“How do you colonize someone? Instead of an army of guns, imagine an army of tables. That violence of administration is more lethal, more violent, than a gun. With a gun I may shoot you, but with a table, I will tell you who you are, what your history is, what is valuable to be kept in a museum and what is not. This indoctrination of the mind becomes inherited violence.”
Yee I-Lann’s (b. 1971, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) multidisciplinary practice interrogates the complex geopolitical histories of Southeast Asia. For her first major solo presentation at a US museum, the artist created sixty new works as part of her ongoing TIKAR/MEJA series (2020–). According to Yee, the meja (table) represents “the violence of administration” in colonial and patriarchal societies. In contrast, she sees the tikar (woven mat) as a fundamentally egalitarian and feminist support that grounds sitters to the earth. In bringing the table and mat together, she calls attention to the ways in which our architectural and physical surroundings shape how we relate to one another.
Yee works in collaboration with women weavers from the sea-based Bajau and Sama Dilaut communities of Sabah to “share the mat” and create an open platform for exchange. The artworks combine tropical pandanus leaves and plastic waste gathered from the Sulu-Celebes Seas using heritage weaves from the region. Their materials and methods highlight the importance of intergenerational knowledge sharing, as well as the desire to cultivate social and ecological resilience in response to the devastating effects of sea and land use and climate change.
TIKAR/MEJA/PLASTIK is woven by Aisyah Binti Ebrahim, Alini Binti Aniratih, Alisyah Binti Ebrahim, Ardih Binti Belasani, Darwisa Binti Omar, Dayang Binti Tularan, Dela Binti Aniratih, Endik Binti Arpid, Erna Binti Tekki, Fazlan Bin Tularan, Kinnuhong Gundasali, Kuoh Binti Enjahali, Luisa Binti Ebrahim, Makcik Lukkop Belatan, Makcik Siti Aturdaya, Malaya Binti Anggah, Ninna Binti Mursid, Noraidah Jabarah (Kak Budi), Roziah Binti Jalalid, Sabiyana Binti Belasani, Sanah Belasani, Tasya Binti Tularan, and Venice Foo Chau Xhien.