Mon, May 14, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Transcending borders

A Malaysian artist’s quest for identity leads him to Taiwan to explore the Austronesian links between the two countries

By Siok Hui Leong  /  Contributing reporter

Jeffrey Lim taking portraits of the Tombonuo indigenous people last year in Sabah, Borneo.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Lim

In November last year, Malaysian artist Jeffrey Lim (林猷進) had just wrapped up a presentation on his photography project at Taipei’s Open Contemporary Art Center, an artist-run space, when he was asked why he embarked on it.

“I wanted to find out who am I,” said Lim, who was in town for a short visit on the invitation of Nusantara Archive, a Taiwan-based artists’ platform.

Lim’s deceptively simple answer led him to Taipei this month for a one-month art residency and his first solo exhibition, KANTA Portraits/work in progress (鏡頭下的容顏記 / 持續進行中), which begins on Saturday at Taipei’s Studio 94, an eclectic artist space run by non-profit Thermos Foundation. The exhibition will showcase a selection of works rooted in the theme: “exploring the ideas of identity, culture and nationhood through photography.”

Thermos serves as a platform to support alternative artists through workshops, events and exhibitions.

“I was moved by Jeff’s answer,” says Thermos director Sarina Yeh (葉姿吟) who was in the audience. “Many people fail to ask: Who am I? What do I really want in life?’ In the end, we follow the mainstream because we never question ourselves.”


The main showpiece, Dinding Potret Kanta (2014-2017, translated as “Kanta Wall Portraits”), is a collection of portraits of Malaysians. Hand-printed on silver resin-coated paper, the portraits are framed in aluminum and steel food cans and bottle caps, and mounted on a 1.9m by 0.5m oxidized zinc panel.

Since 2014, Lim has been criss-crossing Malaysia, capturing portraits of everyday people in urban and remote villages using his handmade box cameras.

Dinding illustrates Lim’s use of typological photography — an approach that uses the camera as a tool to capture and classify subjects, to study identity through portraiture.


Lim, 39, tells the Taipei Times that the project’s name Kanta (“lens” in Malay) holds a double meeting.

“Kanta is the medium that captures light to enable sight or image. The metaphorical meaning is how the different lens or filters affect how we view the world.”

Lim started the Kanta project in 2011 as an examination of self, identity, family history and its links to Malaysia. Lim, a second generation Malaysian Chinese, is labeled as a Chinese on his Malaysian ID, with Chinese and English names.

“But I have little or no affiliation to anything Chinese or China.”

In the project’s context, Lim attempts to question and deconstruct the nationally-constructed ideals of race, culture and religion that tries to define what and who its people are.

Dinding was exhibited at the recently-concluded Kuala Lumpur Art Biennale last year and acquired by Malaysia’s National Visual Arts Gallery for its permanent collection.

Lim’s use of photography as a medium stems from the measly but invaluable stash of old photographs of his ancestors that he found in his family archive.

His tool of choice — also called a mobile “photo studio” — was inspired by the Afghan Box Camera Project, a documentary by Austrian artist Lukas Birk and Irish ethnographer Sean Foley. Known as kamra-e-faoree, or “instant camera,” the homemade wooden device, which dates back to the 19th century, has been used in Afghanistan for generations. They are still used in remote parts of India, Europe, Brazil and Cuba, Lim said.

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