John Mateer is a poet, writer and curator. He has published books in Australia, the UK, Austria and Portugal, and the prose Semar’s Cave: an Indonesian Journal and The Quiet Slave. His most recent book of poems is Unbelievers, or ‘The Moor’. With the Cocos Malay community, he wrote an account of the settlement of the Cocos-Keeling Islands for a sound installation. During his residency at Hotel Penaga he will research the historical encounters between the Malay peoples and the Asian and European traders; focusing on the peripheral, Asian characters in the 17th century epic The Conquest of Malacca.
Following my previous projects related to European colonial encounters in Asia, foremost Southern Barbarians and Unbelievers, or ‘The Moor’, I have become interested in investigating the canonical texts of those encounters to see what understanding the explorers had of the local cultures. Often they disguised their knowledge and their
surprising sympathies. I have mostly looked to Portuguese accounts, the most famous of which are Fernão Mendes Pinto’s prose Peregrinaçam and the earlier epic poem, Os Lusiadas, by Luis vas de Camões. The latter is not only the subject of poems in Southern Barbarians, but also of The Bones of the Epic, my project with the Lisbon puppet-master Delfim Miranda and
art-noise ensemble A Favola da Madusa.
Now, after researching the slave-trade in South-east Asia as it influenced the forebears of the Cocos Malays who lived first in Malacca in the early 19th Century, I would like to write a long poem based on the Asian figures who appear in the periphery of a now largely forgotten Portuguese epic, Francisco de Sá de Meneses’ The Conquest of Malacca. These include the ‘kings’ of Sumatra, Malacca and Korea, and other characters from Cathay and Siam.
Due to my recent engagement with translation and sound production, even though the long poems will be written as in English, I aim to have it translated into both Malay and Portuguese, and produced, ultimately, either as a performance or multi-media work. I have started discussions about this with translators and others in Portugal, Singapore and Malaysia.
John was a resident artist in Hotel Penaga from December 2016 to end January 2017, supported by Asialink.
- Shortlisted for the Inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and for the Victorian and New South Wales Premier’s prizes for poetry. 2012
- Centenary Medal for my “contribution to Australian culture and society”. 2003
- Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry. 2001