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Stain and Shadow

Performance art video
Response to childhood memory,f Old Lady with Red teeth [Nenek ada gigi yang orna merah]


Old Lady with Red teeth[Nenek ada gigi yang orna merah]


The door was already opened when we got there, and I was surprised that we needn't knock at all. My mother and I went right into the house, past the living room and into the kitchen. An elderly lady in her 70s or 80s stood at the doorway, clad in a traditional Malay long loose blouse [baju kurong]. I noticed that she looked tall as she moved closer, towering over my small frame. I was only eight, and I was about to witness an activity I would remember for a long time. This old lady was my mother’s friend, and I was asked to call her ‘nenek’ [elderly lady]. As I looked up from an ant’s eye view, I could see that she was chewing on something as she spoke. At that time, I couldn’t tell what it was, but it was weird. After a while, she proceeded to sit down on a chair next to a small table, and atop the table was a metallic bowl or some sort with a few small containers and some leaves in it. She took one leaf and placed it on her palm of one hand and used her index finger of the other hand to smear a white substance from one of the containers onto the leaf. Then she added some bite-sized pieces of what looked like dried fruit onto the centre of the leaf. I watched with much anticipation as she folded the leaf into a little parcel and pushed it right into her mouth. That was a mouthful if you’d asked me. She seemed to have pushed the parcel right against her cheeks from the inside of her mouth, and then she chewed it, while talking to my mother at the same time! While she was clearly enjoying the conversation with my mother, I could only hear her laughs and occasional muffled speech. What I saw next was quite shocking, her teeth had turned red! [Fig 120 in Volume B].Assumingly that was the red juice from the leaf parcel she ate, but wait a minute, isn’t leaf juice green? I was utterly confused and feeling quite disgusted by the copious amount of red stuff oozing from the corners of her mouth. She looked like a blood sucking monster, and for an eight-year-old it was more than enough to bear. This ‘monster’ appeared again when I was much older. It was a usual 136day at my old neighbours’ flat. They were an old couple whom I had affectionately called ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’. I often visited them with my daughter, who was then a toddler. She would call them ‘tatta’ and ‘patti’ [Tamil for grandfather and grandmother]. That day, I was in the kitchen learning to cook Indian curry from auntie. It wasn’t until I looked down that I panicked. I noticed that my daughter was not in the kitchen with me. So, I went into the living room to find her. There she was, with ‘tatta’, who was trying to stabilise her wobbly stand. Her right hand was reaching out for something that looked like a small container off a round metal tray. She probably thought that they were little toys used for pretend cooking. As ‘tatta’ started to chuckle upon her discovery, I saw that same familiar bright red stain on his teeth. That same feeling of discomfort came over me as I was reminded of old nenek’s blood-stained teeth

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