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Housekeeping: Domestic Views by Simryn Gill and Tino Djumini

In Picturing Relations: Simryn Gill and Tino Djumini (Singapore: NUS Museum, 2007), 24-31.

Take the table: a crazy jumble of a table with some dreadful metalwork. But our table, our table! Can you imagine what that meant? Can you imagine what wonderful hours we spent at it? ... And the pictures of my parents! What dreadful frames! But they were a wedding present from my father's workmen. And this old-fashioned chair here! A leftover from grandmother's home. And here an embroidered slipper in which you can hang the clock. Made in kindergarten by my sister Irma. Every piece of furniture, every object, every thing had a story to tell, the story of our family. Our home was never finished, it developed with us, and we with it.1


Househunting ...

At first glance, the photographs of Simryn Gill's Dalam (2001) and Tino Djumini's Kerabat (2004) seem to be at odds with each other. Gill's full colour images show household interiors, specifically living rooms of West Malaysian homes rich in bric-a-brac but markedly devoid of inhabitants. Like the vacant scene of a crime, each room confronts the viewer with familiar possessions - a now-tatty-but-once-opulent Persian carpet laid on a bare concrete floor, a shiny television incongruously placed against peeling posters of Bollywood matinee idols, pink and gold upholstery in florid patterns, oversized decorative paper fans showing placid hill-and­lake landscapes, plump cushions with tassels, bright plastic flowers, a baby's milk bottle, lace curtains, vinyl table covers, painted porcelain deity figurines reverently placed on polished wooden altars, fish tanks, picture frames on walls, and display cabinets lovingly filled with memories. Ashley Carruthers sees the objects in Gill's interiors as 'uncanny' not because they are alien or new but precisely because these cosy possessions call to mind 'the final impossibility of securing a perfectly homely space'.2 We take in these objects readily but we are also compelled to look beyond them, that is, to mentally revisit our own living rooms of past and present, and the desires these spaces fulfill, project or frustrate.

On the contrary, Djumini's black-and-white portraits depict familial bonds between father, mother and child. Indonesian families, some wistful, others defiant, yet others jubilant, some in full force, others sadly missing a member or more, pose in front of the camera's all-seeing eye. But Djumini's family album, as Carla Bianpoen notes, 'deviate(s) from the stereotypical and the make believe'.3 Despite its utopian ideal and expectations of kinship, the photographs strain with a certain pathos. In documenting the family away from the neutral backdrop of the photographic studio, these portraits also problematize the spatial construct of a contemporary 'family' by placing its protagonists against the more revealing surroundings of 'home'. In Djumini's photographs, 'home' is loosely defined as the key space in which the family chooses to represent itself. This location ranges from interiors and exteriors of houses to family-owned workspaces (for example, shops and fields), or nondescript spaces territorialized only by particular accoutrements of the breadwinner's trade (for example, a trishaw or a wheel of a pushcart) where tell-tale belongings of heart and hearth materially redefine or exclude the individual. Family members pose with each other but also make way for monstrous birdcages, prized crystal ware, stuffed tigers, treasured paintings and framed photographs, the family couch, or else in the case of the dispossessed, a blank wall to be furnished in future. Each portrait beckons myriad narratives of families who stand in limbo between where they presently are, or desire to be, located.




1. Adolf Loos, 'The Interiors in the Rotunda', in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside, California: Ariadne Press, 1998), p.58.
2. Ashley Carruthers, 'Simryn Gill, Dalam', in Forum on Contemporary Art and Society (FOCAS), v.4, 2002, pp.242-55; here p.247.
3. Carla Bianpoen, 'Tino's "Relatives": Deconstructing Families', in The Jakarta Post, 9 July 2006.

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