An Atlas of Mirrors
Exploring shared histories and current realities within and beyond the region, Singapore Biennale 2016 presents a constellation of artistic perspectives that provide unexpected ways of seeing the world and ourselves.
Titled An Atlas of Mirrors, the international contemporary art exhibition features site-specific and never seen before contemporary artworks by more than 60 artists across Southeast Asia, and East and South Asia.
Within his installation of found objects is an antique ironwood boat, symbolic of journeying between the Nusantara (the Indonesian archipelago) and the larger world, as well as between the worlds of the living and the dead (in Balinese belief, the boat carries the soul to its ancestral abode after death).
Driven by his concern about a growing historical amnesia, Fyerool Darma departs from his characteristic painting practice to present sculptures of two key figures in Singapore history: an appropriated bust of Sir Stamford Raffles by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey, and a bustless pedestal inscribed with the name, birth and death dates of Sultan Hussein Mua’zzam Shah.
'History Repeats Itself' is a meditation on the history of power, seeking to make visible the legacies of colonial conquest in Southeast Asia. The burnt-out ships in this installation recall the ominous appearance of European armadas on the horizon during the early centuries of European colonialism.
Indeed, Villamael’s ‘greenhouse’ houses unusual foliage: intricate cut-outs created from archaic and contemporary Philippine maps. Coalescing notions of nature and nurture, culture and the cultivated, the work probes the imaging of the Philippines’ fraught history as the country that endured the longest colonial rule in Southeast Asia.
'Dust (Singapore Galaxy)' is based on a photograph of the night sky around Singapore. The seemingly random scattering of chalk dust is in fact a precise placement and measuring out of dust in relation to stellar distributions. The Chinese character for “dust” refers both to the socially under-privileged, and the ordinary and the mundane, but here it is transformed into the limitless universe.
In a titanic mural, Pannaphan presents a mapping of the Buddhist cosmos that resembles a landscape painting. Using materials raw and natural, as well as the new and mass-produced, her amalgamation of contemporary and traditional Thai art creates a unified cartography of the heavens and the earth that chronicles Southeast Asian history.
'Ling Long Tower' by Zang Honghua is inspired by Wen’s two films and investigates the Songzhuang Artists Village in Beijing. These three films capture the Chinese art world from the 1980s to 2011 in a humorous and quick-witted style, as it vigorously yet chaotically evolved from its earlier ‘wild’ state into a mature presence in the global art world.
A map of Myanmar, painstakingly constructed of a thousand squares of sculpted Shwe Wah soap, testifies to the artist’s tumultuous life. While in prison for almost seven years, he made art on scraps of fabric, prison uniforms – and in soap. From a bar of soap, he carved a little captive human figure, trapped within the claustrophobic confines of four walls.
As an artist-in-residence at CJC and the Courts, Tan attended court proceedings, listened to the soundscape of the courts, paying attention to the use of voice, and documented what he heard as drawings. The artist turned his drawings into graphic scores, which were then interpreted and sung by the Anglo-Chinese Junior College Alumni Choir.
Repetitive frames of barren land with no significant geographical or political identity: this land could be anywhere, as the title of the artwork suggests, and yet it is not. It is one of the most contested territories in recent history, over which lives have been lost and wars have been fought: the border that separates India from Bangladesh.
'Another Chronicle of Loss' and 'Shadows, Stains' are informed by the poems of Kashmiri poet Aga Shahid Ali, while Sheikh’s extensive use of stencilwork alludes to the latticework typical of vernacular Kashmiri architecture. Her paintings are a multifaceted meditation on the nature of destroyed beauty, the necessity of memory, and the forms and adequacy of memorialisation.
Gupta explores the material culture of Kashmir through the pheran – a garment that is used widely by men, women and children across class and religion in this region. He sees the pheran as a symbol of Kashmiri identity that has witnessed the political, social, cultural and aesthetic changes that have taken place in the area.
Darmawan’s work continues his interest in the peripheral histories of capitalism and their relationship with contemporary life. Its entry point is the Singapore Human Resources Institute, established in 1965 to promote excellence in human resource management and development – an integral role then, as now, for Singapore’s economic development.
The installation comprises objects once found in offices and domestic environments in Singapore as well as Indonesia, in an imagined space commemorating the institute’s achievements.
Ky traces the history of pattern-making back through time and space. Incorporating examples of Peranakan lace and embroidery patterns (obtained from Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Korea), the artist imprints, etches and prints them over Khmer motifs using intaglio printing and Khmer engraving techniques – thus forming hybridised patterns that amalgamate the multiple layers of aesthetic influence in Peranakan and Khmer cultures.
This installation is an expansion of Niranjan’s original Koboi Balik Kampung (The ‘Koboi’ Returns Home) series, where he explored personal and family narratives, as well as the cultural, political and social landscapes of Malaysia. It reflects Niranjan’s psychological and sociocultural consciousness as an artist living and working in Canada, and as a Malaysian citizen.
Juxtaposing the large, minimal sculptures of shop-houses (heritage buildings which are sometimes used as dormitories for hundreds of workers today) alongside rust-transferred drawings and cement sculptures, Barman explores the parallel realities of the migrants’ experience – the house they live in in Singapore and the ‘home’ they dream of in Bangladesh.
Kra-Tua Taeng Seua is a traditional folktale about a tiger hunt, once well known throughout southern Thailand. In recent years, the number of traditional theatre troupes performing the play has diminished. Collaborating with one such group, the Wat Khuha Sawan Folk Play Company, Sakarin reimagines the folktale as a work of art reflecting life in a megacity.
Commingling fact and fiction, The Great East Indiaman revisits Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing in 1819, which led to the founding of modern Singapore. In place of the triumphant European male protagonist, the artist recasts the narrative as a fantastical tale of a mythical, now-extinct species of whale that brought Raffles to these shores.