In the Shadow of Ashes

What is erased in the editing process of history? History smoulders with flames that sanitise official narratives, reducing to ashes certain accounts that threaten authority.

In the Shadow of Ashes is an immersive, multi-media installation that sheds light on potential histories that British colonial forces have attempted to incinerate. The assemblage and interplay of the original research prompts renewed reflection on atrocity and its subsequent erasure from official narratives. Visitors are encouraged to flip through the declassified documents – numbering over a thousand pages – presented in archival boxes.

The installation is set into motion by an audio composition that includes dialogue between artist Ben Yau and one of the last surviving direct relatives of a victim of the Batang Kali massacre, Lim Kok. The exchange centres around the killing of Lim’s father by British colonial officers in Malaya in 1948, and recent revelations of a cover-up in the form of mass burnings of sensitive documents known as Operation Legacy. This conversation calls attention to the arrangement of materials presented on overhead projectors that turn on and off during the exchange, highlighting various dynamic elements. Once the mechanism of choice for disseminating colonial propaganda, projection has been repurposed in the installation as a form of ‘anti-redaction’.

In the Shadow of Ashes subverts the interrogative spotlight, redirecting its beam towards declassified government documents copied from The National Archives of the UK, newspaper clippings, and newly unearthed archival footage of top-secret files being burned in Aden (now Yemen). As surrogate for erased histories, this diachronic installation aims to generate novel reflections of this atrocity, its subsequent obfuscation by successive British Governments, and the amnesiac consequences of these injustices.