3 - 4 August 2023

Nanyang academy of fine arts


Day 1 (Live)Thursday 3 August 2023, 15:10 - 15:35

Day 1 (VOD)Thursday 3 August 2023, 16:00 onwards

Reading Archives: Camphor Tree

Aliansyah Caniago

Through this presentation, I would like to highlight my most recent performance piece, which is based on reading the colonial archive about camphor tree from Barus, Sumatra. During the colonial times, many botanists and scientists made expeditions to the Far East, extracting human and non-human resources from the indigenous people. The Camphor tree is one of the many resources that became a commodity, presented to fulfil the demands of the Global North’s celluloid and medical needs. They recorded their findings on tropical plants in archival materials such as books, journals, travel logs, correspondences, photographs, and films. All these findings contributed to the economic activities and interests surrounding botany, which eventually contributed to the establishment of many plantations across the colonies.

As a result, mostly verbal indigenous knowledge has been erased and replaced by new scientific knowledge that was only written in English, Dutch, German and French, which are the main languages of the colonizing west. This knowledge creates a vertical gap between the colony and coloniser, and it has since existed at the centre of the present-day ongoing pursuit of extractivism.

Currently, the camphor tree is critically endangered. Due to massive exploitation during the colonial times, there has also been a massive migration which erased the kinship between the local and their land. The title of the books that I would like to read for this live presentation is Mémoire: Camphier de Sumatra et de Borneo, written in French in 1851. I can’t read French nor speak the language. Reading the archive for me is a satirical way of provoking the authority; a way to highlight the ongoing destruction that is happening in Sumatra by plantations. It is a pretext to trace the cultural erasure, but also to amplify the knowledge gap between the coloniser and the indigenous people.

Aliansyah Caniago (b. 1987 in Indonesia) lives and works in Bandung, Indonesia. He studied Painting at the Bandung Institute of Technology Faculty Art and Design. Through site-specific interventions, installations and durational performances, he is interested in working directly with communities and developing artworks that could blend-in with the society, entering conflicted areas creatively and trying to repair the damaged environment.

Aliansyah has presented his works in various international festivals and exhibitions, including Jakarta Biennale: Soul, Gudang Sarinah, Indonesia (2017), 14th Lyon Biennale; Rendez-Vous, Institute d’Art Contemporain, France (2017), Monash University Museum of Art: Unsettlement, Australia (2018), Kunstencentrum STUK: Europalia - Monsoon Project, Belgium (2017), Bangkok Art and Culture Centre: Asiatopia, Thailand (2013-2016), Ulster University: Belfast International Performance Art Festival 15,Northern Ireland (2015), Davidson College, Neighbor Grass is Always Greener, United States (2017), Contemporary Art Tasmania: Composing Archipelagos, Australia (2021), Alongside his artistic practice, he is also one of the founder of an artist collective space in Bandung, Ruang Gerilya.