Protests, Quarantines, and Everything in Between: Remembering 2020 with Previta Karthigesu’s “Our Memento”
Review by Lim Jack Kin

Memento Cover Image

Honestly, none of us really expected all the problems of 2020 to just vanish at the stroke of midnight this New Year’s Day, but even so, 2021 has been exhausting. In the first ten days of a post-Wawasan world, we’ve already seen an indie rock singer brag about starving his child, armed fascists storm the US Capitol, the most powerful person in the world lose his Twitter account (no word yet on the nuclear codes), and Malaysia’s COVID-19 situation escalating to a severe and unprecedented level. As we ping-pong back and forth between movement control orders, it seems like this year is doing its best to give us a lot to worry about, with no time for contemplation or reflection.

Amidst this bleak uncertainty, viewing Our Memento online feels like a sobering, contemplative step back, an opportunity to think about the year we just passed rather than diving headfirst into the future. It’s a simple experience, consisting of a webpage full of stark, black-and-white photographs of various items, with a short write-up accompanying each one. Click on a webpage, take in an image, read what its owner has to say, move on to the next item—that’s it.

Our Memento was created by Previta Karthigesu, a contemporary artist who has exhibited in the UK and Malaysia since 2014. Rather than a physical installation however, Previta creates Our Memento by sourcing objects from anonymous contributors; anything from seashells to baking whisks. Previta says nothing about these contributors, giving us only their age, their essay, and their item. It feels similar to photographer Brandon Stanton’s world-famous blog project, “Humans of New York”, but with a significantly narrower focus in terms of both narrative and aesthetic, the latter of which has a huge impact on the overall experience.

Within the exhibit, each item is laid out on a white background with no visual context and no clue as to how they were used or what kind of spaces they occupied, as if they were artifacts plucked from an ancient time. While browsing HoNY feels like walking in a sprawling city whose every passerby has a one-act play bursting inside of them, Our Memento creates a sense that you’re visiting a cemetery and reading the headstones. Each story has a measured, considered feel to it, embodied in humble everyday objects and rendered in gray. Many of them mention the pandemic, whether in expressing hopes for a new year (which admittedly have not aged as well as I’d hoped) or dwelling on lost jobs and opportunities.

It’s deeply engaging. With only the owners’ write-ups to go on, I found myself projecting a lot of my own feelings and experiences into what I saw in each photograph, finding significance in house keys and plush toys and protest placards from the Women’s March early last year. Our Memento’s choice of medium is also perfect; apart from actually being, y’know, safe and accessible as we stay at home, the webpage delivery facilitates a concentrated, single-minded binge of all of the objects, which in my opinion is the best way to enjoy Our Memento: all at once, and then intermittently in the following days as you revisit the objects that stood out to you the most.

There’s a profundity of emotion to be unearthed from Our Memento, from longing and gratitude to loneliness, loss and grief. Perhaps my favourite piece was a heartbreaking photograph of a school uniform, whose 10-year-old contributor writes “[...] I wish everything to be normal again. I dont like wearing mask to school.” (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)

If you’ve got half an hour to spare, I highly recommend checking out Our Memento. It’s a beautiful walk down the memories of a difficult year, and it’s a work of art that unites us all in our collective worries, fears, and stresses, but also in the joy we can share and the genuine, humble things we can hope for each other and ourselves. It’s not feel-good, per se. In fact, many of the entries deal with serious issues like the passing of family members, the loss of jobs, deteriorating mental health, and sexual assault. But it’s also those stories that make Our Memento valuable, as a chance for its contributors to speak their truth safely and in a place of validation and solidarity.

And if you find that a certain story sounds a little familiar… maybe it’s a friend of yours, or maybe it’s the distinct sense of empathy that Our Memento so effortlessly evokes. Either way, go ahead and check; I’m not saying that’s what happened to me, but I’m not not saying it, and it’s always nice to tell people you’re thinking of them.

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.

Lim Jack Kin is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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