The 2008 Guangzhou Triennial’s “Farewell to Post-Colonialism” initiated discourse on a potential conclusion to the post-colonial epoch. “Days of Our Lives,” Wong Hoy Cheong’s solo exhibition at Taipei Eslite Gallery, was thus a kind of farewell ceremony, yet one with a strong sense of irony.
In the video work Dog Hole (2010), Wong Hoy Cheong recounts the story of a father who suffered under false imprisonment during the Japanese occupation, though later in life traveled to Japan, and praised its landscape and civilization. In a dream sequence, a woman lovingly sings, “if not for you…”—a line representing the aberrant kind of love shared between master and slave, as if to say: “If not for your colonization and violent domination, I would not be who I am today.” Wong’s RE: Looking (2002) fabricates an imaginary narrative in which Malaysia colonizes Austria, satirizing Western colonialism by assuming the role of the colonizer. Moreover, as the two countries lack a relationship through colonialism, the mismatch serves to mock the former for its fixation on blood nationalism. Accordingly, we can read Wong’s gestures on two levels: the first as a critique of nationalistic violence, as seen in The Definitive ABC’s of Ethnography and The Definitive ABC’s of Governance (1999); the second as a critique, particularly in the works Tapestry (1998-2004) and Text Tiles (2000), of the authoritarian hand of the capitalist economy and its power structure that ultimately compromises the status of democracy.
Wong Hoy Cheong’s creative approach is agile and multifaceted. His works emphasize texture, while skillfully engaging in mimicry and fine-tuned environmental planning. The topic of colonialism serves as a point of entry, a mechanism for reflection on the violence of nations. For Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese, the works appear to contain a personal address. Moreover, as his works cross international borders, they are sensitive to the politics of otherness that surround those of Asian descent who live abroad. At the 2005 Guangzhou Triennial, he capped the rooftop of the museum with a minaret, compelling the audience to look back at history, and to squarely face China’s Muslim communities. At the Taipei Biennial in 2008, his Maid in Malaysia used heightened play to shed light on the labor situation of household workers in Taiwan who come from countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia; the work further considers the diaspora aesthetic of the Chinese-Malay literature that flourished in Taiwan in the 1990s.
For Wong Hoy Cheong, the politics of otherness drive his creation. However, the tone here is not a cry of protest, but rather, a critique of the appropriation and commodification of cultural and social difference. This is in contrast to the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial’s talking points regarding the “regime of the Other” or the “tyranny of the Other.” Because the Other, from the start, has been squeezed out of representation. It is outside the bounds of the politics of representation; or else it is just on the margin, a push away from being beyond it. Thus, Wong observes caution in dealing with the image of the Other, playing jokes to illuminate its displacement and to critique the post-colonial legacy: the dominion of the nation system, and its control over representation. Chen Tai-Sung