WHETHER THEY’RE EMERGING TALENTS IN THEIR FIELDS OR BONA FIDE SUPERSTARS, THESE CREATIVES WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY HAVE TO OFFER. MEET THE WOMEN WHO’VE GONE GLOBAL AND DONE SINGAPORE PROUD.
CLARA HOW & KIMBERLY SPYKERMAN
"This underwater shot was done for Motherland Chronicles – a project that combines photography and fantasy art."
As a student at Raffles Girls’ School, Jingna Zhang was a superstar on the air rifle team. Her strong eye and deadly precision helped her break a national record within nine months of joining the team, and she went on to break several more at international events as a member of the national team. The 30-year-old still uses those qualities today, except that now, as a photographer, she shoots people.
The China-born Jingna, who became a Singaporean in 2003, discovered photography while studying fashion design here. It began as a hobby, where she showcased her work online. Her talent did not go unnoticed for long. Just 20 at the time, she was approached to shoot a campaign for Mercedes-Benz Taiwan. Around this time, she also started working on editorial shoots with fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar Singapore. Jingna says this gave her “the strongest start anyone could ask for” to break into the industry.
Since then, her star has only shone brighter. Jingna has shot fashion editorials for international editions of Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, done commercial work for Montblanc and Lancome, as well as shot top models like Coco Rocha – and easily commands upwards of US$50,000 (S$68,200) for a commercial shoot. More recently, she made it to the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Jingna left Singapore for New York City in 2012 to pursue a full-time career in photography. She says: “There’s an immediacy and moment of magic, when everything you prepared for comes together in an instant for an image. It takes a lot of problem-solving to get there, but it’s also exhilarating.”
Jingna hopes her success will inspire other creatives to take the leap and not be constrained by societal and parental expectations. “I think everyone who’s struck out to do something on their own and has achieved something internationally has left an impression at home. So hopefully, we widen that gate of possibility for those who will come after,” she says.
Of course Jingna’s still a local girl at heart. A must-do when she comes home? “Getting my chilli crab and Hokkien mee fix – nothing beats that,” she quips.
“THERE’S A MOMENT OF MAGIC, WHEN EVERYTHING COMES TOGETHER FOR AN IMAGE.”
A shley Yeo created work so moving that it made actress Dame Helen Mirren cry.
It was a filigree paper cube measuring just 3.5cm in width, but it took Ashley eight hours a day over five weeks to meticulously cut by hand. So fragile was the piece that it had to be hand-carried to London’s Design Museum – where it was shown alongside works by 29 other finalists for this year’s Loewe Craft Prize, an international award that honours artisans.
The 28-year-old is the first Singaporean to be nominated for the prestigious award. It was also her first major international show – though she has showcased her works in other international galleries – the Weatherspoon Art Museum in North Carolina, the Galerie Waterton in Chicago, and Ifa Gallery in Berlin. Most of her works are black-and-white landscapes in pencil.
For the Loewe Craft Prize, her two submitted paper works were – other than jewellery – the smallest exhibits. “There were others over a metre tall,” she recalls. “But I intentionally wanted my work to be small.” In a world where bigger is better, Ashley wanted her art to evoke peace and quiet. Her pieces are deceptively simple and made from humble paper. “Everything now is about seeking attention, and my work in a white space isn’t so noticeable. Hopefully, it can attract genuine attention.”
It did. When Ashley introduced herself to Dame Helen at the Loewe Craft Prize ceremony in London, the latter said: “Oh, you’re the one who made me cry.”
Ashley’s work looks deceptively simple. “It actually demands a lot of calculation and time. It can be done with a laser cut, but I do it by hand because craftsmanship is something to be proud of.” The Loewe Craft Prize has introduced her to a wider audience, but she’s focused on honing her craft. “My priority is my art practice, and I’ll continue making new things.”
“EVERYTHING NOW IS ABOUT SEEKING ATTENTION, AND MY WORK IN A WHITE SPACE ISN’T SO NOTICEABLE.”
"Ashley’s designs are first done on computer before she cuts them out of acid-free paper."
THE ART DEALER & CURATOR:
Most people wish they could make their passion their life’s work. Bee Tham has made it happen. And she’s good enough at it to have landed a spot on non-profit collective Gold House’s inaugural list of the 100 most influential Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, alongside names like Crazy Rich Asian stars Constance Wu and Awkwafina, pop superstar Bruno Mars, and comedian Ali Wong.
Bee founded The Bee in the Lion in New York, which opened earlier this year. It’s the first for-profit gallery that brings together artists from different mediums and gives them a space to experiment, collaborate and showcase their work. In New York, many such galleries are non-profit, but this is Bee’s way of supporting contemporary artists who buck the trend. “I hope the work that I do will encourage artists to exercise more honesty and courage in their style and subject matter – and focus less on work that panders to easy market consumption,” she says.
Bee has dabbled in art over the years, but pursued it seriously only after her husband’s job took them to New York in 2009. After brokering her first multimilliondollar deal, she was hooked. That interest later developed into a love of curation.
For Bee, her gallery is an intimate space where people can connect with art. Filling it with the right pieces goes beyond taste-making. “Curating is a serious business that transforms how one looks at art,” she says. “The curator’s mind moves freely between the artist and the spectator, and finds that spark and emotional connection between them.”
THE FILM PRODUCER:
LOW SER EN
In February this year, Singapore producer Low Ser En found herself in the company of director Guillermo del Toro and actors Allison Janney and Gary Oldman. They all had one thing in common – a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award, widely recognised as the British equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscars. In a sea of predominantly Caucasian winners, the 28-year-old stood out. So much so that after posing for pictures with the other winners, Zambian-Welsh writer and director Rungano Nyoni (who won for her debut film I am Not a Witch) approached her and said: “I’m very proud that you’re here with me, because there are so few of us.”
Ser En and her team (comprising more than 40 people) were lauded with a British Short Animation award for Poles Apart – a charming stop-motion work about a grizzly bear and a polar bear battling climate change together, which she produced as part of a final-year project for her master’s degree at the National Film and Television School in Britain. The film, which took 15 months to make, had previously won the Best British Animation award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and earned the BAFTA nomination.
As producer, Ser En oversees both the creative and business aspects of filming, including story development, logistics, finances, and deadlines.
Today, Ser En is back in Singapore as a producer with local film company MM2 Entertainment. With the Asian film industry on the rise, she feels there are now more opportunities to excel at her craft. She’s already wrapped up action-comedy Zombiepura (which has been sold to markets in South-east Asia and Korea), and is currently working on another film. Nostalgia and identity are themes close to her heart. “I am Singaporean, and these are the stories that I want to tell,” she adds.
PHOTO OF CUBE CHRISTINE LIM PHOTO OF ASHLEY YEO FEMALE PHOTO OF BEE THAM BEE THAM
PHOTO OF LOW SER EN THE COLLECTIVE YOU STILL FROM POLES AP ART LOW SER EN PHOTO OF CHLOE ONG CHLOE ONG
Chloe Ong stood on stage as the winner of the Young Artist Award of the prestigious Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize 2018, as judge Daphne Todd explained her win, saying Chloe’s ability to “make light out of just pigment… is just wonderful”. For the postgraduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, it was a moment to remember.
The 23-year-old’s painting of Moroccan rooftops bathed in warm sunshine was one of 83 submissions from artists across Britain shortlisted for the main £15,000 (S$27,000) prize. Chloe walked away with the £4,000 prize, which is open to artists under 25 years old.
“My art is influenced by my Singaporean roots in a more subtle way, which I hope makes it more interesting to look at,” Chloe says, adding that this is how she hopes to stand out from other Asian artists in the UK. “People have commented that my oversaturated use of colours and frequent use of golden green remind them of a tropical place. Singapore is unique in how green and brightly coloured everything is.” Architecture, she adds, is another source of inspiration for her.
Currently based in London, Chloe is fascinated by how pioneer Singapore artists drew on painting techniques from both East and West. To further develop her perspective as an Asian artist, she will spend the summer in Japan, where she will take up a residency and hold an exhibition of her work.
“MY ART IS INFLUENCED BY MY ROOTS IN A MORE SUBTLE WAY, WHICH I HOPE MAKES IT MORE INTERESTING TO LOOK AT.”
"Creating a stop-motion film is notoriously tedious – every day, the team's work focused on just five seconds of footage."