Yen Nie Yong: Past Lives

Yen Nie Yong (Malaysia): Past Lives

Gallery offline – updating soon

We leave, thinking we don’t want to return but when we finally do, wish we’d never left. Moving to the city almost a decade ago, I thought I could always find my hometown as I’d left it. But my visit last year dispelled the nostalgia. Confronted by an acute sense of unfamiliarity with the former landscape of my past and its current inhabitants, I embarked on a journey to photograph towns and places that friends and strangers have called home in Malaysia. These towns were once lively, bustling with economic activities and the symbol of wealth and glory. But they have since faded.

The paint has chipped off the walls, if the buildings were still standing. In an old house, I saw a settee where a husband and wife sat here months ago, deliberating on whether or not they should sell the house they called home for the past twenty years. The traces of their discussion are marked by the way the cushions have been left behind; they didn’t take the settee he had made himself many years ago. I had walked on the road that my mother had walked on as a child. She worked as a babysitter at the age of nine, but says it wasn’t considered child labor and that “back then, it was also safe for children to walk alone.” One day, my mother and I went to a traveling amusement park together, or ‘funfair’ to use the fondly remembered nomenclature of my childhood. It was empty. The sound of generators producing electricity to run these rides and the playful music still ring in my ears, but the absence of children’s laughter is more deafening. I photographed these scenes, as though I am writing a eulogy to past lives.