“Wugui (literally dark ghosts)*. Name of the indigenous country and slaves of the Dutch. This race has extremely black skin. They do not sink in water and can walk on the water surface as if were on land.” _ An Official Brief History of Taiwan, (1738)
Fear drives our basest instincts. Fear is generative; it produces endorphins, shapes the borders that settle our tribal demands for security and safety, and the demarcation of what lies within one territory or region and what lies outside it. In the face of the strange and unknown, fear enters our stories as ghosts and ghouls separating the human from the animal, the human from the nonhuman. In the Chinese languages, the word “ghost” often signifies the foreigner or the uncivilized race; “Wu Gui” for instance, refers collectively to the slaves brought by 17th-century European colonizers to Taiwan from Africa and Southeast Asia, including those slave soldiers from the Indonesian Banda Islands who served Koxinga’s Kingdom of Formosa as well as the indigenous people inhabiting Xiaoliuqiu who were exterminated by the Dutch. Ghosts, cast in this light, populate Southeast Asia’s oral, artistic and cinematic landscapes because they generate a sense of who we are to ourselves. The ghost is the figure of the foreigner, the intruder and the invasive species.
The shadows of political extremes no longer skirt our political scene but are its central subjects. These shadows are cast upon the scene as though their silhouettes remain just outside or beyond present events, reaching us from the borders of a far past. Yet what ghost and ghouls often reveal are the continuation of empire’s protocols and predilections into the scripts and habits of our everyday. The colonial is not in the past simply because it has already happened, but also because it is the past we require for our modern present. We imagined ourselves modern because we have left that past behind. The figures in this exhibition - a man-eating tiger, false gods – are analogies for the Others of our time – the foreigner, the immigrant, the unbeliever, the queer, even at times the governed, if the governed risks their own agency and visibility.
Yet if our present sense of living in this part of the world is one inhabited by the ghosts of imperious pasts, it is also a wilder terrain inhabited by older ghosts of pre-coloniality and the ghosts of futures buried in the present. In these moments, the distinctions between the human and the non-human – the elemental, the bestial, the technological – smudge into a spectrum of generative admixtures. Correspondingly, our fears of the non-human modulate themselves, mitigated by excavated knowledges, or they intensify into fresh terrors. Who is pointing the ghouls out? What are the ghost stories to come? Who will ‘we’ be then?