The spotlight has been shining brightly on Singapore’s artists.
Amanda Heng was recently awarded the prestigious Benesse Prize, which celebrates experimental and critical spirit in the visual arts. She is the first Singaporean artist to clinch the award. 2019 also saw the second edition of S.E.A. Focus, a showcase run by Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), bring together artists and galleries from Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia.
These prominent milestones reflect how crucial it is for us to support our country’s artists and learn from the themes highlighted in their work. Here, we bring together a selection of 10 Singaporean artists whose thought-provoking practices explore social, political, interpersonal, and environmental themes.
Many might know Dawn Ng for ‘Walter,’ a colossal installation of a rabbit that was set in multiple locations across the heartlands in 2010. The multimedia artist has developed a lot since then, with her oeuvre spanning illustration, sculpture, and text. Ng delves into themes of time, memory, identity, and space. Her works have been collected by the Singapore Art Museum, and she is currently represented by Chan + Hori Gallery.
Fyerool Darma interrogates the consumption of history and culture in relation to class and identity. His prominent ‘Moyang’ series — based on the Javanese word for ancestor — portrays individuals from Singapore’s pre-colonial roots who have been overlooked by the country’s modern history. His black-and-white portraits of Sang Nila Utama, Indonesian painter Raden Saleh, and Ali Wallace (the assistant to Russel Wallace, the author of the ‘Malay Archipelago’) seek to highlight the country’s forgotten Malay history. Darma’s works have been collected by the Singapore Art Museum and featured in the 2016 Singapore Biennale: An Atlas of Mirrors.
Alecia Neo sees art as a force for social change. Her oeuvre investigates issues such as marginalisation, poverty, and social inequality. She works primarily with photography, video, installation and hosts participatory workshops to highlight the and the complexities of mobility and caregiving. Neo is also Founder and Director of Unseen Art and Co-Founder of Brack, a platform for socially engaged art. She was the recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2016.
Ho Tzu Nyen
Ho Tzu Nyen’s practice explores and challenges the construction of historical narratives and national identity. His oeuvre spans film, documentary, theatre, and archival and digital projects. Ho’s latest project, The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia, exists online. The work employs the format of a dictionary to explore how the region might be defined by historical events, environmental factors, and religion. His work has been exhibited by institutions such as the National Gallery Singapore, the Guggenheim Bilbao, and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.
Zarina Muhammad is an artist, educator, and writer. She is well-known for her lecture performances, which hope to deconstruct and respond to the histories, mythologies, religions, and issues of gender in Southeast Asia. She was previously an Artist-in-Residence at NTU Centre of Contemporary Art and currently lectures on art history and cultural studies at LASALLE College of the Arts.
Melissa Tan’s works are based on nature and the beauty of transience. She trained as a painter and received her BA (Hons) in Fine Art from LASALLE in 2011. She employs sculpture, video, and sound to evoke the textures of rocks and her surrounding environments. Her most recent solo exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art, Under the Arched Sky, explores the weight-bearing quality of the arch in architecture and expands on that to create a metaphor for the strength of women.
Song-Ming Ang’s practice explores the relationships between music, the individual, and society. Contemporary art aficionados will recognise him for his exhibition ‘Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme,’ which was presented at the Singapore Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Ang’s works explored the role musical instruments –in particular, that of the recorder– played in Singapore’s colonial legacy and modern nation building. Ang currently lives and works in Berlin.
Luke Heng stands out for his emphasis on the materiality and process of painting. His most recent works from the 2019 series ‘Non-Place’, are almost-monochrome and seek to unravel the perception of what a painting should be. Heng makes use of a specific pouring technique, where he coats the canvas with multiple layers of oil paint and places thinner over it. The paint then dissipates and creates the appearance of brushstrokes, evoking a sense of newly-created space.
Robert Zhao Renhui
Robert Zhao Renhui delves into the complex relationships between humans and animals in his overarching project, the Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ). The ICZ consists of research projects and installations that examine how people from urban societies view animals and how individual cultural contexts affect such perceptions. Zhao’s installation ‘Queens Own Hill and Its Environs’ was included in the 2019 Singapore Biennale.
Shubigi Rao is an artist and writer whose wide range of interests span archaeology, history, archival systems, literature, and ecology. Rao creates installations out of books, drawings, videos, and ideological board games to comment on the accumulation and construction of knowledge in the contemporary age. Her works have been included in 10th Taipei Biennial (2016), 3rd Pune Biennale (2017), and the Kochi Biennale (2018). Rao was selected to be the Curator of the prestigious Kochi-Muziris Biennale, one of the largest arts events in South Asia, earlier this year.