The Singapore Art Museum recently announced the theme for the 5th edition of its biennial exhibition.

The Singapore Biennale 2016 will include art from East and South Asia, while pivoting on Southeast Asia, with several new site-specific and commissioned works never before seen on the international biennial circuit.

The Singapore Art Museum. © United Nations Information Centre | Courtesy Singapore Art Museum

The Singapore Art Museum. © United Nations Information Centre/Flickr. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

The Singapore Biennale has become, with only five editions, the flagship biennial exhibition of Southeast Asia. Returning for the fifth time from 28 October 2016 to 26 February 2017, the four-month long Singapore Biennale 2016 (SB2016) is organised by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore.

The 2016 iteration will see a public programme of tours, workshops and talks, as well as a number of new site-specific installations and commissions that have never been shown before in international biennales. SB2016 will take place across the SAM venues on Bras Basah Road and Queen Street as well as other heritage sites around Singapore.

Martha Atienza, 'My Navel Is Buried in the Sea', film still, a three screen video installation 2011, hd video, 31 mins. Image courtesy the artist's website.

Martha Atienza, ‘My Navel Is Buried in the Sea’, 2011, film still, three screen video installation, hd video, 31 mins. Image courtesy the artist.

An Atlas of Mirrors

This year’s edition of the Biennale is themed “An Atlas of Mirrors”. The title makes references to tools used by humankind for centuries to explore uncharted territories as well as one’s own reflections and new visual perspectives. In the curatorial statement, the curatorial team write:

In charting our way around the world, humankind has relied on instruments of vision as well as navigation. Atlases map and mirror our journeys of discovery and often make visible more than just physical terrains; driven by our needs and desires, they embolden us to venture into the unknown. […] Where navigational tools like the atlas – a compendium of maps – enable us to set our sights further afield, one instrument in particular – the mirror – brings us into that which is still so mysterious: the self. While we depend on mirrors to show us to ourselves, their reflective surfaces are not always reliable for they echo, skew, magnify and invert.

Qiu Zhijie, 'Greeting', 2013, paper masks, silicon masks, dimensions variable. Photo: Meng Wei. Image courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin.

Qiu Zhijie, ‘Greeting’, 2013, paper masks, silicon masks, dimensions variable. Photo: Meng Wei. Image courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin.

The Biennale proposes to bring together atlases and mirrors to constitute an imagined new “device” to create “possibilities for unexpected ways of thinking and seeing”, as stated in the press release. The theme invites artists to trace migratory journeys as well as shared cultures, histories and current realities between Southeast, South and East Asia.

The curatorial team explain in their statement:

How will a coupling of an atlas and the curiosities of the mirror shift our perception of the world? Through combining the divergent literal and metaphorical characteristics of these devices, a new instrument of vision and thought is imagined, giving rise to a constellation of artistic perspectives which trace our migratory, intertwining histories and cultures. An Atlas of Mirrors positions Southeast Asia as a vantage point through which we recognise our world anew.

While a complete list of participating artists will be released later in 2016, at this stage SB2016 has revealed some of the featured ones, such as Ahmad Fuad Osman from Malaysia, Martha Atienza from the Philippines, Rathin Barman from India, Fyerool Darma from Singapore, Han Sai Por from Singapore, Nguyen Phuong Linh from Vietnam, Qiu Zhijie from China, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook from Thailand, Titarubi from Indonesia, Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu from Myanmar.

Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu, screenshot from an interactive computer program for 'Museum Project #7: Taungyi Open Air Museum of New Media Art', 2012-2013, Interactive computer program: Phyoe Kyi, Phyoekyi Portfolios 1.0, 2012 Photo courtesy: nnncl workshop. Image courtesy the artists.

Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu, screenshot from an interactive computer program for ‘Museum Project #7: Taungyi Open Air Museum of New Media Art’, 2012-2013, interactive computer programme: Phyoe Kyi, Phyoekyi Portfolios 1.0, 2012. Photo courtesy: nnncl workshop. Image courtesy the artists.

A Collaborative Curatorial Vision

The curatorial vision for SB2016 follows the collaborative approach of SB2013, while sharpening its focus to include a team with specialisation in Southeast Asian as well as South and East Asian contemporary art.

Dr Susie Lingham will be the Creative Director of SB2016 when she leaves her role as Director of SAM at the end of March 2016. Dr Lingham will be working closely with the curatorial team including SAM Curators Joyce Toh, Tan Siuli, Louis Ho, Andrea Fam and John Tung. In addition, four Associate Curators are invited by SAM to work collaboratively together: Bangalore-based Suman Gopinath, Malaysian Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Michael Lee from Singapore, and Shanghai’s Xiang Liping.

Singapore Biennale 2016 (SB2016) curatorial team. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Singapore Biennale 2016 (SB2016) curatorial team. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

An SB2016 Advisory Committee comprising experts from different fields –historians, sociologists, academics, arts practitioners, intellectuals, curators – will give independent advice to the SB2016 Curatorial team. This committee includes experts such as independent curator June Yap, Head / Senior Associate Director of NUS Museum Ahmad Mashadi, and Director of Arts and Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Yeo Whee Jim.

Dr Susie Lingham comments about SB2016, as quoted in the press release:

An Atlas of Mirrors is an evocative title that piques and intrigues the imagination – both for the participating artists to respond creatively to, and for viewers to engage in new experiences and ways of seeing. Forging the literal and metaphorical characteristics of atlas and mirror into a curious new-wrought instrument of vision and thought presents the possibility for unusual perspectives on our contemporary realities that arise from our shared histories and cultures, especially in Southeast, East and South Asia.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, South Asian artists, East Asian artists, curatorial practice, biennales, biennials, news, events in Singapore

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Brittney

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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