Wallach Art Gallery Presents Interactive Performance, 'In The Skin of a Tiger'

BY Angeline Dimambro, June 28, 2021

The Wallach Art Gallery invites Columbia University community members to join them for a unique interactive performance that will help realize the New York presentation of artist Sharon Chin’s In the Skin of a Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita).


Originally commissioned by the Singapore Biennale 2019, Chin’s In the Skin of a Tiger was created in response to the historic 2018 general election in Malaysia that produced the first ever change in government. The work consists of thirteen banners made from fabric reclaimed from political party flags collected around Port Dickson, Malaysia in the wake of the 2018 elections.


In addition to the physical installation, In the Skin also consists of a performance that invites audience participation. The first performance took place at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia in August 2019, followed by a second iteration at the National Gallery Singapore in November 2019. For each of these performances, Chin invited, and was joined by, members of the public to sew their own personal messages and images directly onto the banners. 


“This work is an ode to the unseen and unrecognized, slow and steady labour that goes into the making of any monumental change,” said Chin in her artist’s statement. “Participants were given shiny holographic bandanas to wear, and were asked to sew with the same coloured thread as the banners. Thus, while what was sewn is not obviously visible on the finished banners, the act of sewing together was made performative and very visible.”


The third performance of Chin’s In the Skin will be presented by the Wallach Art Gallery in early July this year. The event marks an important step towards reopening for the gallery, which has only recently been able to moderately reopen to the public (the space is now open to the public during its regular Friday and Saturday hours). In addition to being Columbia’s premiere exhibition space, its relocation to the Manhattanville campus has also made the gallery an important “gateway for the intersection of the University and the surrounding community,” as Betti-Sue Hertz, Director and Chief Curator at the Wallach, described in an interview.


Chin’s In the Skin is part of a larger exhibition at the Wallach entitled, The Protest and The Recuperation, which is currently on view in the gallery until August 14, 2021. Hertz, who curated the exhibition, began planning the show in the fall of 2019, being drawn to both protest and recuperation, not only as themes, but as acts that take many forms and convey many meanings.


“People protest because governments fail,” Hertz said. The exhibition is inspired by questions that not only ask why and how people protest, but also highlight the specificity of protest across cultures as well as their wide-ranging results. In curating the show, Hertz found essential intersections between the exhibition’s themes: “I initially thought of the cycles of action and recuperation, but then other layers of recuperation began to flow in. Protest itself is a recuperation: its goal is to recuperate your rights, a healthy environment, your sense of wellbeing, meaning, purpose, and value. You’re recuperating all of that through the process of protest, and, hopefully, that protest is successful.”


The fabric banners which comprise Chin’s In the Skin are on display now as part of Protest and Recuperation. They sit, folded, in anticipation of the upcoming participatory event that will transform them.


“In this participatory performance, we’re going to be adding our own layer to the sewing completed by two different communities, one in Malaysia and one in Singapore,” Hertz said. “We’re adding another dimension by taking the banners out of the exhibition space, bringing them to Morningside, and inviting people to add their own sewing, whether it’s words or pictures or abstract designs, to the banners.”


No previous sewing experience is required to participate in the performance, and the Wallach Gallery will have staff present at the event who will be available to assist participants with the sewing as well as consult about potential designs. Hertz shared that all participants will receive a kit prepared by Chin herself that will include a bandana meant to be worn during the event. Participants at both the Malaysia and Singapore iterations of the performance similarly wore bandanas, and Chin has designed a new version specifically for the New York performance participants.


After the performance, the banners will be installed and displayed at the Wallach, where visitors can experience them alongside the complete exhibition of The Protest and The Recuperation


“What happens in the gallery is precious and important because it is a neutral space," Hertz said. "It is a place that invites conversation, different points of view, and strangers to be together having an experience at the same time.”


The performance will take place on the Lewisohn Lawn at Columbia’s Morningside campus at 12:00 PM ET on Thursday, July 8, 2021. While participation is limited to preregistered Columbia University students, alumni, and faculty, anyone from the public is welcome and encouraged to watch the event. Register to participate here.


Sharon Chin (b.1980, Petaling Jaya) is an artist living in Port Dickson, Malaysia. She has made paintings, performances, costumes, sculptures, installations, and videos. She has worked across a variety of fields, including fine art, criticism, illustration, film, and journalism. Her work has been shown in museums and galleries, on sidewalks and in shopping malls, in Malaysia and around the world. Recently, she illustrated Zedeck Siew’s short story collection Creatures of Near Kingdoms, available now from Maple Comics. Her work is in the permanent collections of Singapore Art Museum and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).


Betti-Sue Hertz is the Director and Chief Curator for the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University. Trained as an art historian and artist, her curatorial and scholarly projects are fueled by the intersection of visual aesthetics and socially relevant ideas with a particular interest in relational structures and comparative propositions on global contemporary topics. She is Public Arts Consultant for TLS Landscape Architectures' Shishan Park, Suzhou (2016-) and Shenzhen Bay Super HQ (2020-), and was Curator-In-Residence at HOW Art Museum, Shanghai (2018). Hertz was Director of Visual Arts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2008-2015), Curator of Contemporary Art at San Diego Museum of Art (2000-2008) and Director at Longwood Arts Project, Bronx (1992-1998). She has served as editor and essayist for various exhibition catalogues and has presented lectures on urgent contemporary topics and art. Hertz was a lecturer on social art history at Stanford University's American Studies Program (2016-2019) and senior lecturer at San Francisco Art Institute’s Graduate School (2011-2019).