Sim Chi Yin: One Day We’ll Understand

Sim Chi Yin: One Day We’ll Understand


Sim Chi Yin, from the series “Interventions,” 2020. Original archive image: Imperial War Museums collection, pigment print on foil, 59.4 x 42 cm, Ed. 3 + 2 AP.

September 10, 2021
Sim Chi Yin
One Day We’ll Understand
September 14–November 27, 2021
Conversation: September 11, 12pm, Sim Chi Yin & Maaza Mengiste, in English
Zilberman Berlin
Goethestraße 82
10623 Berlin

Two revolutionary songs—The Internationale and Goodbye Malaya—are included in Sim Chi Yin’s video installation Requiem. We hear the voices of former deportees and exiles, some of whom are still not allowed to return to Malaysia. The sound of their fragile voices, sometimes forgetting the lyrics, permeates the exhibition One Day We’ll Understand at Zilberman Gallery. These voices suffused with a sense of loss echo as we take in the atmospheric landscape photographs the artist has made of sites of memory of this war around presentday Malaysia and southern Thailand. In one scene at dusk, an elephant emerges out of the jungle thicket, a split-second encounter that transforms into an apparition. A table with empty chairs suggests the absence of the former anti-colonial fighters or people displaced and killed in acts that have still not been accounted for today, while British and Commonwealth soldiers are commemorated at heroes’ cemeteries. 

Sim Chi Yin’s solo exhibition One Day We’ll Understand questions the colonial and postcolonial histories and historiographies of the 12-year guerrilla war in British Malaya (an area today covered by Malaysia and Singapore), which the British colonial power euphemistically termed the “Malayan Emergency” (1948–60). Communists, who had led the resistance against Japan in World War II, now spearheaded the anti-colonial struggle. It was one of the early hot conflicts in the global Cold War, using tactics such as population-control strategies and the defoliant chemical Agent Orange years before the Vietnam War. British authorities tried to break the resistance through detentions, deportations, and the resettlement of civilians from the edges of the jungle to so-called ‘New Villages’ to starve the communist insurgents of supplies of food, medicine and men. 

One Day We’ll Understand is rooted in Sim’s family history, namely the history of her paternal grandfather, a journalist and left-wing intellectual. Like over 30,000 other leftists and sympathisers, he was imprisoned by the British and deported to China, where he was later executed by the ruling Kuomintang government. Starting with this personal story, Sim expands her research into an historical and artistic examination of the official and colonial historiographies of the war and its combatants. 

In her most recent series “Interventions,” Sim Chi Yin excavates photos from the colonial archive at the Imperial War Museum in London that were used by British authorities for media campaigns and psychological warfare to legitimise national military operations against anti-colonial fighters. Sim has photographed these prints on a light table so that the markings and labelling, which would otherwise be concealed on the back, can be seen through the image like a palimpsest. The transparency of the foil prints on glass plates enables viewing from two sides, with either the text or the image appearing back-to-front. Who has the power to define? Sim questions the indexicality of material evidence by exposing the mechanisms of colonial interpretation. 

Sim Chi Yin (b. 1978 in Singapore, resident in Berlin since 2021) was commissioned to make the Nobel Peace Prize exhibition in 2017 and was nominated for the Vera List Center’s Jane Lombard Prize for Art and Social Justice in 2020. She has been a nominee member of Magnum Photos since 2018. Her photo book She Never Rode That Trishaw Again, the first in a series for her composite project One Day We’ll Understand, for which she also developed performative readings, was published in 2021. Sim has recently presented solo exhibitions at Les Rencontres de la photographie d‘Arles, France (2021), Landskrona Foto Festival, Sweden (2020), Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (2019) and the Institute of Contemporary Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore (2018). Her works have been shown at the Guangzhou Image Triennial (2021) and the 15th Istanbul Biennale, Turkey (2017). 

Text: Lotte Laub 

Accompanying the exhibition, a catalogue featuring essays by Sam I-shan and Anthony Downey, a conversation between Sim Chi Yin and Hilary Roberts, and an introduction by Lotte Laub will be published. 

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September 10, 2021

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