Spirituality shines through in this collector’s trove of South-east Asian works.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Spirituality shines through in this collector’s trove of South-east Asian works.

My Reading Room


At first glance, the grid of ivory coloured objects in Lourdes Samson’s dining room resembles a rock climbing wall. It is, in fact, an artwork titled Veiled Coordinates by Filipino artist Jose Santos III. The cluster of everyday objects covered in fabric is one of many works of art adorning the walls of her three-storey Bukit Timah home.

The irregularity of the shapes piques curiousity, as do the other pieces she and her banker husband, Michelangelo, have collected in close to two decades. These include Heads – a segmented bust of Christ and the Virgin Mary, a gallery of bottled potions integrating religion and the occult, video panels depicting melting candles or religious icons. Throughout, the theme of spirituality is clear.

The Samsons initially bought art to decorate their home, but as they became more discerning, the pieces diverged from being decorative to discursive, contemporary works; from Filipino artists – their country of origin and whose cultural-political references they understood – to those in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.

Samson, who is currently pursuing her master’s in Asian Art Histories at Lasalle College of the Arts, notes that religious themes are a defining characteristic of South-east Asian works. “The region is deeply spiritual and this is a way of making sense of religion’s role in contemporary life or to express the need for religious tolerance,” she says.

Collaborating with Art Stage early this year, the Samsons opened up their home to the art fair’s VIPs to generate discussion. Here, she shares her thoughts on her collection.

What’s on your walls now?

Currently, our collection revolves around post-colonial identity, history, politics as well as the negative effects of modern life such as urbanisation, isolation and alienation. It features interesting ways artists are using local materials, such as rattan, ready-made items or found objects like in Jose Santos III’s work in our dining room. Others use materials associated with craft, such as Filipino artist Eugenia Alcaide, who creates portraits with thread over silk screen. We have a lot of paintings, but we are increasingly buying works in other mediums such as video, photography and wall installations.

How do you exhibit your art?

I usually decide where to put them based on size or potential “conversation” with other works. This “conversation” can be created by juxtaposing similar themes or materials used between works, for example, with Jose Santos III’s Veiled Coordinates that is placed near Cross, a painting of a wrapped cross by Nona Garcia. Both works reference wrapped objects, but in different mediums. We see rather contrasting ideas between works: Santos challenges perception of objects by concealing visuals in fabric, while Garcia’s work interrogates the meanings attached to religious objects.

Which work is the most meaningful to you?

That’s hard to answer because each piece we buy has its own story for us. Right now, my favourite would be an assemblage piece titled Faith In Sorcery, Sorcery In Faith by Filipino artist Norberto Roldan that we bought many years ago but got to install only recently. It features devotional cards dedicated to various saints and amulet bottles sold at major basilicas in Manila. Filipinos would use these amulets, believing the potions inside (known as anting-anting) will protect them from evil or bad luck. It reveals that the deep spirituality in the Philippines springs from the same well but is informed by different sets of beliefs – the traditional occult and Catholicism.

Lourdes Samson, together with her husband, collects mostly South-east Asian artworks. Spirituality often surfaces in these works, such as with the sculpture Heads (bottom) by Mariano Ching and Ave Maryam (right), a galvanized steel work piece by Agus Suwage.
My Reading Room
The “blocks” in Jose Santos III’s Veiled Coordinates are everyday objects bound in fabric meant to challenge current perceptions and understanding of these items.