“Cekek darah” is one of the most evocative phrases in the Malay language. The words translate into “strangle blood” and refer to being so agitated or angry that you’d literally choke on blood. Shayne Phua’s latest work in Yeo Workshop’s exhibition “Ornamental” features a Merlion who does exactly that — but in addition, also spews out the blood while sitting in padmasana (i.e. the lotus position), inside a giant, stinking Rafflesia flower.
The artist is furious at colonial constructs that give primacy to the ‘founding’ of the flower by white men— even though it had been known to people in Indonesia well before then— and boy, does it show in her striking ceramic sculpture “Padma Malayan” (a reference to an Indonesian name for the Rafflesia – “Padma raksasa”).
The Merlion’s blood in her work is actually bandung, a sugary rose syrup, and opposite her sculpture you’ll find another deadly- sweet neon pink confection – Lizzie Wee’s “Honey Trap.” Coming out of her research into female archetypes in Southeast Asian media, this work sees the artist using her own body together with phrases from vintage Playboys, to address the idea of female desirability. There are black teeth (attractive in Edo- era Japan), sticky body parts that look either dismembered or pornographic depending on how you angle your head, and spidery organza tassels that ripple tantalisingly in the gallery’s air-conditioned breeze.
These are just two works in a very strong selection. There are others : Quynh Dong’s video work which looks like a Vietnamese lacquer painting come to life, Santi Wangchuan’s massive all -consuming wall hanging and Stephanie Burt’s mixed media sculpture which reimagines the tragic plight of girls in 1950s DC comics.
The show runs till 9 Jan 2022, visit Yeo Workshop for details.