From a sculptor who makes disquieting pieces out of hair and skin-like silicone to a fashion veteran turned abstract painter, Keng Yang Shuen spotlights five emerging Singapore-based artists who’ve captured our imagination in recent times. And what better way to know their work (and celebrate this special fifth edition of our annual Art & Design issue) than by commissioning them to interpret our favourite letter? Going once...
Visual artist Divaagar, 27, has made a name in creating lush, sensorial installations. A notable work staged last July at The Substation, Singapore Is For Lovers, saw him transforming, among other things, a toilet cubicle into a luminous space awash in hot pink light, plants and fur. His practice involves exploring identities and the body through a reimagination of physical spaces and environments, but he does so in a manner that is deeply personal. “I’m very invested in what’s happening in my physical environment, social movements and the emotional states of people around me, and what I try to do is encapsulate these sensations and experiences and frame them through the installations,” explains Divaagar.
There is also a sense of campiness in his aesthetic. “Pink is my favourite colour and (it) comes with many connotations; from femininity, to queerness, to love. It approaches with softness and can also wield such electricity, depending on how it’s utilised.” That his works can come with many readings is also manifestly evident in his kaleidoscopic digital illustration for Female: Hockney-inspired poolside tableau replete with ﬂorid elements such as ﬂoating starﬁshes and outsized fauna. “I wanted to illustrate something fun and tropical with little undercurrents within the image,” says the artist. Such expansiveness with reimagining spaces is keeping him busy. While Divaagar has previously staged solo exhibitions here and in Shanghai, this month, he’ll be collaborating with Japanese artist Ryosuke Tanaka at UltraSuperNew Gallery (Singapore), with more “peculiarities encroaching our local venues soon”. Translation? Expect more quirky installations to come.
Like Raf Simons collaborator Sterling Ruby, Belgian painter Delphine Rama, 31, ﬂits easily between the worlds of art and fashion. Scrolling through her Instagram account (@dine_ rama), it’s evident that she’s an artist who knows her fashion trends – and the latter, alongside personal favourites such as the abstract art movement, inﬂuences her paintings. “I have always been fascinated by the stories of fashion designers; the colour range used in certain collections inspire me,” says Rama. Fashion entities as diverse as design collective Vaquera, model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, Balenciaga and Hermes have all been namechecked on her Instagram as the inspiration for her colourful abstract paintings. Likewise, the painting she created for this story was inspired by the “femininity” of rising South Sudanese model Aweng Chuol, who “embodies a poetic universe”, according to Rama.
After having participated in many exhibitions where she showed alongside masters such as Matisse and biennales (Mobil’Art) in her native Belgium, she relocated to Singapore last October to be with her husband, grafﬁti artist Didier Jaba Mathieu, who is based here. Her life has revolved around the arts since the get-go – her father’s an art critic and meeting artists on the regular has been a ﬁxture since childhood. However, google her and you won’t ﬁnd much information – somewhat of a unicorn in 2020. “I spent my time avoiding (art) competitions; I’ve always been rather discreet. I taught (French) to refugee children for 10 years and you’ll learn a lot about others and about yourself when you teach; this (in itself) can be real wealth,” says Rama.
Fashion personalities who elope for the art world are not unheard of – Helmut Lang being the most famous and (for now) permanent example. Tracing a similar route is one Patrick Sin, a familiar face in the local fashion industry, having previously occupied roles such as merchandiser, stylist and fashion editor throughout his 25-year career. He professes to have long had a desire to try painting but it wasn’t until 2017 when he took a chance at a friend’s art jam that he decided to enrol for a full-time course on abstract art at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Since then, he’s been participating in group shows, most notably Favourite Things, a well-received group show held at The Arts House last November together with fellow fashion industry veterans Tan Woon Chor and
Sherli Chong who, like him, were keen on trying their hand at art. His long years in fashion have undeniably had some influence on his abstract expressionist paintings, in particular his sensitivity to colour – of which he skilfully blends anything from pastels to rich jewel tones in broad, heavily textured strokes. They call to mind art greats like Mark Rothko but Sin, 50, admits that he’s still very much in the process of developing his signature style. While he still freelances as a fashion consultant and stylist, his main aim now is to continue honing his craft. “I chose painting because I still wanted to be creative with what I do – but for myself (now),” says Sin. And as he puts it, making art can be and is a therapeutic process. Next up: He’s planning a group show that might represent an evolution in the slow living movement – fashion and design folks who elevate ordinary, everyday items into something more precious and unique. “It’s a good way to live with fewer, but special, things; I think this may make for a more sustainable lifestyle.”
Paging Jonathan Anderson.
“Grotesque” beauty has been trending in certain online pockets and it might have a new queen in the form of Malaysian-born, Singapore-based artist Kara Inez. Her fleshy sculptures, which are put together with materials such as silicone, stockings, rice and even chicken skin, look like malignant tumours that have been hived off from a body and grown into a being of its own. Add strands of (human) hair sprouting all over these pieces and the effect is both riveting and skin-crawling (no pun intended). “The works force you to question why you feel the need to distance yourself from these forms. Many of the reactions that your body and mind have towards things aren’t innate and have been socially cultivated, so it’s incredibly interesting to witness how different people are affected by my work,” says the 28-year-old artist. But what powers these gelatinous structures is not just a surface flirtation with the grotesque. Inez suffers from endometriosis – a painful disorder that predominantly affects women. It occurs when cells that are typically located on the lining of the womb are instead found growing outside. Fittingly, her contribution for this story was crafted around a pro-women narrative. “Many women unknowingly suffer from endometriosis, going through their lives untreated due to the lack of information currently in circulation about the female body and the way it functions. I thought it would be a very fitting piece for Female as a way to bring topics surrounding the female body forward and for women to know that they do not have to suffer in silence,” says Inez. Though she’s only just graduated last year from Lasalle College of The Arts, her pieces are fast becoming collectors’ items – German design legend Axel Thallemer snapped up her graduation collection. This year only promises bigger things – she’s showing at Singapore Art Week fair S.E.A Focus this month under Gajah Gallery and fans of her work can look forward to a collaboration with tech artist Otto Greenslade to “bring her creatures to life”.
When viewed head-on, Faris Nakamura’s spare, seemingly minimalist sculptures can appear a tad two-dimensional. But unlike works that may be more immediately attention-grabbing – and to be coarse, Instagram-friendly – his art is best experienced in person. What may not be easily evident are obscured passageways, stairways and various small nooks and crannies that can only be found through active viewing – when viewers take the time and pain to examine the works from different angles.
The line of thought would be to assume his architectural pieces derive from a background in the field. But the Malay-Japanese artist was actually a flautist with the Singapore Youth Wind Orchestra prior to committing full-time to fine arts. A lack of personal space growing up with five siblings led to a growing fascination with certain public spaces (the paraphernalia of HDB blocks such as void decks and stairwells are a recurrent motif) and how people engage them beyond their intended purposes. “I wanted to understand the attachment and detachments people have towards spaces, how these relationships develop and the impact; these (utilitarian) spaces that we so often see as what they are and not what they could (potentially) be.”
Likewise, the structure he created for Female, which took two weeks to craft using wood, acrylic and metal wires, follows the same tender, sociological approach; it is intended to be an invitation for acceptance and inclusion – timely topics which will only continue to snowball. The subtle poignancy in the 31-year-old’s works clearly has an audience, especially given Singapore’s well-known propensity to demolish for progression’s sake. Over the past year alone, he’s staged three solo shows, one of which debuted at the inaugural S.E.A Focus fair last January and promptly sold out. This year, he’ll be unveiling two new exhibitions at Richard Koh Fine Art in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, as well as an exciting project that will reunite his twin loves of art and music – a collaboration with his musician brother, Firdaus Nakamura.