The legend has it that when Sultan Mahmud Shah sought her hand in marriage, the princess made seven demands, one of which was seven trays of mosquito hearts. Foo May Lyn explains her exhibition further.
Options: What prompted you to do an exhibition on this theme?
Foo: The theme had been prompting me! As a child, I always had a fascination for what 10,000 mosquito hearts would look like. And later, who would even attempt to deliver such an outrageous request? What would be the socially brutal repercussions in executing it, if the sultan had indeed chosen to fulfil the princess’ list of absurd requests? But the actual move to create the work — that came with my last solo exhibition at Sinkeh’s Reka Art Space, where I did Dressed Text in conjunction with the 2014 George Town Literary Festival. Through stitching zillions of tiny stitches, I thought of her request again. I felt as if I were the sultan’s slave doing his bidding!
What do you want to say?
I want to say, look deeply, look far and beyond, look behind, look upside down, look inside out, look historically, look politically, search farther than what we’ve been fed on, hunger to unearth and provoke the superficial.
What kind of works are you showing? Media?
Soft sculptures and garments, paper and textiles.
What did your preparations for the show involve?
It involved looking up the story again very briefl y and asking a few friends what they thought of the puteri’s request. After that, it was a lot of internalising of the imaginary as I come from a theatre background. I approach my work the way I do as an actor. I play all the characters I create. Like scripts, you know?
Why Puteri Gunung Ledang and how does she speak to you?
She doesn’t actually. It is the legend, the myth, the audacity of such a request that spoke to me. Her being a woman is the only thing she and I have in common. I wondered about the politics of the time, which are not that diff erent from the politics of now. Could her list of requests have been invented? Reinterpreted by indignant emissaries? Could she have been so brilliant and strong as a woman to have diplomatically declined the sultan’s proposal? Ethereal enough to have made up that list to teach him about the beauty of impermanence? In these works, I eventually played the role of the sultan and his slaves, palace staff and entourage in trying to deliver all those requests, and through that, discovered other emotions in the feudalism of it all.
Is this something you hope to do more of?
“More” does not even feature! I work every day on art. I have been doing it for the last 18 years, quietly and steadfastly.I never aim or think of exhibiting. It’s like acting, I search for the characters, the situations, the text, the sentient stuff . I just work until it’s done and leave things suspended for a while until things happen . .. and then, an exhibition happens! I’m no planner, I’m afraid. It would be nice to “be planned”!
'10,000 Mosquito Hearts', OUR ArtProjects @ The Zhongshan Building, 80 Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kampung Attap. Tues-Sun, 11am-7pm. Until Feb 17. This interview first appeared on Jan 28, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.