Daily Archives: August 19, 2012

Seeker of Hope: Works by Jia Aili

a caution in the wind of industrialisation

Seeker of Hope by Jia Aili

There is much to admire in the works of Jia Aili: the scale, the realism (rather than romanticism, in my opinion), and the assimilation of of the grand narrative, told through contemporary eyes from the world’s global factory, China. While we cringe at the painting’s imagined destruction and detritus left  from the world’s zealous consumption, we need to think about our own material trail. We  need only to look around us, to find similar disregarded, disused and discarded electrical appliances.

There is also a sense of bleakness in the paintings, a doomed future forewarned. In many paintings, a lone figure treads the surface. The face is deliberately obscured by turning away, or hidden by a helmet or full face mask. The anonymity allows us to sympathize with the figure, and even project ourselves in its shoes.

Yet we are numbed by the bleakness, seen often in contemporary Chinese paintings, such as those by Zeng Fanzhi. These paintings, anchored in their geographical and social contexts, could possibly seem contrived to an unsympathetic and unconvinced audience: art, circulated within its own consumeristic market appears hypocritical if it criticized consumerism without reflecting on it’s own position. What good is art, or what can art do, in the light of industrialization?

While these questions remain unanswered by the artist, presumably the seeker of hope referred by the title of the exhibition,they remind me of Dutch still lifes–vanitas–from the 1600s; as memento mori, these paintings remain as reminders of our mortality, more so than beacons of hope.

7.0 of 10 Stars
6 July to 23 September 2012, Singapore Art Museum


Note: auspicium melioris aevi – Latin for “hope for a better age”, or an omen of a better age; motto of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, incidentally adopted as the school motto of Raffles Institution (Singapore).


Living Stories by S. Chandrasekaran

myth making: composites of Singapore’s iconography and personal folk narratives

Living Stories by S. Chandrasekaran

Those who follow S. Chandrasekaran’s work would find familiar motifs– “creation”, “preservation” and “destruction”–from Trimurti (1988) and Trimurti and Ten Years After (1998). Trimurti refers to “divinity expressed by integrating Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva” (Sabapathy, 1998, p. 24). In Living Stories, the artist has applied creation, preservation and destruction to popular, folk iconography, combining and integrating the kitsch and banal to form semi-abstract, yet figurative paintings. The lion, man, merlion, Marina Bay Sands, blue lightning emblem and hammer are brought together to create new creatures and beings that inhabit an imaginary landscape and city-scape, or dream-scape. Largely personal, they form the artist’s re-interpretation of his own identity through an amalgamation of narratives that he has come across since his return from his doctorate studies. How much has Singaporean’s spirituality/soul changed in the span of 10 years from the perspective of a visual artist? Have we spawned (metaphorical) abominations that are blind to us all?

Those who are new to his work, may think little and find humour in his child-like hieroglyphical scribbles and doodles on large canvases. The raw energy and spontaneity can easily be mistaken for carelessness and misappropriated Egyptian motifs. In sum, we may compare Chandra’s paintings and bronze sculptures  to classical Indian temple carvings or sculptures that have its own unique language for representing the spiritual; yet the merit of Chandra’s work is challenging us to define our own identities and find our own spirituality, even in the secular sense, in this mad, mad city.

6.0 of 10 Stars

3-23 August 2012, The Substation Gallery


Sabapathy, T.K. (Ed.). (1998). Trimurti and Ten Years After. Singapore Art Museum.

For a sense of Chandra’s interest in the ‘cyborg’, which may affect how you see his work in this exhibition, visit: http://www.schandrasekaran.com/infinitesaree/