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38 ARTS

The Business Times, Friday, May 10, 2013

An ‘artistic’ view of land reclamation
S’pore Biennale 2013 will see dozens of artists from S-E Asia create works to the theme of ‘If the World Changes’, says CHEAH UI-HOON

L

AND reclamation is one
issue to be addressed at
this year’s Singapore Biennale, through photography artist Erica Lai’s
work. “It’s common knowledge how much we’ve
extended into the sea. My
work asks the future generation to
reconsider the symbolism of this continual expansion and how we negotiate it,” explains the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts lecturer.
Lai will be a first-time participant
in this year’s Singapore Biennale
(SB2013), which will see about 80 artists from South-east Asia (with a few
exceptions) create works to the theme
of “If the World Changes”. The first
list of 52 artists shortlisted for the
Biennale was announced at a press
conference yesterday.
The artist is involving some 100
students from schools built on reclaimed land. The students will conduct research and also write about it
– in fiction, haiku or poetry.
“I ask them to think if we’re negotiating our land reclamation in a reasonable manner,” Lai explains. The
end result will be a photographic installation created by Lai and the students. The urban landscape and spatial boundaries have been topics of interest for Lai in her artistic practice.
“Singapore is so successful at taking space but is it really worth it – because our relationship with nature is
fraught with tension? It’s also good to
work with teenagers who are on the
cusp of adulthood,” she says.
One reason for the project is to
show the students the link between

Spectacular:
An installation by
Oanh Phi Phi of
Vietnam. PHOTO: IMAGE
COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Regional focus: A piece of work by Thai artist Prateep Suthathongthai. About 80 artists from South-east Asia
will be taking part in this year’s Singapore Biennale, which will be held from Oct 26 to Feb 16
visual arts, history and literature.
“People often think visual arts is an
island, but I want to show the students especially, how it can be linked
with, say, literature,” she adds.
Meanwhile, this year’s Biennale
will feature two large-scale installations – one by Suzann Victor in the
Rotunda of the National Museum of
Singapore and the other will be Eko
Prawoto’s large outdoor installation
Wormhole, with dramatic bamboo
walls inviting the public to enter into
a contemplative encounter with nature amid the busy urban cityscape of
the Bras Basah and Bugis precinct.
Singapore Art Museum director

Tan Boon Hui says that more effort
has been made to keep the Biennale
“site” placed within the three museums and the precincts compact. “The
idea is the art works are within half
an hour’s walk from the museums so
that the viewing experience isn’t
broken by the hot and humid weather, for example,” says Mr Tan.
This is also the first time there’s a
South-east Asian focus, says Mr Tan.
“The range of art styles and practices
collectively encapsulated by this first
group of artists show conclusively
that South-east Asia is an indelible
part of the global art arena in all its
colourings – whether it be in familiar

mediums such as sculpture to new
digital forms of photography and
video, to large-scale public art and
spectacular installations.”
SB2013 is now a crucial platform
that allows Singapore Art Museum,
with the collaboration of 27 co-curators across South-east Asia, to foster
regional conversations and building
capabilities in contemporary art in
Singapore, he adds.
The list comprises established as
well as emerging artists primarily
based in or with links to South-east
Asia, such as Albert Samreth and
Svay Sareth from Cambodia; Eko
Prawoto and Mahardika Yudha from

Indonesia; Marisa Darasavath from
Laos; Jainal Amambing, Chris Chong
Chan Fui and Zulkifli Yusoff from
Malaysia; Po Po from Myanmar; Leslie de Chavez and Siete Pesos from
the Philippines; Guo Yixiu, Lai Chee
Kien and Suzann Victor from Singapore; Nipan Oranniwesna, Prateep
Suthathongthai and Nopchai Ungkavatanapong from Thailand; Le Brothers and Oanh Phi Phi from Vietnam.

The list also includes
President’s Young Talents Boo Junfeng and Liao Jiekai, who received
the President’s Young
Talents Credit Suisse Artist
Commissioning
Award to create new
works for the Biennale;
as well as Erica Lai, Hazel Lim, Tay Bee Aye
and ZNC which involve
the participation of local
students.
Besides artists, the
public can participate
and have their entries
featured on Biennale
merchandise and other
platforms. Participants
simply need to complete
the sentence “If The
World Changed,. . .” by
posting their entries through the
SB2013 and SAM Facebook pages,
the SAM Twitter and Instagram accounts (@IAmASAMbody) or by email
to sb2013@nhb.gov.sg.
For the full list of 52 artists, please
visit
www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/sb201
3/shortlistedartistbios.pdf. The
Singapore Biennale 2013 will be
held from Oct 26 to Feb 16

On catwalk with the Param’s an ambassador of art now
funny side of fashion
By CHEAH UI-HOON

By SARA YAP
FASHION has always carried a sheen of
exclusivity – there are the supermodels
decked in expensive designer threads strutting down the runway. And there are the
too-cool-for-school young hipsters who
show off their impeccable sartorial sense
on media-sharing platforms such as LookBook, Tumblr and fashion blogs, amassing
quite a following of admirers.
But The Unusual Suspects – a fashion
and photography exhibition held at Mad
Nest restaurant along East Coast Road –
treads the middle ground by featuring
everyday people as its models and having
them styled in ways to express facets of
their personalities. In most of the photos
on display, the clothes don’t make the man
so much as character does.
Take for instance the collaborative
works by the team behind photography
blog Shentonista and artist Tan Zi Xi.
Shentonista took the photos, and Mr Tan
spruced them up with colourful, whimsical
illustrations.
In Of Friends & Family: Cooking
Dreams, the model – the artists’ friend
who loves to cook – sports a drawn-on
chef’s hat and holds a frying pan. There is
a significance behind this: The illustrations
symbolise the hobbies and aspirations of
the subjects, providing a contrast to their
seemingly stuffy office wear.
“Before taking the photos and doing the
illustrations, we talked with our subjects to
better understand their personalities,
hopes and dreams,” says Mr Tan, 28, who
goes by the moniker MessyMsxi. “The eventual results are whimsical and amusing,
but they also reflect the quirks and ambitions of the subjects so that people can see
there is more to them than what they
wear.”
For the team behind Shentonista, the
photos are a slight departure from its
usual focus on fashionable individuals in
the Central Business District. At the exhibition, the works on display are closer to
home: They feature the artists’ friends and
family members as models.
“We wanted to take photographs of real
people. The idea is to communicate the essence of our subjects and capture them in
the most personable ways,” says Darren
Lee, 33, founder of Shentonista.
Shentonista and Mr Tan are not alone
in wanting to document more than just
snazzy dressing. Photographer Franz Navarrete has taken things a step further by
asking his models to be the very antithesis
of fashion: All his photos feature subjects
dressed in plain, drab clothes and without
a smidgen of make-up on.
He says the objective was to provide a
refreshing change from the polished,
dolled-up image that the subjects – typically known to their friends as stylish dressers – are used to.
“I wanted to show a different side to
these people, the side that others wouldn’t
get to see. I thought it would be a cool and
unusual concept,” says Mr Navarrete, 31.
He collaborated with freelance artist Amanda Keisha Ang on the project. Ms Ang did
digital illustrations on the photos, drawing
new outfits on half of each subject’s face
and body.
The result is a jarring contrast between
the natural dressed-down half, and the
comic book-like effect of the illustrated portion. For instance, in IN:VISIBLE: Melody

Amusing and quirky: The ‘Of Friends &
Family’ illustration above symbolises the
hobbies and aspirations of the subject,
and the model in IN:VISIBLE below
shows ‘how there are two sides to every
person’

Tan, the model sports dishevelled hair and
is clad in a T-shirt and shorts in one half,
while the other half of her body is decked
in a flouncy purple frock.
“Some of our subjects were a little hesitant when we first approached them, and
only agreed after we explained our idea: to
show how there are two sides to every person,” says Ms Ang, 27.
At The Unusual Suspects, visitors will
also see collaborations by four other artists. Unframed prints of the photos on display are on sale from $100, while the original framed works are priced at $588.
Ultimately, this is an exhibition that
encourages its visitors to look at the person beyond the stylish threads. “We just
hope to make fashion more fun and accessible, as well as to show the different aspects of our subjects’ personalities,” says
Mr Navarrete.
The Unusual Suspects runs at Mad Nest,
378/380 East Coast Road until May 30

WHEN he was a diplomat,
former Malaysian high commissioner to Singapore N
Parameswaran started collecting art. He would buy
the art in the countries
where he was posted, but
more importantly, he started collecting the works of
Malaysian artists too.
He was an art collector
who was ahead of the Malaysian art collecting curve,
he reckons, now that prices
for Malaysian artists have
soared. In the last 27 years
in the foreign service, he
has amassed over 3,000
paintings and sculptures. “I
bought over 1,000 paintings, posters, sketches in Vietnam alone, when I was
there for three years.”
His collection today focuses on Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Filipino art, while he’s stopped
adding to his Vietnamese
collection, and intends to divest his Indian art.
“After I bought my first
painting, I just started buying more and more, out of
love rather than investment,” he recalls, adding
he’s more astute now and
has decided to specialise.
He remembers his first
art piece vividly: a watercolour scene of Penang by renowned watercolourist Tan
Choon Ghee. “I was fascinated by his works.” Tan
was a graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
In the course of his art
collecting, Mr Param has organised 18 art exhibitions
in Kuala Lumpur – three of
them solo exhibitions of
Tan’s watercolours.
Retired from the foreign
service now – his last stint
was in Singapore for fiveand-a-half years – Mr Param, 65, hopes to organise
art shows on a more permanent basis now. “Most of
my collection has been in
storage for the past eight
years and they’re in one or
two locations, so I decided
that I might as well make
use of them,” he explains.
He’s rented a space in
one of the newest malls in
KL, called it Interpr8, to
house his collection as well
as host exhibitions. “We
will be inviting artists who
we feel have a unique style
and perspective to do
shows here. At Interpr8, it
isn’t so much about the everyday selling and buying of
art, but the propagation
and cultivation of it. We
want to foster an appreciation for Malaysian art and
reach out to a new audience,” says Mr Param.
He’s gone into this venture with his daughter
Sharmin, who’s also an art
enthusiast – besides her
day job in a Malaysian
broadcasting company –

The art of diplomacy: (Clockwise from above) The late Nik Zainal Abidin’s Wayang Kulit in Yellow, 1979; his
Wayang Kulit in Blue, 1969; and Mr Param in his new gallery, Interpr8 Art Space in Kuala Lumpur, amid his
collection of other works by the self-taught Malaysian artist, who is often hailed as the ‘painter of the epics’.

and her interest lies in contemporary art and young
artists. The inaugural exhibition opens tomorrow
night in KL, as the avid collector has pulled his collection of a prominent Kelantan artist’s works together
in a two-part exhibition.
The late Nik Zainal Abidin,
a self-taught artist, is often
hailed as the “painter of the
epics”. This is a reference
to wayang kulit (shadow
puppetry), which is the artist’s most popular theme.
He’s widely regarded as
Malaysia’s foremost painter of this traditional Malay
art form – often capturing
the characters and the aesthetics of the shadow puppet plays based on the
Ramayana. The exhibition

will showcase Nik Zainal’s
rendition of wayang kulit
in traditional as well as stylised forms – on paper, oils
and also rare wood carvings.
Besides his wayang kulit series, Nik Zainal’s figurative, landscape, designs
and also Islamic calligraphic works will be on show –
revealing less-known facets
of the artist. “I first encountered his work in 1986 in a
small shop in KL Hilton
which then housed AP Gallery, run by the late Rahime
Harun and his wife Zarina
Ariffin. My search for Nik
Zainal began then and never ended,” says Mr Param.
He says this is a definitive show for the artist,
which he’s delighted to fi-

nally put on. Another significant art show which he curated at the Petronas Gallery, he recalls, was that of
22 Malaysian artists.
He adds his gallery isn’t
so much about selling art,
but the propagation and cultivation of it. “We want to
foster an appreciation for
Malaysian art and reach
out to a new audience.”
Nik Zainal Abidin,
Malaysia’s Foremost
Wayang Kulit Artist

exhibition will be held
from May 11-June 8 at
Interpr8 Art Space, Lot 20,
Level G4, Publika, Jalan
Solaris Dutamas 1, 50450
Kuala Lumpur. Gallery
hours are 11am to 7pm
daily (and by private
appointment). For further
information, contact
Sharmin Parameswaran :
+60-123952081/
psharmin@gmail.com
or Priscilia Loh :
+65-91917123 /
lohpriscilia@gmail.com