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"All My Memories Are Mistranslations" solo exhibition

Artist Statement

It amazes me how often I get it wrong.

How often I’ve sat down with my grandparents, and a story I’m told solidifies into a personal mythology, only to find out years later that I’d misheard (or mislistened?) and crucial things were lost in translation.

In All My Memories Are Mistranslations, I wanted to lean into dissonance, these spaces lacking coherence; find comfort in contradiction. I made an unlikely mash-up of the two very different places I live between — Malaysian Borneo and Brooklyn, New York City — to make a playful, unsettling world inhabited by ghosts. Here, there is a clash of rose-tinted romanticism against latter day capitalism and ecological collapse; the discarded and the sacred, grief and rejuvenation, the joy and pain of homecoming. The ghost of a famous anti-colonial rebel stands in an abandoned

building. Bornean boys sail across a coin operated washing machine in Brooklyn. Aquatic creatures flow across the sky into a fish trap as a figure takes a selfie in the mirror. A boat, a symbol of my ancestral Suluk seafaring, sinks in an ocean of plastic


Fearful of fetishizing ruin or trash, I wanted instead to portray sites of rubbish dumping or decay as theatres of power struggle between forces of consumption, capital and culture. As I made the work, I often wondered, when does diasporic longing and exploration become a problematic tourist gaze? I tried to flip this anxiety

into humour by taking literal, mass-produced New York tourist tat and turning it into a scene for diasporic memory-making. While there is humour and love here, there is also anger. Broadly, at the destruction wrought upon my homeland (and the world)

by unsustainable practices and climate change, but also at myself.

As well as pushing further (and on a bigger scale) into my Bornean

woodcut practice, I decided to extend into cyanotypes. This is a primitive photographic technique that uses a chemical emulsion which exposes images on paper using UV light. With help from Indonesian artist Rinaldo Hartanto and Black Hand Gang print studio in Bali, I felt that this seemingly simple technique and its distinctive blue colour, when combined with woodcuts, poetry and tongue-in-cheek humour, created the melancholic world I was hoping for, and a fun sense of discomfort. In addition, under the guidance of Luna Ryan at the Canberra Glassworks, I translated some of my imaginings into 3D cast glass objects, hinting at animist symbolism. A feature of the large woodcuts is that, with  no press large enough, the print was created by stamping on it with my feet. Several of the woodcuts took months to carve which was physically very taxing as was the manual printing process.

Thanks to Rinaldo Hartanto, Boyz Bieber, Pangrok Sulap and Luna Ryan for their help creating this work.

— Omar Musa, 2024


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