Sulu Stories

A photographic exhibition by

Yee I-Lann

19 April – 29 May 2008


Whilst in the Philippines I was constantly asked, “Where are you from?” “I am from Sabah.” I would answer. “Ah, a Filipina” was the common response. I smile but am thinking difficult surf, troubled waters, dive in the deep end, not drowning, waving… But I am welcomed with a knowing embrace; we know we are connected; our histories, fate and horizon line is shared. A Sabahan in the Philippines has no option but to address Sulu, I just wasn’t sure where to begin.


My first memory related to Sulu was the story about the dragon that lived on Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. Its favourite plaything was a giant pearl ‘the size of a tennis ball’ that came from the Sulu Sea. An oyster had swallowed a tear from the moon thus producing a pearl of extraordinary size and beauty. Later whilst in Palawan I told this story to my hostel host Majika. She proudly told me her brother owns a pearl farm that trades pearls with the Japanese jewelers Mikimoto and that the Sulu Sea produces the highest quality pearls of the largest size. I felt I had been given affirmation – stories (histories), legend, memory (lane) would lead me into Sulu and its unique landscape/seascape/memoryscape.


I would journey to the place and photograph the physical vistas, the sea, the sky, the islands. The simultaneous journeys I would take would be as a librarian, a collector, sorter of stories and as a researcher using those libraries of information, heavy with baggage, to find a temperament, tempest, temple, template to address Sulu. I was attracted by the idea of photographing ’empty’ land/seascapes, just to hold still the physical space with my camera. My journeys as a librarian and researcher would fill that space, that which was not framed by time, with a mnemonic database.


The Sulu Sea, powered by the pull of the moon, filled with her tears, becomes my vessel on which to suture the dioramas I had found. It is a haunted sea, barred to the world for over thirty years by the currents of politics and prejudice and guarded by the ancient Tausug ‘People of the Current’ and Bajau ‘Sea People’ that turn to pray to the horizon of Mecca. The sea is their life, land a graveyard. The sea for a millennia brought with it empires, traders from every corner of the world and yet the peoples of Sulu ride the currents and hold their frontiers. The sea is the constant backdrop to the hundreds of stories I encountered, the subjects tantalizing: pirates, slaves, opium, M16s, Priests, wars, kidnappings, Tau Taus, typhoons, shipwrecks, Boogey men and Sultans.


I stand on the Malaysian Pulau Selingan off the coast of Sandakan in Sabah. I see two islands in front of me. On the left is Pulau Bakkungan, Philippines, on my right Pulau Bakkungan Kecil, Malaysia. The three islands form a triangle; I am told we are all about 4 kilometers apart. Somewhere between us is a watery formless border but I neither see it nor sense it. We are in a zone not quite Filipino, not quite Malaysian, but very aware of being Sulu. At night I see a giant green back turtle lays her eggs. The guide tells me she has not been previously tagged; she is probably laying her first batch of eggs. He goes on to tell me turtles return to their place of birth when it is time for them to give birth. He estimates this mother to be about thirty years old. I think to myself, here is the communion of landscape and memory, as I help release day old green back turtle hatchlings into the Sulu Sea carrying with them the genetic memory of their being and place.

Yee I-Lann  [June 2005]


Artist Bio:

Born 1971 in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Yee I-Lann now lives and works in both Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur as an artist and a production designer for feature films. Incorporating various media including photography, film and installation, her practice seeks connections between landscape, memory, perception and cultural identity. I-Lann received her BA in Visual Arts from the University of South Australia, Adelaide in 1992 majoring in photography and cinematography. She currently holds a teaching position at Akademi Seni Kebangsaan (National Arts Academy) in the film department. I-Lann has exhibited widely. In 1999 she represented Malaysia at the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery and more recently in 2006 at the Contemporary Commonwealth exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. I-Lann has recently taken part in ‘Independence Project’ and ‘Out of the Mould’ at Galeri Petronas, Kuala Lumpur, ‘Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves’ at ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art, Germany, ‘New Nature’ at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand and was invited to speak about her practice under the ‘Global Photography Now’ seminar at the Tate Modern. Her recent films as production designer are ‘Rain Dogs’ directed by Ho Yuhang for Focus First Cuts and ‘Dukun’ directed by Dain Said for Astro Shaw.



ซูลู สตอรี่

ภาพถ่ายร่วมสมัย โดย

ยี อิ-หลาน [Yee I-Lann]

19 เมษายน – 29 พฤษภาคม 2551


“ซูลู สตอรี่” ภาพถ่ายแนวเหนือจริงซึ่งเกิดจากจินตนาการของ ยี อิ-หลาน ศิลปินหญิงมาเลเซียดาวรุ่ง เชื้อสายซาบาห์ (Sabah) วัย 36,  เธอนำเอาเรื่องราวจากตำนานพื้นบ้าน นิยายปรัมปราของชาวบ้านหมู่เกาะซูลู ฟิลิปปินส์ ซึ่งอาศัยอยู่เพียงฝั่งน้ำทะเลกันจากชายฝั่งซานดากัน (Sandakan) เขตซาบาห์ บ้านเกิดของเธอ ไม่ว่าจะเป็นตำนานมังกรแห่งเขาคินาบาลู (Mount Kinabalu) หรือเรื่องเล่าหอยนางรมที่กลืนน้ำตาพระจันทร์เข้าไปแล้วกลายเป็นไข่มุกยักษ์  ยี อิ-หลานใช้เทคนิคคอมพิวเตอร์นำเอาภาพถ่ายเก่าๆที่สะท้อนวิถีชีวิตชาวซูลู มาตัดปะแต่งสีเข้าไปกับภาพทิวทัศน์ทะเลของสถานที่จริงซึ่งเธอถ่ายขึ้นใหม่ ผลลัพท์ที่ได้กลายเป็นภาพใหม่ดูแปลกตา สวยงาม แต่ยังคงแฝงความเร้นลับของอดีตได้อย่างมีเสน่ห์ อาจกล่าวได้ว่า “ซูลู สตอรี่” คือผลงานที่แสดงให้เห็นถึงความสัมพันธ์อันเข้มข้นระหว่างอัตลักษณ์ของมนุษย์กับทิวทัศน์ท้องทะเล



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