Returning to Singapore Art Week 2024

Boedi Widjaja, Path. 13, Quaver Cipher, 2023. Courtesy the artist

Now in its 12th edition, running 19-28 January, the event showcases over 150 art events from local and global artworlds

The new year sees the return of Southeast Asia’s biggest celebration of the visual arts, Singapore Art Week (SAW), organised by the National Arts Council (NAC) to run 19–28 January. Now in its 12th edition, the event has had to stretch the conventional idea of a seven-day week in order to showcase over 150 art events, across a state (incidentally the 12th smallest country in the world) that’s no more than 726 km². We’ll leave you to do the math for when it comes to calculating how far, on average, you’d need to walk to run into one of them. (Hint: not very far.)

Naturally, the island’s main art institutions are hosting blockbuster exhibitions. At the National Gallery Singapore (NGS), that comes in the form of Tropical: Stories from Southeast Asia and Latin America, which attempts to trace how these lands used their colonial associations with ‘the faraway, sensuous, exotic, unchanging, paradisical and seasonless’ to reassert and reforge their own identities throughout the course of the twentieth century, under the general framework of the ‘tropical’. Implicated in all that the term contains are narratives that relate to the Indigenous, the anticapitalist, the antiglobal, and, perhaps most importantly of all, the specific context of both geographies. Among the highlights are, of course, works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as well as (perhaps less obviously) Paul Gaugin, and a sequence of works richly infused with irony: David Medalla’s annotated archive of newspapers from the Philippines, KumBum Banners (1972), which tries to express what was really going on under the Marcos regime; a version of Hélio Oiticica’s take on the cliché of the tropical, Tropicália (1966–67/2003), installed, with live plants and parrots, amid the palm-fronded colonial capitals of Singapore’s former City Hall Chamber; and Naeem Mohaiemen’s extraordinary three-channel film Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017), documenting the rise and fall of the Non-Aligned Movement, and featuring a speech by Singapore’s then foreign minister, Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, pointing out to delegates at the movement’s 4th Summit (1973) that the only way they can communicate with each other (and thus operate as a movement) is through technologies supplied (and controlled) by aligned countries.

Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália, 1966-67, remade 2023, wooden structures, fabric, plastic, carpet, wire mesh, tulle, patchouli, sandalwood, television, sand, gravel, plants, birds, television and poems by Roberta Camila Salgado, dimensions variable. Courtesy National Gallery Singapore.

The local and global artworlds come together in a different way for the region’s largest art fair, ART SG, now in its second year. The city-state’s most iconic building, Marina Bay Sands, will host (19–21 January) many of the global giants of the gallery world, such as Lehmann Maupin, White Cube, Gagosian, Thaddaeus Ropac, Kukje and Goodman, bringing with them many of the world’s most celebrated brand-name artists. Alongside that is a talks programme organised by the In-tangible Institute’s Zoe Butt and a film programme curated by National Gallery Singapore’s Sam I-shan. For those of you looking for a more tightly focused regional survey, S.E.A. Focus, a boutique curated fair-cum-exhibition, this time curated by John Tung (formerly a curator at the Singapore Art Museum and a veteran of two editions of the Singapore Biennale: 2016 and 2019) is one not to miss. Running 20–28 January, S.E.A. Focus takes place at Singapore’s newest arts hub amid the Tanjong Pagar Distripark, and features many of the region’s most prominent galleries, such as Singapore’s FOST, Jakarta’s ROH, Bangkok CityCity, and Manila and New York’s Silverlens. Alongside Tung, Indonesia’s ISA Art Gallery and Vietnam’s Sàn Art make their debuts, while cult artists Poklong Anading (Philippines) and Tan Zi Hao (Malaysia), as well as Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul are among those presenting at the event, which also features screenings, talks and panel discussions, all of which collectively look to the past, the future and the region’s adjacent presents in order to provide a new take on culture across Southeast Asia today.

Tropical: Stories from Southeast Asia and Latin America, 2023, installation view. Courtesy National Gallery Singapore

Staying in Tanjong Pagar, Ho Tzu Nyen’s midcareer survey takes centre-stage at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). Ho Tzu Nyen: Time & the Tiger features a string of multimedia installations by arguably Singapore’s most influential living artist (but not the foundational early work Utama – Every Name in History is I, from 2003, which shouldn’t be missed and is on show in the Southeast Asian galleries back at NGS). The sketchy histories and makeup of the region spanned by Southeast Asia form the general subject-matter of Ho’s work, and of The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia (2017–), a video work, constantly remixed by an algorithm, that tells the region’s tales in a way that makes facts contingent and apparent differences similarities. Alongside the artist’s celebrated works exploring the mythologies surrounding tigers in the region (including One or Several Tigers, 2017, complete with a wayang kulit shadow theatre), the exhibition’s centrepiece is Ho’s richly intertwined and by turns moving and horrific videowork Hotel Aporia (2019), an exploration of Japanese kamikaze pilots, the Kyoto School philosophers and the animator Ryuichi Yokoyama; and a new work, T for Time (2023). The presentation of work by Southeast Asian artistic icons continues at SAM with a new collaboration between Simryn Gill and Charles Lim Yi Yong, The Sea is a Field, which explores the space between the pair’s respective homes of Port Dickson and Singapore.

Courtesy S.E.A. Focus

But Singapore Art Week remains as much about the new as about the established. SAW will see artists opening up their studios and joining in on the art week celebrations at Telok Kurau Studios and Mount Emily, presenting fresh works direct to audiences.  This year also sees the inaugural collaboration between the NAC and Hyundai Artlab’s VH Award, in which the platform supporting cutting-edge emerging-media artists brings its fifth awards exhibition to Singapore, with work by Grand Prix winner Subash Thebe Limbu and its other finalists going on show. Other collaborations include Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics, an exhibition on show at Gillman Barracks and presented by The Institutum, curated by Zoé Whitley of London’s Chisenhale Gallery. Something of a look back and a look forward to the Venice Biennale, the exhibition includes work by Singapore’s 2024 representative at the world’s largest art jamboree, Robert Zhao Renhui; Sonia Boyce, who won the Golden Lion representing Britain at the 2022 edition; alongside works by Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Do Ho Suh. Local artist Boedi Widjaja’s Immortal Words, at 42 Waterloo Street, on the other hand, is a collaboration with geneticist Eric Yap (as part of SAW’s Open Call series, which also features Tang Da Wu, Refraction Index and Some Exercises in Futility), and will presumably extend his ongoing meditations on place, identity and belonging. All of which might, in turn, summarise the overarching themes of this year’s Singapore Art Week as a whole.

Find out more and explore the full programme

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