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9 Beats: Adeline Ooi

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Adeline Ooi (b. Ipoh, 1976) is a curator and arts writer from Malaysia. She is trained at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, London, majoring in Fine Art. A co-founder of RogueArt, she is currently on the Board of Director’s at Silverlens Foundation in Manila (Philippines) and is a regular advisor/collaborator with Indonesian Visual Arts Archive (IVAA) in Yogyakarta (Indonesia). Among the artists she has worked closely with include Agus Suwage (Indonesia), Eko Nugroho (Indonesia), Geraldine Javier (Philippines), Jalaini Abu Hassan (Malaysia), Jendela Group (Indonesia)–Handiwirman Saputra, Jumaldi Alfi, Rudi Mantofani, Yunizar and Yusra Martunus, Lena Cobangbang (Philippines) and Mella Jaarsma (Indonesia/Netherlands). In 2009, Adeline was invited to speak about current developments of contemporary art in Southeast Asia at Asia Art Forum in Hong Kong as well as at the 2nd Jogja Art Fair: Spacing Contemporary in Indonesia. She is also one of the consulting curators of Jakarta Biennale 2009 and a Special Correspondents of the Future Generation Art Prize.


1) My fellow Rogues (i.e. Beverly Yong and Rachel Ng)
We work best when we ‘volt-in’ and I’d like to think their strengths make up for my weaknesses. They may be poles apart in personality and character, likes and dislikes, but I love them, can’t live without them and can’t work without them. My hips are glued to their hips.

2) Jeffrey & Nigella
Jeffrey Steingarten is the reason I buy American Vogue! If I can write about art the way he writes about food – i.e. entertaining, witty, sharp shooting and obsessive, then I’d die a happy person. I am also quite drawn to Nigella Lawson’s sensual and vivid description of everything she blends, cuts, chops, dices, minces and puts in her mouth. The Kitchen Goddess may not be a skilful chef but she certainly has a way with words. What dictionary or thesaurus you use ah, can borrow ah?

3) Rebecca Horn Concert for Anarchy (1990)
I make it a point to visit this work at Tate Modern when I can. A grand piano hangs upside down above our heads. Every now and then, the keys would ‘erupt’ as they come undone and thrust out into space. I love the sensation of the ‘release’, the jarring sounds crashing down on me, followed by a deep hum reverberating through my body and out into the wider space around. This work is meant to be alarming, discordant etc, but to me, it is exhilarating and refreshing – like taking a cold shower first thing in the morning. Ultimately, it reminds me of what it means to be human. Who doesn’t come undone every now and then?

4) Jogja or Manila? Manila or Jogja?
Different as chalk and cheese but difficult to decide which one I love more. I may be Malaysian but a part of me also feels I belong to Jogja AND Manila. I cherish and love the vastly differing energies that both cities have to offer. While the art communities in Jogja and Manila have never ceased to excite and inspire through their idiosyncrasies and differing temperament, it is the deep friendships I’ve made that are life- long treasures.

5) Victoria and Albert Museum
When I grow up one day I’d like to work at the V&A! I think of it as a massive treasure chest of precious objects and dream about getting lost in there. V&A’s curated shows belong to a class of their own. The in-depth research and preparation for each show is mind blowing. The exhibition design, lighting and presentation is almost always awe-inspiring. Some of the most memorable shows I’ve seen include “Art Deco”, “Modernism: Designing A New World 1913-1939” and “The Golden Age of Couture”

6) Fashion (preferably pronounced the Pinoy way i.e. fash-syon)
Part (i): I am coming out of the closet and putting my neck on the line by admitting that I adore Cristobal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and her CDG clan, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Ann Demeulemeester, Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf and Alber Elbaz. Fashion may be frivolous and fabulous but it is the technical construction of clothing and the changing concepts of beauty, femininity and power that will always have a hold over me. Most cultures would rarely leave the body unadorned; we cover, embellish, accentuate and decorate. How we choose to dress the body is fascinating.

Part (ii): I am also a huge sucker for fashion editorials –the narratives, the fantasy and drama of the captured image. Photographers such as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Nick Knight, Mert & Marcus, Inez van Lamswerdee & Vinoodh Matadin have created some of the most unforgettable images in my personal list of all time favourites.

7) Benedict Anderson
The man who coined the term ‘bule’ in Bahasa Indonesia (i.e. the slang term to describe orang putih) made me see books and newspapers differently after I read “Imagined Communities”. When I returned to Malaysia, he changed the way I saw Southeast Asia through “Language and Power” (which I finally managed to grasp after spending a few of years in Java) and “The Spectre of Comparisons”. His writing –concise, perspicuous and intelligent as hell– piqued my curiosity about SE Asia and led me to apply for the API Fellowships back in the early 2001.

8) Pop-up books
I keep a small collection of children’s pop-up books which date back to my teens. Among them is Robert Sabuda’s “Alice in Wonderland”, a gift from my girlfriends on my 30th birthday. My “Alice” book is one of the most enchanting and beautifully constructed books I own. It is a serious piece of paper engineering. Pop-up books are wonderful as there is always that sense of anticipation and surprise just before a page flips open. The final scene with an explosion of cards and Alice growing ‘two mile high’ is one of the most stunning spreads in the book.

9) My Mother’s Food
I grew up on Penang Nonya food so I am a lover of all things pedas, asam and smelly (particularly belacan, petai and durian). Food is a daily joy and a constant inspiration. Whether it is about family ties and rituals, journeys, our culture and heritage, or the wider history of our region, there are always great stories behind what we eat and the way we eat. What we consider local may not be indigenous to our land and what we think is exclusive to our heritage is common to other cultures and tribes. My world would not be complete without my mother’s asam laksa, ikan asam pedas, nasi ulam, perut ikan, hong bak, petai and sambal belacan.


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