical, here where the last man is first,
And a poor child who plays with the flowers is called the nursed.
Here is the day of forever,
Here love has its place,
Where our mother is with us with her presence and grace,
And then we feel for a while,
That we stand on a treasure isle,
And that the meaning of life shines from our creator's own smile.