Who is futureproofing Singaporean art? 26 young artists in SAM survey


A survey of Singaporean contemporary art, titled “The Singapore Show: Future Proof”, closed at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) on 15 April 2012. Co-curated by Khairuddin Hori and David Chew, the exhibition presented over 35 pieces of artwork produced by 26 Singapore-focused artists.

Eccentric City by :phunk studio

:phunk studio (in collaboration with Keiichi Tanaami), 'Eccentric City: Rise and Fall', 2010, Tatebanko paper box structures with video installation, SAM Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Click here to watch a video of the opening reception of “The Singapore Show: Future Proof” created by Heinrich Schmidt for VernissageTV.

International outlook or expression of “Singapore-ness”?

The works in “The Singapore Show: Future Proof” expose a rapidly internationalising Singapore. In a video interview uploaded by SAM TV, Tan Boon Hui, the director of the Singapore Art Museum, talks about why young Singaporeans have an outlook that is simultaneously global and nationalistic.

This generation of artists really are the artists that came into prominence in the globalised world…. We can see that their works are truly international. When we look at their work we do not easily discern any aspects of Singaporean-ness, because I think this really is the generation that grew up in urban Singapore, in a modern Singapore, so their work, in terms of the visuals surfaces and the forms that they use, really are all the materials and images that are found in an international city … because they discuss issues of identity of home, of belonging, and strangely it is this generation that has been the most mobile…. Because of their mobility they have become much more attached to this idea of what it means to live here in Singapore at this point in time.

Inside Outside - Charles Lim

Charles Lim, 'Inside Outside', 2005. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

By presenting the exhibition, Singapore Art Museum was also attempting to fulfill the appetite of its audience.

As for the museum, we hope to have Singapore content all the time, whether it’s a solo show or a group show by young artists. Singapore content should always be there. We have received feedback from visitors that they are more interested in local and Asian work, because that’s the reason why they are visiting the Singapore Art Museum.


Khairuddin Hori, Senior Curator of Singapore Museum

Crystal City - Donna Ong

Donna Ong, 'Crystal City', 2009, glassware. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Globalisation, identity and the fusion of cultures

Search for home, identity

One of the main themes of the exhibition is the exploration of identity and the fusion of subculture and mainstream culture in Singapore. Nothing exemplifies this quite like the the artists themselves, as they come from a diverse mix of backgrounds and disciplines and make use of a plethora of different materials and mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation and performance. Examples of this diversity include Clogtwo, a street artist who examines his background as a Muslim in his series entitled The Asunder. Another artist, Speak Cryptic (aka Farizwan Fajari), deals with his struggle to engage with his Baweanese heritage while being a Singaporean through a site specific mural entitled Ka-khé.

We selected established young artists such as Donna Ong and :phunk studio, and a mix of young and relatively unknown artists like Gerald Leow. Leow is a self-taught artist with a degree in philosophy, so in a sense he’s an outsider… Grace Tan has a fashion background, Randy Chan is from architecture, Speak Cryptic and Clogtwo are street artists, so the show crosses multiple boundaries.


Khairuddin Hori, interview with Culturepush

Andree Weschler - The Need of an alteration

Andrée Weschler, 'The Need of an Alteration', 2011, video. Image courtesy Artitute.

Basically the whole work is about my heritage and about how I grew up being Baweanese and being Singaporean at the same time, so it’s about that struggle of finding my identity…. What I am really hoping [is to] open up a dialogue between myself and other people who could relate to being Baweanese, or just people who struggle with their own identity.


Speak Cryptic, video interview with SAM TV

Speak Cryptic - Ka-Khe_

Speak Cryptic, 'Ka-khé', 2012, acrylic, aerosol paint on wall, SAM commission. Image courtesy the artist.

Speak Cryptic - Ka-Khe

Speak Cryptic, 'Ka-khé', 2012, acrylic, aerosol paint on wall, SAM commission. Image courtesy the artist.

Clog 2 - The Asunder_lo

Clogtwo, 'The Asunder', 2011, oil on wood panels, SAM commission. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Others expressed a sense of alienation, nostalgia and what it means to be at home in Singapore. YOUR LOVE IS LIKE A CHUNK OF GOLD by Ang Sookoon is about pain and lost love; This is Home by Shah Rizzal explores temporary space and the experience of being a foreigner in Singapore; in Thirty-one Kinds of Wonderful, artist Dawn Ng documents her attempt to make a new piece of art every day for a month in order to cope with her uneasiness in living away from Singapore.

This project really is a lot about the documentation of time, and of nostalgia, of missing someone, something or somebody, and trying to show who I was on this exact day.


Dawn Ng, video interview with SAM TV

31 kinds of Wonderful

Dawn Ng, 'Thirty-one Kinds of Wonderful', 2011, paper, photograph, felt, wool, cotton, fleece, linen, metal, soapstone, porcelain, glass, wood, resin, acrylic, plastic, ink, confetti. Image courtesy Artitute.


Ang Sookoon, 'YOUR LOVE IS LIKE A CHUNK OF GOLD', 2010, bread, mono ammonium phosphate. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Shah Rizzal - This is Home

Shah Rizzal, 'This is Home', brown paper, clothing poles, thread and spray-paint, video. Image courtesy Artitute.

Global inspirations

Signs of a globalised Singapore are also present in the exhibition. Many of the works have a universal appeal, without obvious traces of Singaporean-ness.

Artist collective :phunk studio created Eccentric City: Rise and Fall in collaboration with Japanese graphic artist Keiichi Tanaami. The work shows the contrast between Singapore and Tokyo by creating a set of mobile Tatebanko boxes or traditional Japanese paper houses.

The idea was basically to form a city based on a Tatebanko and to show … the parallel and the contrast between the two cities, Tokyo and Singapore…. Because Tanaami-san was young and he was working in a very exciting Tokyo in the sixties and seventies, whereas now we are working in Singapore … in the new millennium, so we wanted to contrast the two cities in the work.


Jackson Tan from :Phunk studio, video interview with SAM TV

In No One Can Save Us, artist Mojoko and Eric Foenander used Superman, a familiar popular culture icon, to warn viewers about global warming.

Something I’m very interested in in all of my work is this idea of overcoming language barriers through imagery, symbols and popular culture. The piece I created was a sort of melting superhero, kind of commenting on … this idea that nobody can help us…. Using … a visual language to represent this idea of global warming….


Mojoko, video interview with SAM TV

phunk studio - Eccentric City Rise and Fall

:phunk studio (in collaboration with Keiichi Tanaami), 'Eccentric City: Rise and Fall', 2010, Tatebanko paper box structures with video installation, SAM Collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Mojoko and Eric Foenander - No One Can Save Us

Mojoko and Eric Foenander, 'No One Can Save Us', 2012, Polyfoam, paint and varnish, SAM commission. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Social commentary

Other works are social commentaries aimed at Singaporean society. Artist Chun Kaifeng‘s sculpture, ¥€$ comments on the negative influence of introducing casinos to Singapore; While Gerald Leow‘s The Decline of the Western Civilisation is a reaction to stereotypes of Asian art.

For ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’, I used a little figurine of real life to be crashed by the metal text… [It is about] imperialism and about how non western forms of art and music are always seen as a mimesis of the west, and therefore [are attributed] a lower status…


Gerald Leow, video interview with SAM TV

he decline Western Civilization

Gerald Leow, 'The Decline of the Western Civilization (After Penelope Spheeris)' 2010, mild steel and found figurine. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Future contemporary art practice in Singapore

The subtitle for the exhibition, “Future Proof”, is suggestive of a demonstration of the future of contemporary art practice in Singapore. Curator Khairuddin Hori explains the reason for the choice of name,

We named it “Future Proof” for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the idea of the artist proof, the final copy that the artist gives his approval. Secondly, futureproofing is a process in technology to ensure that new technology will survive the future…. The idea is that these are the artists that we can look to in the future and we believe that they have practices that will last and stay relevant.


Khairuddin Hori, interview with Culturepush

Melissa Tan - Under the Blanket of Bedrock

Melissa Tan, 'Under the Blanket of Bedrock', 2011, acrylic paint, incense sticks and acid free paper. Image courtesy the artist.

The exhibition’s aim was to increase the exposure of young Singaporean artists that have emerged within the past ten years and whose work remains relatively unknown to the public.

In Singapore we are quite familiar with the pioneer generation of contemporary artists. What is less well-known is the work of the youngest generation of artists, especially artists that have become active after the year 2000.


Tan Boon Hui, Director of Singapore Museum

Joel Yuen - The Human Condition

Joel Yeun, 'The Human Condition', 2010, Italian marble, archival print mounted on Dibond. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

The artistic practices of these young artists are different from the older generations, curator Khairuddin Hori sums up the features and differences of their work in an interview with Culturepush.

Generally, young people now look at [themselves] more than society. I’m not saying they are self-centred in a selfish way. Rather, they look at how policy affects them personally, more so than how it affects society on the whole. … The slightly older generation, when they were emerging, often touched on issues such as sexuality, gender and race. The present young generation address themes like urbanization and living in the city, and issues [related to] identity, nationhood and social causes.


Khairuddin Hori, interview with Culturepush

Bruce Quek - Hall of Mirrors

Bruce Quek, 'Hall of Mirrors', 2011, clock mechanisms, receipt printer with computer programme, SAM commission. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

In an AsiaViews article titled “Generation next, David Chew is quoted as saying that the differences between the two generations of artists reflect the changes in Singapore’s political environment and creative atmosphere in recent years; Singaporean institutions are becoming more supportive of the arts.

A more uneasy relationship with newly formed arts institutions on issues like funding and censorship, for example, affected much of the output of performance art in the nineties. … Nowadays, it’s a different climate. Most of us have had grants and scholarships; artists have had close relationships with the National Arts Council. Back then, artists had a hard time finding studios.


David Chew, AsiaViews


Related Topics: art in Singapore, Singaporean artists, emerging artists, generation art, museum shows

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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