Intrigued by ancient practices and tribal culture, Tan forged a relationship with the living tribes of the interior jungles through constant visits and engagement over the years. Drawn by the adornment of tribal men and women, Tan’s involvement allowed him to better understand the nuances and belief that informed the native lifestyle and aesthetics. This insight shaped Tan’s understanding towards the important markers of identity and distinguishing traits that various dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture adhere to, they provide us with a clue into the native worldview and construct.
An attempt to bridge the gap of different understandings, Tan records his observation through the display of tribal ornaments worn in their everyday, their initial adornment often performed by natives as rituals and belief heavily informed by mythologies. As a simple example, tribal tattoos are markers with protective powers deeply associated with headhunting, a rite of passage viewed as primitive and a mark of a savage by the contemporary today, slowly diminishing or replaced as the traditional are discarded while the society gravitates towards modern aesthetics. It is this very shift in belief injected by modernisation that Tan wishes to reflect through his portraits, from a belief system that is embedded and in harmony with nature towards a reality in constant pursuit of empirical evidences that the advancement of science affords.
Forgotten Beauty is the artist’s stance in embracing these charms created through the collective memories of ancient ancestors. These intimate portraits are realistically rendered to capture the strength and vigour of the elderly and respected of certain tribes, they question the remolding effects of modernisation and reinforce the distinction of the sacred and indigenous culture. They record a moment where we negotiate the conflicts of preservation at a time of impending modernisation.
Tan Wei Kheng – Forgotten Beauty