Tarung: A fight for power and survival
By Danial bin Fuad

Everyone yearns for power because it places you in a position of absolute control. Power struggles have been a part of human society since the dawn of time, and in his latest installation at HOM Art Trans, Jamil Zakaria expresses it in the form of cockfighting. Jamil is an installation artist who has been involved in the art scene since 2008, building a reputation for his intricate weaving of chicken wire. Growing up in a village in Kedah, chicken wire was always a part of his everyday life; hence it was a natural choice as a medium for his works.

Jamil isn’t new to creating large scale works. For his solo exhibition Cherita Gembala in 2019, he crafted almost 30 life-sized sheep for “Si Taring Ajar Menyalak”. For Tarung, he sculpted a total of 30 roosters, displaying again his meticulous attention to detail and patience in his delicate and efficient use of chicken wire. This dedication commands respect, as chicken wire’s extremely malleable nature makes it difficult for a sculpture to retain its form.

This time, he takes it step further, crafting feathers for the roosters out of melted plastic. Previously, he would use spray paint. The melted coloured plastic is an excellent method, adding a brilliance to the sculptures. This shows Jamil’s growth as an artist as he gets better and better in handling his materials.

Jamil’s work is usually inspired by the Malay culture, with clever plays on Malay proverbs evident in his previous works such as “Bila Si Misai Tak Berkuku...” (2016) from his Young Guns exhibition, as well as “Lubok” (2017). In the latter he takes on the proverb “Ada air, ada ikan”.

His most recent work again draws from Malay proverbs, with an added dimension of a power struggle in the form of cockfighting. Cockfighting has long been a part of Malay culture, and was a popular sport in the East Coast in the 19th century. Hugh Clifford’s “In Court and Kampong” (1897) contains one of the earliest recorded mentions of the sport.

There are many proverbs and folk tales mentioning chickens in Malay culture, and Jamil combines a few of them in his works. “Ayam menang kampung tergadai”, comes from the folk tale of Pak Kaduk who loses his land even after his rooster wins a cockfighting match, “Ayam tangkas di gelanggang” addresses smooth talkers and “Ayam berlaga sekandang” highlights infighting.

Due to the gruesome nature of the sport in which the losing rooster often faces death, cockfighting has rightfully been banned. Jamil powerfully relays that message in his installation, where the losing side in a power struggle would likely face death - be it metaphorically or literally. The winner on the other hand would be rewarded handsomely. The cold reality is that it is not the rooster that is rewarded, but his master. This shows that in a power struggle, it is the master who reaps the rewards while the rest of us only get the crumbs - be it position, money, or even more power.

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Danial Fuad is a participant of the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021.

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