Twenty Southeast Asian contemporary artworks showcased from the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection look at the people, places and spaces around us. Revolving around ideas of identity, urbanisation, globalisation and the environment, these works raise pertinent issues on urban living in the modern cityscape and prompt us to consider how the artists have translated their visions about these issues into works of art.
Dawn Ng features a curious colossal bunny named Walter that pops up across Singapore’s standard landscape of flats and heartland enclaves. By placing Walter at various spots in Singapore and photographing these interesting scenarios in which the giant rabbit contrasts greatly with his environment, Dawn Ng encourages people to re-examine overlooked places, local sites and sights which we have come to take for granted by invoking a sense of surprise and wonder in them, so that we can discover the extraordinary in our everyday environments.
Eko Nugroho’s It’s All About Coalition is typical of the artist’s signature style which is heavily influenced by popular and comic culture featuring strange, hybrid characters. Two figures approach each other, seemingly to offer friendship or peace by means of the universal gesture of a handshake. However, the outstretched hand of one character has taken the form of the head of a wolf, its jaws open and ready to snap off the other party’s extended hand.
The other party is not defenceless either – his other hand, resting by his side, has taken the shape of pincers or claws, ready to retaliate. Both figures are caught in a moment of tension and anticipation – will they attack in mutual distrust, or will there be true coalition between them? What do you think each of the figures is thinking at this point of time?
Drawing on his familiarity with the cartoons and comic books that populated his childhood, Eko Nugroho’s Illusion illustrates a scene of “crispy crisis” where the environment is depleted of its greenery by monster-like machines in his signature comic-graphics style. With the absence of living forms, what’s left of the sterile landscape is a harsh, jagged terrain, exposed to the dangers of over-heating and “crisping” up as a result of environmental destruction.
The hooded figure – who resembles an astronaut, a common ‘hero’ or wish fulfilment in boys’ comics and cartoons – represents the artist’s aversion of depicting stereotypical face-types that could lead to discriminatory thoughts or interpretations of his work, while at the same time, adding a sense of ominous foreboding about the state of the environment depicted here.
Uh… features the work of an imaginary graffiti artist who goes by the alias ‘Uh’, and who has seemingly painted his moniker onto the walls of Ho Chi Minh City’s urbancity scape. What the audience sees is the imaginary aftermath of Uh’s act. Only when pedestrians and motorcyclists enter the fictive video space and pass through under the painted letters will the audience then realise that the graffiti is not real, but actually a digital image that is superimposed onto the cityscape by the artists.
Parklife depicts a playground and a multi-storey void deck, familiar sights in most Housing Development Board (HDB) estates in Singapore. However, this is no idyllic cityscape. Upon closer inspection, the residential landscape depicted in the work is far from being the family-friendly, cheerful place that it was designed to be.
These photographs reveal, unflinchingly, scenes of Manila’s prevalent urban poverty, yet ironically and intriguingly, also avoid performing as journalistic documentation or proffering social commentary on the problems associated with the Philippine urban environment such as overcrowding or poor sanitation.
The storyboard of the Zsa Zsa Zsu video emphasises this electric connection,depicting members of RNRM performing the song using the stop-motion animation technique. Unexpected objects such as buttons and beads are used to form the images. This combination of a deliberate low-tech technique and the use of everyday materials is characteristic of Tromarama’s unique artistic style, contrasting greatly with many mainstream music videos which rely on the use of high-tech special effects and heavy editing in order to achieve slick production values and a polished end product in order to appeal to viewers.
The winner of the Voter’s Prize award at the Singapore Art Show 2009, Self-Portrait (No More Tears Mr. Lee) is made out of 8,000 plastic shampoo bottle caps placed individually on an angled pedestal. Using a combination of opened and closed bottle caps placed in a fixed formation on a grid format, the portrait of a person is created when the bottle caps are lit and seen from a certain angle.
These works are inter-related – the sculpture is that of a character depicted in the painting, named and titled as Liberty. This set of works is a reference to the 1830 painting Liberty Leading The People by French artist Eugène Delacroix which has come to symbolise the heroism and ideals associated with the French Revolution.In Delacroix’s painting, Liberty, depicted as a female figure in a yellow dress, leads the people in their fight for liberty, equality and fraternity, represented by France’s tri-colour flag.
Terra Bajraghosa updates the spirit of the work in his own playful interpretation set in the present day, where Liberty, presented as a pixilated image, holds a modern-day boom box instead of a rifle as depicted in the original painting. With this re-interpretation, Terra Bajraghosa suggests that the revolution in the streets is still relevant today, only that it is now driven by youth and popular culture fighting for its freedom and independence, as suggested by the symbolism of Liberty’s boom box and the pixilated graphics drawn from contemporary digital culture.
The title of this work, Jembar Negarane, Cupet Pikirane, is a Javanese phrase that loosely translates to Big Country, Narrow Mindset in English. It consists of three panels depicting part-man, part-machine characters in a seemingly apocalyptic scene of chaos and terror, with dismembered limbs lying around and a riotous mob threatening to take control. The sense of violence and hostility is further emphasised by the sharp tools and aggressive behaviour of the characters presented in the work.
The presented artworks selected are for the promotion of engagement and discussion of broader issues through contemporary art.
We hope you have enjoyed it.
Singapore Art Museum.