phantom limb(((o))): An exorcism for the embodied past

Ila and Syaheedah Iskandar

phantom limb(((o))) is an ongoing collaborative research project between Syaheedah Iskandar and ila that excavates embodied knowledge, histories and narratives surrounding the Nusantara through the mediation of the moving image. The phantom limb used here describes a disconnection of limbs from the source origin (the body). If the body is used as a proxy that represents the archipelagic region, then it is possible to describe that disconnection as contributing to memory loss, whether individually or collectively as a community.

ila’s performative use of her body demonstrates these intricacies as well as address these phantoms that are trying to locate themselves not only within the region but across time and space, in multiple worlds of the unseen. In an attempt to recognise the body as being cut from ancestral knowledge and space (Nusantara), ila illuminates the paradox of being in a diaspora space (Singapore). phantom limb(((o))) addresses this bodily dissonance – being in a space where we are a part of but are also excluded from.

We also explored micro-activations from home, which include provocations/prompts for the body that can be shared with other artists to perform remotely. These micro-activations are an expansion of Ila’s two works. bekas (2019) and tanah//air (2020) positions the body as the abject that performs stubborn residues that resist change. These projects look at alternative trajectories relating to regional histories, cultures and ancestral knowledge. The micro-activations can lead to a collective exorcism: to remove the phantoms of the past but also to make apparent these limbs and extremities that remain attached.



The intimate works of visual and performance artist ila incorporate objects, moving images and live performance. Through weaving imagined narratives into existing realities, she seeks to create alternative nodes of experience and entry points into the peripheries of the unspoken, the tacit and the silenced. Using her body as a space of tension, negotiation and confrontation, her works generate discussion about gender, history and identity in relation to pressing contemporary issues. Her work has been shown at The Substation; NTU Centre for Contemporary Art; National Design Centre (2019); Coda Culture, and ArtScience Museum (2018).

Syaheedah Iskandar is currently thinking about vernacular modes of visuality within the paradigm of Southeast Asia. She was the inaugural Emerging Writers’ Fellow for the academic journal Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, publishing a paper on contemporary art practices embodying notions of ghaib (unseen) within the vernacular Malay world. She holds an MA in History of Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and is the recipient of the IMPART Awards 2020 (Singapore) in recognition of her emerging curatorial practice. Aside from her independent projects, Syaheedah was previously Curatorial Assistant at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (2014–18) where she worked on numerous exhibitions and developed outreach strategies for art education.