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Traditions/ Tensions

Weixin Chong, Artist

Venue: Brother Joseph McNally Gallery at the ICAS

Tell us about your outfit today.

The kebaya top is one of only two that I have left from my paternal grandma, she sewed them herself. She used to wear lots of kebayas. Unfortunately, when I asked her where the rest were, she told me she had exchanged all of them with a Malay lady, for a basket of durians!

I’m glad I have two at least, and today I’ve paired one with my ratty cargo pants, which have been my work pants for some time. I get very attached to clothes so I’m glad when they are able to last. This pair of cargos has accumulated lots of paint stains and it’s fading. The cargos have been paired with my platform boots, which are also quite faded and scruffy.

I guess there is a theme of paint stains and patterns running through (this outfit), next to the kebaya, which is such a refined item.

It’s also a family of greens:

Details of the kebaya that survived The Great Durian Exchange

Did you pick the colour because you happen to be gallery-sitting for an exhibition with a bright green wall?

I think it (i.e Zaki Razak’s This is not my solo exhibition), subconsciously influenced me!

Tell us about your shoes.

They are old and hardy and I really like them because they make me feel secure, especially as a short Asian woman. When I’m travelling, they give me a much-needed boost!

These boots make me feel stronger and remind me of what I want to do:Your hair is really cool.

My hair has been green for a few years, and the undercut has been recently touched up, as it grew out. I rather stupidly thought it couldn’t be that hard to fix, so I tried to do it myself with a razor blade. It was really horrible, so after that, my sister had to come to my rescue with a pair of scissors.

How does your dress sense feed into your artistic practice?

Fashion has always been something that I studied and looked at because I feel that it’s really the best way to size up the psychology of a community or society. I have been particular about fashion from the time I was 3 years old. I would throw tantrums if I couldn’t wear clothes the way I’d matched them. I was a horrible fashion brat!

When I was slightly older, I spent ages reading and studying encyclopaedias on costume and fashion history – fashion to me was my first introduction to anthropology, sociology and history.

As a woman artist, do you think it makes a difference how you dress and present yourself?

I think it really makes a difference.

Fashion is still very much a signifier of class and you can see that there is a way to clothe yourself in order to be treated with respect – there is a “look” for it in every major city’s art scene. For example, I like to joke with my friends that there is this “rich Asian girl wearing Cos” look, which you really see everywhere like it’s a bloody uniform.

So if you look like an Asian girl, but you’re not in that mould of the nice, chic, neutral Cos- style, then there’s (possibly) something threatening about you. You’re kind of asking to be dismissed or treated differently.

Fashion has always been the most subversive part of me, I used to like to dress entirely differently (from one day to the next) just to see how people might react differently to me.

It’s interesting, the different vibes you get just from changing your clothing in such a superficial way. Not many people will relate to you as you. It’s always quite shocking to feel that, and it’s very revealing as well.

Does this apply more to women than men?

I think the way guys dress, doesn’t affect so much the way that they are treated.

If you look at the news and at media coverage, questions on women’s fashion are always raised and always linked to some judgment of the women. Like, “Oh you’re the prime minister, is that too low-cut?”

There is this constant judgment and policing. Why don’t guy actors at awards shows get quizzed and judged by their outfits? It’s important to have conversations and pushback on this.

Oh dear – should we not have asked you about your clothes ?!

In our defence though, we’re trying to find accessible entry points into the art world. We think fashion could be one such way for people to find out more about works and artists, and the scene in general. So on that note, what would you like our readers to know about your art?

I like to observe small things, fragments.

That’s a way of centring the under-looked and appreciating microworlds. I like to stay in my imagination, and it’s a personal interior space.

I don’t like big, overpowering, bombastic, dominant sort of things. I like to take these tiny things and make them physically take up more space.

Find out more about Weixin’s practice here.

And P/S: 

If you’re digging the green tones in this article, you might also like Weixin’s work presently on display at OH! Open House – we won’t give away too much, but suffice to say that the pieces juxtapose the William Farquhar botanical illustrations, against actual plant images and real-life foliage, for a multi-layered look at the effect of colonialism on Singapore’s natural environment.
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