It will hit you, as you make your way around the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) galleries, that we share so much of the same sensibilities as our Southeast Asian neighbors. Now on its last week, Negotiating Home History and Nation- Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991-2011 presents a survey of works from within the region by 54 artists whose pieces belong to the museum’s permanent collection. While the overt references to Catholicism obviously originated from the Filipinos, the palette and images that majority of the artists adopted could have come from anywhere: the streets of Manila, KL, Jakarta, Hanoi, or Bangkok.
SAM has made it its mission to serve as the repository of the best of Southeast Asian art. In recent years, the museum has aggressively acquired work to boost their
holdings. Of all the countries in the region, Singapore certainly has the financial clout to oversee this. This exhibit makes you appreciate SAM’s efforts to highlight this common heritage and outlook.
The pieces on view had been produced in the last twenty years and cover a variety of media— painting, photography, installation, performance, and video art. They tackle political, social, and religious issues. I found the selection of
photographs quite commanding, especially the works of Thai artist Manit Sriwanichpoom. He inserted his persona of a dapper, somewhat sleazy, gentleman in pink into archival images of violent events in Thailand’s history. Malaysian photographer I-lann Yee’s Sulu Stories is equally potent. She has looked across the archipelago from her native Sabah to create digitally
manipulated dramatic and brooding seascapes. These are statements on the kinship she shares with the people of Sulu, physically so close to her home, but officially categorized as belonging to another country. Poklong Anading’s Anonimity series has been installed as a wall of light boxes flanking a flight of stairs that connects two galleries. It also serves as an effective commentary on urban street life.
A room had been sectioned off for Jose Legaspi’s graphic renditions of his personal experiences, violent portraits of family members in pastel on paper. Other Pinoy works include the impressive trio of wings from rubber slippers collected from
Singapore inmates by Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan. One of Jose Tence Ruiz’s kariton cathedrals is also on display, along with Peewee Roldan’s Invicibilitus Est. 1. Nearby stand an assortment of Roberto Feleo’s virinas. On another floor, Briccio Santos’s Heritage Tunnel is also on view.
I loved the flying puppets of Indonesian artist Heri Dono and was fascinated by a morbid video on unclaimed bodies at a morgue (unfortunately, I did not note the artist’s name!).
We should be so lucky that the Singapore Art Museum has chosen to focus on work emanating from our part of the world. Can you imagine the wealth of information and resource that will be available for our children to appreciate?
Negotiating Home History and Nation, Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991-2011 runs from 12 March to 26 June 2011 at the Singapore Art Museum, 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555. For more information visit http://www.singaporeartmuseum.sg