Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee

Work / We've got the sun under our skin

 

We've got the sun under our skin

2018—Ongoing

We’ve got the sun under our skin is a series of photographs and texts illustrating the effect of colonial literature on modern identity and the construction of perception on the Other. Drawing from 19th–21st century British travelogues, ethnographic accounts and novels written on colonial Malaya, passages function as visual scores which dictate the creation of the images—all of which were shot in Britain. Created in response to the homogenous representation of a yesteryear Malaya, the reconstructed scenes attempt to demystify romanticised visions and subvert the orientalist gaze echoed throughout the writings. Shedding light on the power of colonial literature—otherwise seen as vessels of the imperial bind, We've got the sun under our skin aims to disrupt the slow violence that has been transmitted and accumulated through knowledge production in the West.

I still pretended to be looking at the jungle when I was but looking at the confusion in my soul.
— Henri Fauconnier, The Soul of Malaya

But if you sit down upon a fallen tree trunk and look around you may see see a little more. High in a tree and almost out of sight, you may see an occasional flower, and lower down perhaps your eye may light upon an inconspicuous spray of blossoms that a careful scrutiny shows to be a miniature orchid.
— George Maxwell, In Malay Forests

The transparent patterned stuff stuck to their skin like watermarks.
— Henri Fauconnier, The Soul of Malaya

In the house they wear a sarong and a loose jacket, long or short, but when dressed to be seen they often wear two sarongs, one over the other, and a long jacket of silk or satin, fastened in front by three gold or jewelled brooches.
— Frank Swettenham, British Malaya

But the water is always green, and clear, and swirling; it looks and is very deep, and the foliage of the islands is repeated on its surface, in dark green reflections.
— Frank Swettenham, British Malaya

The sun cannot pierce the dense foliage of the branches of the giant trees, and so heavily do shadows lie upon shadows that the very green seems almost black.
— George Maxwell, In Malay Forests

Something about its green stained yellow rind, and in particular the great spawn of gluey, grey-brown, caviare-like seeds, and the pale, stringy fibres at its cleft heart made me want to throw up.
— James Kirkup, Tropic Temper

These scented the whole atmosphere with the sweet, nutty smell of drying coconut, mingling with the stink of the monsoon drains and the scent of cloves and pepper—‘that pungent, spicy odour so redolent of the Far East.
— Charles Allen, Tales from the South China Seas

The sea was polished, was blue, was pellucid, was sparkling like a precious stone, extending on all sides, all round to the horizon—as if the whole terrestrial globe has been one jewel, one colossal sapphire, a single gem fashioned into a planet.
— James Conrad, Youth

Neither the season, nor the flight of time, leaves a mark upon the forest; virgin in the days of which we cannot guess the morn, virgin in our days, virgin it will remain in the days of generations yet unborn.
— George Maxwell, In Malay Forests

Beyond these are the straits of Malacca, blue and joyful with gentle zephyrs. Here is a charming locality and delightful climate, calm, dreamy, and soothing. But inexorable time speeds.
— John Turnbull Thomson, Glimpses into Life in Malayan Lands

A puff faint and tepid laden with strange odours of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night—the first sigh of the East on my face…it was palpable and enslaving, like a charm, like a whispered promise of mysterious delight.
— James Conrad, Youth

There was for us no sky, there were for us no stars, no sun, no universe—nothing but angry clouds and an infuriated sea.
— James Conrad, Youth

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Additional Info

UNSEEN 2019 //  A.I. Gallery // 20-22 September 2019

'Combining archival material with photography, Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee turns her camera on Britain to demystify nostalgia visions of colonial Malaya.'

—UNSEEN Platform

Feature on UNSEEN Platform and Unseen Magazine Issue 7 

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