No Man’s Land Exhibition
Brief Glimpses of Antarctica by Mahen Bala
MOSTI Social Innovation – Polar ICE (Innovative Community Engagement) Challenge Winning Project
ARTIST AND THE EXHIBITION
Working as a documentary photographer and writer, Mahen Bala explores Malaysian culture and heritage, with a special interest in human stories. Past projects include feature articles and short documentaries on various subject across the country, a comprehensive research and documentation of the riverine history of Kuala Lumpur, and more recently, Project Keretapi Kita, exploring the history of Malaysia’s railway. With a passion for observing the seemingly mundane, and incorporating humanistic elements in his storytelling. Mahen challenges that way we look at the environment and our relationship with it.
In March 2017, he won the Polar ICE Challenge under MOSTI Social Innovation (MSI) Grant, organised by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) through Yayasan Penyelidikan Antartika Sultan Mizan (YPASM) in collaboration with Lembaga Pembangunan Seni Visual Negara (LPSVN). The competition was a nation-wide call for proposals on how the public can be engaged to better understand Antarctica and Malaysia’s role in international polar research. On 17th until 27th March 2017, Mahen boarded the Akademik Ioffe science vessel and sailed from Ushuaia to Antarctica Peninsula to capture the serenity of Antarctica
No Man’s Land captured ephemeral moment of beauty on the harshest landscape on Earth, and contrasts it against remnants of a distant whaling era tainted by boundless and exploitation. Photographic prints presented here are perforated with fine lines which readily tear away small segments of ‘Antarctica Itself’, symbolizing the fragility of the continent in the face of climate change and changes in international policy.
We live in a measured environment, built to negotiate imaginary boundaries and restrictions; Our lives are governed lines, colours, symbols, and rules, be it a plot of land, a parking lot, walkways, or international borders, we define our environment and in turn, it defines us.
There are no such concepts in Antarctica. An endless ocean of water and ice renders man as a floating chuck of ice at the mercy of the elements. Arriving at the end of the world, the mind is overwhelmed by a sense of bewilderment that is impossible to be experienced elsewhere. Any attempt to fully understand the lay of the land is futile. All sense of scale is dismantled by a featureless canvas where concepts of near or far, big or small become meaningless, everything is and isn’t at the same time.
Antarctica is the purest place on earth, giving us a glimpse of what the world was once before the age of man. Until today, there are no human living there permanently. The Antarctica Treaty, signed in 1959 suspends all national claims onto the continent, and allows only for activities with the purpose of “science and peace”. Antarctica today represent the success and future potential of international cooperation in a shared space, promoting scientific research and new ways of imagining the future of humanity.
The continent is a vast land mass with a 99.66% ice coverage, 2km thick on average. With rising global temperatures, this ice sheet is gradually shrinking, putting the coastal areas around the world at immediate risk. Standing on the shores of the Antarctica Peninsula I looked out at the horizon and saw the same eternal sea I grew up with in my hometown, Kuantan. For centuries, the east coast monsoon have arrives like clockwork in November, basting the coast the continuous heavy rain for days and sometimes weeks. Today, no one really knows when the monsoon begins or end, not even the weathered seamen who used to listen to the wind and the waves.
No man’s Land is an installation featuring two series of photographs: Vanishing landscape of ice and monochromatic portraits. The first were photographed at down as the science vessel I was travelling on cruised around the peninsula and the latter, portraits of remnants from the whaling era on Deception Island, an active volcanic caldera. How ironic that beauty should only last for a brief moment, and symbols of violence should be naturally preserved by the cold environment.
The “invisible” perforations on the prints represent a gradually fracturing continent as the world continues to warm. Last July, a 6,000 square kilometres ice sheet, weighing more than a trillion tonnes, broke away from continental ice shelf. Visitors are encouraged to tear away a small piece of the print, in an act reflecting man’s instinctive nature of wanting to awn, or to claim ownership of physical territories and objects.
Balai Seni Negara/ National Arts Gallery
No. 2, Jalan Temerloh,
Off Jalan Tun Razak,
53200 Kuala Lumpur
Location : Balai Seni Negara, Kuala Lumpur