TALK: Fruits and Nanyang Cultural Space

Lostgen, Jalan Panggung, 50000, Kuala Lumpur, WP Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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TALK: Fruits and Nanyang Cultural Space will be organized at Lostgen on 14th October 2016 (Friday).

* For more information, please visit this website

Visual Art Department, Cultural Centre, University of Malaya and Lostgens' Contemporary Art Space present


a public talk by Lai Chee Kien

the talk will be followed by a book launch of a graphic novel written by Oh Yong Hwee and illustrated by Koh Hong Teng titled, 'Garden of Foolish Indulgences', published by Pause Narratives, and is based on a 2011 academic essay, 'Rambutans in the Picture: Han Wai Toon and Overseas Chinese Space in Singapore', written by architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kien. Copies of the book will be available at this event for a special price of RM50. 

Date: 14 October 2016 (Friday)
Time: 8.00PM - 10.00PM
Venue: Lostgens' Contemporary Art Space, 8c, Jalan Panggung, Kuala Lumpur. 

Among the later Southern Chinese immigrants in turn-of-­20th-century Singapore were distinct groups of literati who sought employment in artistic, literary, educational and other academic fields upon arrival in the new host country. The common imagination and tracings of diasporic ties with mainland China concurrent with the need to acclimatise to everyday existence in the equatorial locale, required constant rendering, translating, and shuttling between their former and present lived spheres; in particular, hermeneutic interpretations and transformations of their textual contexts, frameworks and practices were necessary to make sense of new and emergent identities / positions.

This talk examines a crucial site that provided space for the experimentation and formation of such hybrid identities in Singapore – the Han Rambutan Orchard. Originally a migrant plantation laborer, its owner Han Wai Toon educated himself to become a leading public intellectual and scholar in both English and Chinese­ language worlds. To the semi­-rural two­-acre site outside the main town converged visitors engaged in scholarly discourses in art, poetry, archaeology, and literature. Through these cultural practices, the landscapes and geographies of the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia (Nanyang huachiao) came to be understood in relation to social networks involving the British colonial elite and the formative Chinese world of other “sojourners” in the “South Seas.”

Using a 1964 painting by local artist Lim Mu Hue of the garden, Lai Chee Kien discusses the multiple imaginations of the identities and positions of the owner as well as visitors to the garden. The hybrid forms of tropical fruits produced in the orchard, especially the rambutan, found their way into academic scholarship, as well as became the subjects and mediums through which new modes of rendering art, literature and poetry were possible. More significantly, the fruits themselves became visceral, ingested forms of imagining and understanding traditions, identities, and community in the “overseas Chinese” tropics.


Lai Chee Kien is Adjunct Associate Professor at the Architecture and Sustainable Design Pillar, Singapore University of Technology and Design. He is a registered architect, and graduated from the National University of Singapore with an M Arch. by research [1996], and then a PhD in History of Architecture & Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley [2005]. He researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia. His publications include A Brief History of Malayan Art (1999), Building Merdeka: Independence Architecture in Kuala Lumpur, 1957­-1966 (2007). His 2015 work, Through the Lens of Lee Kip Lin: Photographs of Singapore 1965­-1995, won Singapore Book Award for Best Non­-Fiction Title in 2016.

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