Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I am, I yam or Ayam?!

Penang-based Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic
paints on canvas and doors as well as walls! ;b 

The works of Zacharevic and 17 other artists make up the

Earlier today, a tram passed by me over here in Hong Kong bearing advertising for this year's George Town Festival (taking place this August).  These days, however, one doesn't have to wait for this annual fest to come along to check out artistic happenings in Penang.  And we're no longer just talking about local or even regional art either!  

Also, while there remains plenty of street art on (very popular) display in George Town, there's also art to be found in physically cooler surroundings, such as the air-conditioned gallery space inside the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (or E&O in local parlance) --as I found when visiting the hotel on my most recent Penang trip.

The Ayam What Ayam exhibition does include a number of works featuring chicken imagery.  ("Ayam" is the word in Bahasa Malaysia for chicken.)  But, of course, I realize that it's also referencing the "I am what I am" quote which I had long attributed to Popeye the Sailorman (who I knew via comics and also a TV series when I was a kid growing up in Malaysia!) but I've since come to realize is how, according to the Hebrew bible, God responded to Moses' query as to what he was!

Of course, given Popeye's accent, it came out more like "I yam what I yam" when the cartoon character said it!  And continuing with the stroll down Memory Lane: one day while I was an undergraduate at Beloit College, I strolled into the lounge shared by students and faculty in the anthropology building (which was one of my regular campus haunts) to find that an anonymous wag had written out a punny poem on a blackboard that referenced a number of anthropologists who had studied the yam growers par excellence living on the Trobriand Islands, and whose works were required reading as part of the Theory and Technique in Cultural Anthropology course.

Decades on, I still remember the opening line of that amusing poem being "'I yam what I yam,' Malinowski cried". (Bronislaw Malinowski is one of modern anthropology's founding fathers and known, among other things, for his pioneering fieldwork among the Trobriand Islanders.)  Whereupon he was told not to be such a "Weiner" (deliberately misspelled to reference another influential anthropologist, Annette Weiner), and that his excuse was just not "Goodenough" (a reference to -- yep -- another respected anthropologist, this time Ward Goodenough!)! ;D     

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