Previta Karthigesu’s digital exhibition Memento reflects on the year of 2020
Review by Hamidah Abd Rahman

If I had to describe 2020 in one word, it would be “rough”. It was a rough year for everyone, as many faced unemployment, families were separated temporarily and online classes became mundane routine rather than an actual learning experience. Life seemed to enter “pause” mode when the pandemic hit.

Memento, a digital exhibition curated by contemporary artist Previta Karthigesu, was a space for silent contemplation of our time in 2020. Since it was infamous for being such a godforsaken year, many had a lot to say when it came to sharing their struggles – and the digital exhibition delivered these shared insights in an interesting manner.

The web page is full of simplicity and sombreness, with its array of black-and-white photographs of donated objects such as plushies, fishing bait, and even chocolate wrappers, arranged in rows and columns. Each item, especially in its monochrome display, seems like it was a relic of the past, with an air of mystery looming over it, hinting that it lived through someone’s history. It is a shelf of stories, each image like the spine of a book that piqued our curiosities.

No information is provided other than the age and the written reflections from the storytellers, which is revealed once we click on a specific photograph. All items have their own context, but the common factor of these objects is the fact that they had all resonated with the writer and the year of 2020, no matter how big or small the scale of their reasoning was.

Memento is compelling for its quiet and straightforward storytelling of the sentiments felt by most of us during the bleak year of 2020, as the photographs speak of sorrows, worries, stress, grief, as well as hope for the new year, 2021. However, even more than that, the photographs and the context from each storyteller pointed to significant themes of the human experience and our need for human connection.

The 2020 pandemic definitely gave us a sharp wakeup call on the absurdity of life, the elusiveness of happiness, and the inevitability of death. A lot of us cried over life's unfair treatment during this global crisis, but the sentiments evoked from the event were really the realities of the human experience. With that, those exact human realities were reflected and noted on the written accompaniments of the displayed items on Memento. Even more importantly, the texts also indicated signs of the storyteller’s acceptance for life’s wondrous and whimsical rollercoaster ride.

In other words, though the writing may have noted the lowest points of the storytellers’ lives, it was touching to see the glimmer of hope that was found in their human experience. Some overcame their rough patches through adaptability and determination, but there were also some who just found happiness again in the smallest joys in life, such as having a newfound hobby. It was precious to note how these writers were willing to share a small part of their lives with us readers, and in that, made us realise that our human experience is no different one from one another. The writing process that came along with the objects was evidently a cathartic release for the storytellers as well, as if to represent that they were ready to bid goodbye and leave behind their traumas and burdens in 2020.

As for the latter theme, the tenderness and vulnerability from the images were palpable on the screen, that allowed for not just contemplation, but also a connection to these anonymous writers’ experiences. It nudged us to remember that humans are not solitary, and that although we may appreciate our individuality, we find comfort and we develop emotionally and intellectually through a community.

The texts within those photographs may have just provided context on the significance of the objects to the storytellers, but there is also a hint of existential dread and the usual worries that every human being in this life undergoes. The digital exhibition allows a space to relate, as if an invisible thread were tying our very own experiences with the storytellers’ perspectives. In essence, the emotional process of reading through the exhibition assures us that although 2020 was a rough year for everyone, at least we are moving forward into the future, together.

With that said, it has been three months since 2020 ended. What can we say about the new year? Now, I’m currently writing this review on March 1, 2021. It almost marks as one year of us Malaysians being bound to our homes and nearby areas, since the imposed Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, 2020.

In between those times, it was a series of opening and closing up of our state borders. People are still hungry as unemployment remains, whilst others are still struggling to work from home. Our standard operating procedures look as if they change every other week, whilst our Covid-19 rate seems to have gone back to square one with the high amount of new daily cases. The nightmares of 2020 seem to have lingered. Yet, at least there are new developments occurring simultaneously as we have started the roll out our nationwide vaccination immunisation programme, which means there is something to look forward to!

Obviously, the troubles in 2020 are not going to just disappear, and it is not as if writing our reflections on such a bleak past and shelving them into a website would instantly fix all of our problems. I just think that there is something quite profound in the exchange of pain and relief in Karthigesu’s Memento, and that in the end, it reminds us that there is certainly a silver lining that can be found within our human experience. This too, shall pass.

Memento ran its digital exhibition from Dec 27, 2020 until March 1, 2021 on the website

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Hamidah Abd Rahman is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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