Before the advent of paper and the printing press, communities passed down information through oral storytellers. They would hold court when the day’s work was done and everyone would gather round to listen to what they had to say. It was this ancient and intimate tradition that came to mind as I sat in the circular bench and experienced Jeremy Sharma’s ‘fidelity’ exhibition, currently being held at Aloft at Hermès, on the top floor of the brand boutique’s space at Liat Towers.
Sharma describes the presentation as “a question of representation and authenticity and the organising forces between them”. While putting together ‘fidelity’, Sharma travelled around Southeast Asia to commune with diminishing and displaced communities to record their oral stories.
“I originally intended to record songs from around the region from different communities, songs you may not have heard, sung by communities that might exist among us,” explained Sharma. “I think songs occupy both types of representation – they describe or portray events, feelings and life and yet also take the place of people, with the artist as proxy.”
Sharma recorded four folk songs – Zatil Tarana, Kami Koun Laut, Dhandang Gula Dedhep Tidhem, and O Limau – for his exhibition.
• Zatil Tarana
“The song describes the Rohingya’s rightful place in their homeland called Arakan and the historic events of 3 June 2012 and 9 October 2016. It describes both the persecution and the triumph of their people. Written by Ustaz Hamidullah, the song is performed by a five-piece ensemble comrpising young boys from the Rohingya Community School in Kuala Lumpur.”
• Kami Koun Laut
“This is a song that depicts the Orang Seletar
(sea gypsies) as the original people of the sea, who have been driven to the mangroves where the small fish and crabs they find is too limited to sustain them. The language of the Orang Seletar is very close to the Malay language and is considered severely endangered by Unesco.”
• Dhandang Gula Dedhep Tidhem
“This is a Javanese poem about the night and the moon’s irresistible beauty. Javanese songs or the Macapat have a structure that takes 11 forms, each with its own name, structure and characteristic. The Macapat is a poetic form used to record events, stories, feelings and teachings, a method for recording and informing in Java.”
• O Limau
“This is an old Portuguese ditty that describes the green lime fruit used in cooking and drinking, walking and following in a wheel, and the carefree dalliances of a young woman. It is sung in Kristang, a creole language spoken by the eponymous community and is derived from the Portuguese creole, which means ‘Christian’. The people are of mixed Portuguese and Arabic descent.”
Unlike typical art exhibitions that require visual and mental processing power, ‘fidelity’ is a journey through a 10-minute soundscape, filled with hymns, voices and music that are equal parts surreal and bewildering. That’s the idea behind the new space. Curator Emi Eu wanted to focus on the theme ‘immateriality’ and Sharma has brought that concept to life.
Besides the audio recordings, visitors to the exhibition can also delve into the mind of Sharma with his treasure trove of drawings, notes and scribblings that he has accumulated during his travels and research into ‘fidelity’.
The creation of the sound room is as much a piece of art as the actual recording. “Sound propagates in a sphere, and finding a room’s optimal acoustic condition, sound engineers put panels in place to absorb the first reflection points between speakers and listeners. The latter then create their own world from these speakers through their subjectivity,” explained Sharma.
Depending on your where you position yourself as well as whether you decide to face inward or outward, you’ll pick up different sounds and nuances. As we sat listening to the valleys and peaks of this aural art, we were enthralled. It’s only a 10-minute journey, but what a journey.
fidelity is on till 19 August at Aloft at Hermès, admission is free