Surveillance and censorship are becoming part and parcel of daily life around the world, and yet many citizens seem content to turn a blind eye to it. A new exhibition at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur called Seen is addressing that issue. Curator Line Dalile brings together ten leading international and Malaysian artists, hoping that through documentary, photography and conceptual practice, the artwork can open people’s eyes to the modern threats encroaching on our privacy
The exhibit is meant to be one of the first in Southeast Asia to focus on surveillance, censorship and invisibility. What is the significance of this and its timing for you as the curator?
In times when political uncertainty and suspicion are heightened, notions of freedom, privacy and democratic rights re-emerge as points of discussion among artists and activists. I think it was of paramount importance to curate an exhibition that navigates and mirrors current anxieties regarding the state of surveillance, especially with the recent Facebook data scandal that alerted citizens worldwide to how a breach of trust between products and consumers and, likewise, government and individuals, is not at all unlikely; perhaps it is even more common than previously thought.
The aim of the exhibition is to explore how a growing number of artists and activists have interrogated, questioned or criticised contemporary practices of surveillance. From the overtly political, through the cynical, to the playful, a range of approaches were employed by artists, some of which have ‘referred’ to surveillance in their works; others have ‘appropriated’ and ‘recontextualised’ images and technologies of surveillance. Many of the artists are exhibiting their works for the first time in Malaysia and in Southeast Asia. Their works deal with issues of social visibility and invisibility, and some specifically question contemporary visibility regimes and their impact on urban space.
What do you expect visitors to walk away with?
I think as citizens we have succumbed to an ambivalent state in which we are willing to forget and look past the risks of surveillance technologies. In a way, we have been conditioned to consume the benefits of surveillance without full awareness of the risks that follow. With personalised advertising and constant connectivity comes massive data breaches and consolidation of personal information in the hands of corporate interests. What I hope this exhibition can help do is combat this ‘amnesia’ and the common tendency to forget and exist passively. I hope visitors walk away with a renewed sense of awareness and a deeper understanding of how much we are being shaped by surveillance policies and technologies. I also want visitors to realise that they can become active participants in the discourse surrounding surveillance by opposing policies that violate their personal data, and instead support and call for policies that protect their rights to privacy.
Read Janelle Retka’s full article on SEA Globe.
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