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Massy Interviews / Romila

May 23rd 2023 – July 20th 2023, Massy Arts will host, Wong Pinter, a window installation by writer, facilitator and cyber-mystic of kejawen and Zoroastrian ancestry Romila, meant to invoke the feeling of being faced with a portal and invites viewers to sit in the potential discomfort of not receiving further invitation to pass through it.

The artist says: “Jam karet” is an Indonesian incantation used to bend time, declaring simply while the colonial clock ticks: time is made of rubber and can stretch as needed. This is the pace in which my writing and archival reclamations occur, revealing themselves as spells against capitalistic urgency and exploring within it liminalities including: language as portals for time travel, grief as a venue for timelessness, non-linearities of queerness and, more recently, the open sourcing of closed knowledge.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate Wong Pinter, Rafael Zen interviews Romila for Massy Arts, investigating the relation between knowledge systems and the physical world.

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Romila / “queerness is a practice of constant liminality”

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Rafael Zen – I recently read a passage by you provoked about a certain non-linearity of queerness. Do you think your work comes from queerness as a particular experience in this world? Do you think it directly affects the way you understand language, knowledge, and claiming one’s identity?

Romila – In my early research of kejawen realms, I recall attending a virtual launch of Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead. Among other non-linear discussions of dreams, netherrealms and otherworldly relations, in response to queerness, jaye simpson said, “Queerness is a placeholder for a language I do not have yet.”

I resonate with queerness in this way of acting as an unnamable, undefinable experience that houses a divine sense of self that is radically intact. I think ultimately my thesis in queerness as non-linear is that it is a spiritual experience that is not unlike grief which has us so close to the threshold of death that we are open to an inexplicable sense of time and space. In this sense queerness is not solely focused on who I love but also how I form my sentences, which ancestors speak to me and what my role is in a neo-colonial reality.

As an embodied experience, queerness is a practice of constant liminality. This daily ritual of becoming and unbecoming then becomes essential to accessing realms, ancestors, grief and the so-called past. Or as Kai Cheng Thom has said: this work of making new bodies, time travelling and spinning shame into gold is a magic queer and trans people have done throughout time.

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RZ – You say that the installation’s title, Wong Pinter, is a kejawen spiritual practitioner who holds “closed knowledge”. What is the relation between knowledge systems and the physical form of your installation? Why choose a portal to negotiate one’s ability to know?

Romila – Deeper into my research in my residency at Access Gallery where I developed this piece, I was struck by three moments of engaging with knowledge systems—two of which I’ll share:

•   In a now-deleted TikTok, a young Romani person of teaching age was looking to connect with other queer Romanis. In their video, they explained they would share a closed story only passed down in the community in hopes that it would reach other queer isolated Romanis, asking those watching to boost the video by liking but not to listen to the teachings. This to me was an incredible way of how in this panopticon of social media one can put the burden of responsibility of keeping knowledge closed back onto those outside of the community by inviting them to take on a different role.

•   At Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) during a night watch, I had a deep moment of connection with a friend and began to describe some of the kejawen realms I was beginning to develop access to. In the intimacy of the night’s quiet, my friend and I engaged in reciprocal story sharing until they hit a threshold of understanding in what I was saying. Before I could explain further, they said, “That’s quite okay, I think I’m not meant to know more than this.” I was moved by this sensitivity to self and the ability to manage our own hunger for knowing that isn’t ours to know.

This shaped my understanding around trying to recreate this feeling of being right on the precipice of closed knowledge and meditating on that millisecond in which we make our own decision to act accordingly.

I was also pulled to play with shadow as a means of storytelling. In wayang kulit (or shadow puppet play) the shadow is projected forward to tell these tales of the Mahabharata epics. The puppets themselves, the wayangs, are intricately designed from paper-thin leather but the audience only sees the shadows. In this piece, I played with the idea of information being projected the other way and opening a portal with all the information it stores that is also unseen by the audience.

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RZ – When passing by our window space, what do you wish from audiences? What would you like the curious eye to do, when stopping by, invited by your work? What is this invitation that you are proposing as an artist?

Romila – I hope it evokes a feeling of being faced with a portal and to meditate on what comes up when there is no further invitation to pass through it. Is it discomfort? Is there a feeling of underwhelm? Does the piece lose significance, meaning or value? I hope it ignites curiosity and perhaps even encourages others to map their own understanding of where they stand on these thresholds of seen and unseen, known and unknown and closed and open source.

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