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Saturday, 13 October 2012


In front of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), 1987.
Drawing Jasmine, at the Singapore Zoo.

Just came back from a University Museum & Collection (UMAC) Conference in Singapore. No, don't worry, I'm not going to write about the Conference, or all the problem statements, laments, complaints, bla, bla, bla thrown by some of the university museum people during the Conference. You may read that from the Conference proceeding later.

I'm going to touch on something more personal.

Singapore is one of the more significant sites for my 'rite-of-passage' so-to-speak, especially the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). It was the site for my first international exposure, via the ASEAN Youth Painting workshop in 1987. I was a very young man then. My works were exhibited at SAM after the workshop, my first international exhibition. SAM and Singapore remind me of my humble beginning, in charting my path and journey into the intriguing world of visual art.  They became one of the major catalysts for my take on the visual art, my place within the larger pool of energy and vibes that cut across nations. Whenever I re-visit Singapore, my spiritual body is transposed to this humble beginning.

Like a perfect synchrony, I stayed at Oxford Hotel along Queen Street, a walking distant (actually, just at the back of) SAM. Before that, I used to stay at Victoria Hotel, also a walking distant from SAM, to install my works for my two man show with Niranjan Rajah in 2007, curated by Roopesh Sitharan. That was my second international exhibition in Singapore. Together with my then student, TC Liew plus few staff members from USM, we cramped ourselves in one room like Bangla laborers. We meandered all over the city like lost souls too.

To further reiterate the synchronicity, I met the charismatic and enigmatic Tang Da Wu at NTU Gallery, Singapore during this recent visit. His work is exhibited alongside other seminal works from the collection of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), in an exhibition curated by the highly respected historian TK Sabapathy. The show needs a bigger space, and TK Sabapathy (whom I have a great respect), as usual, can't get rid of his 'grand narrative'.

I politely introduced myself to Da Wu, and mentioned ASEAN Youth Painting Workshop in 1987, where he was one of the appointed 'masters'. He was younger then, and perhaps angrier if not full of energy. I could sense it in him even then. After the workshop, I only read about him and never met him.

Da Wu in front of me at the NTU Gallery is the older and current version. Despite his frail look, Tang Da Wu's eyes lighted up and he said to me that he still remembers the workshop. He even remembers Diyanto, an Indonesian student who was one of the participants under his 'master class'. I told him that I wanted to be in his master class, but had to obliged my friends' request to join another master class, under another artist. But I was always intrigued by Da Wu's master class. The participants looked like they were having so much fun, using myriads of found objects and non-conventional media to make art. In fact, works by Da Wu and the students-participants became some of the most lingering images if not sources of inspiration for me to explore beyond the confines of traditional media, when I did my final year painting projects at UiTM.

Tang Da Wu himself is now somewhat a 'legend', as far as the world of conceptual-political art practice in Asia is concerned. He has been an iconic figure, if not taken somewhat like a 'wali' by other like-wise artists from the younger generation. He is still a difficult artist to figure out and pin down. Meeting Da Wu brought me back to my humble beginning and early path.

Another synchronicity was meeting with Charlene Rajendran also at NTU Singapore. Charlene used to be my 'kakak' during the wild but good time in the 90s. She was active in multi-arts projects with the Five Arts Center then, together with Krishen Jit, Marion D Cruz and Janet Pillai. I worked with her for a very innovative children theater production called "Rama & Sita Generasi Baru" - a re-interpretation of the Classic Rama & Sita based on young people's perception. Charlene are the rest were like my informal mentors then. I haven't met her after I the project because I stayed in Sarawak for 6 years. She has been staying in Singapore for 11 years and currently lecturing at NTU.  She didn't recognize me due to my long hair, but immediately gave me a big sister hug when she recalled "Eh....Hasnul!!!". Meeting her brought me back to my early years in the arts, yet again.

As usual in Singapore, I touched base with Ahmad Mashadi (Director, NUS Museum), Shabir Mustaffa (Curator, NUS Museum), Karen, Yu Jen and all the staffs at the National University of Singapore Museum. They have become my 'conference' brothers and sisters, since we always seem to see each other during conferences in Shanghai, Manila, and Penang. Their works (research, writings and curations) are my benchmarks. I've been to NUS Museum many times, it has become like my second home already.

But more than that, Singapore is a 'reminder' of my early beginning and how far I've traveled along this visual art path. The path has been intertwining and overlapping as well. Nevertheless, I am honored and is full of gratitude.

From left : Romli Mahmud, a friend from Indonesia (forgot his name!), Haron Mokhtar, Jasmine and me, at the Singapore zoo during one of the programs in the ASEAN Youth Painting Workshop 1987.
A portrait painting done during the workshop.
One of the workshops 'life painting' session.
Hanging out at MacD with Rahman and Mustafa (from Brunei), another friend from Indonesia (forgot again, I'm getting old!) and Ching Huat.

Breathing Singapore's global capitalism at Sentosa.
Sentosa was a bit more 'natural' before the influx of global simulacrum through Universal Studio.
Enjoying a synchronized water fountain show at Sentosa.
Mustaffa (Brunei) and I with two other friends from the Philippines.

1 comment:

  1. I went to a contemporary art fair in Shanghai recently, which was a real eye-opener. Chinese contemporary art
    has come leaps and bounds from the watery Zen landscapes to huge canvases of strange-looking beings. The
    prices being asked and paid were huge too.
    Oriental, if not Chinese, my print of Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting,,
    bought some time ago from, is as lovely as ever.