“Babas and Yayas”
From the urban jungle of Shanghai to the sub-tropical Thailand, island6 has laid our anchor astride the bountiful topaz shores of Phuket! An extremely fruitful 2013 has seen the Liu Dao collective extend our influence to a further four galleries, the latest of which, island6 Marina, is due to be opened by the Chinese New Year of the Horse.
Of course, we're not exactly the first Chinese collective to set up shop on the paradise of Jung Ceylon. Conveniently placed along the primary trade route between India and China, for thousands of years the idyllic Phuket has proven to be an enticing, safe haven for purveyors of important trade goods, sensual spices and, of course, most importantly to us, valuable artworks. Throughout history, travellers have sought refuge from the fierce monsoon winds in the protective harbours of ‘Thalang’, which has been subject to foreign influences for longer than most of mainland Thailand. In fact, the earliest western reference to the island can be found in Ptolemy's “Geography” which was completed in the 2nd Century AD.
Since then, Phuket has been home to swashbuckling pirates, endured a constant tug of war for control between competing Asian and European nations, and has seen its economic base shift from tin mining, to rubber farming and tourism (did anyone say ping pong?). Traces of influence from the French, Burmese, Portuguese and British can still be found on this sub-tropical paradise, although the Liu Dao collective have found ourselves drawn to this intriguing island by its distinctly Chinese roots.
Extensive tin mining in the 19th Century saw an enormous influx of Chinese immigrants to Phuket, but the straits between Thailand and India had already seen the establishment of a unique ethnicity several centuries before. “Peranakan” is a malay word which, when literally translated, means “of mixed race”, and is used to describe one of the most fascinating blends of people, traditions and values in South East Asia. According to legend, the princess Huang Li Bai was sent to the Sultan of Malacca as a gift from the Emperor of China. It is said that her entourage, which included the sons of 500 government ministers, eventually grew into the class of Straits-born Chinese that we know today. Over the centuries the name Peranakan has come to refer to the descendants of the first Chinese settlers who came to Thailand and southern Malaysia and married locally, most likely from the Fujian region in south China.
Not unlike the Liu Dao collective, the Phuket “Babas” have always revelled in innovation and the satisfaction that can be found in what is “mixed”. They were the first people in the region to embrace Western culture, as is reflected in parts of the islands architecture, whilst seamlessly introducing it to traditional customs, as can be seen in the island's Chinese temples. In the same way, island6 uses traditional Chinese methods, such as the paper cut, which requires the sophistication and delicacy of traditional art, to then find its home on cutting-edge LED animation. The Baba Yayan language has roots in almost as many languages as can be heard in an island6 gallery on a good day… and a bad! The natural desire to intertwine old and new, combing two cultures and ideas, and enjoy the fruits of this unison, is a core tenet of both the Peranakan and the Liu Dao world perspective.
To celebrate our recent migration to this most fascinating of locations, island6 Marina will open with an exhibition paying homage to the cross-cultural complexities of the Peranakan people. In true time-honoured Liu Dao fashion, “The Babas and Yayas of Huang Li Bai” promises to excite and entice, as we honour our traditional artistic values through our signature modern electronic interaction, all the while staying true to our intrinsic Chinese heritage.
Soak up the ambience of our exotic new location, far away from the hustle and bustle of a vast city, though you can instantaneously be transported back with ‘Metropolitan Lives’. Gaze dreamily at ‘The drip drop of dreams’ and bath in the LED lights of ‘Remember the Spring’. Admire the timeless elegance of ‘Perankan Beauty’, daintily puffing on a cigarette, reminiscent of an era bygone, a time teetering on the edge of cultural cross-collaboration. So sit back, relax, and let the Liu Dao collective delight and entertain you in the way only we know how, it promises to be a celebration of diversity, of difference and ultimately the effortless synergy of ‘what is mixed’.