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Laudi Abilama, Artist

Venue: INSTINC Studio, Bukit Batok, Singapore

Tell us about your outfit, we’re loving the clashing prints.

These were just bought at H&M! The T-shirt maybe 4 years ago? The trousers maybe 2 years ago? I’m wearing an almost-vintage Casio — I feel really old right now — but it’s something I remember from my childhood when they used to make these digital watches. It’s not entirely waterproof but it’s just enough for me to get my hands wet and not have it break down. And it’s quite light.

Is this how you always dress when youre working?

My studio is in Lebanon and it’s winter time right now so I usually wear very thick clothes with many layers. I always wear a hat as well because my studio is not very well – insulated, but in the summer, I tend to wear Crocs because they are quite good with water.  Water just flows in and out of them. When I’m washing my really large screens (for screen printing) I need waterproof shoes, which is also why I’m barefoot today, because I’m working.

Tell us about the special screenprints you’re producing with Yeo Shih Yun of Singapore gallery INSTINC, featuring images of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un?

Shih Yun and Laudi with their screens, hand-carried by Laudi from the UK

This is something we have been thinking about for quite a few months now ever since the Trump- Kim Summit happened. On the very day it happened, I sent Shih Yun a message saying, “Congratulations, you guys really did something here, getting these people to meet and promote peace!”

That’s something that Singaporeans should take credit for. When we spoke again a few months later, Shih Yun told me she had this idea to collaborate. I was really very excited to execute an artwork  (about the Summit) together.

Detail of one collaborative  work

Why does your practice focus so much on political leaders and portraiture?

I come from (Lebanon), a part of the world where politics is very much a part of everyday life, and I’ve grown up being very aware of that. Also, ironically, images of faces are taboo in most Middle Eastern societies. However in different religious communities, like Christian communities, for example, you’ll have houses which are full of photographs of saints but you never really see political figures or cultural figures. This is kind of my way of beating standard perceptions and deconstructing figures. Our lives are so political and driven by these political figures, and yet we don’t see them all the time. I want to show people – in their faces – that these are the figures who represent them (and I want to ask) “do they represent you?”

Your sold-out show in 2015 in Singapore featuring images of Lee Kuan Yew,  took place in the aftermath of the leader’s death. Tell us about that. 

LKY in Gold, 2018. Pigment and acrylic on paper. 130.5 x 95 cms.

The exhibition happened, I was in Singapore, and then he passed away. I have been portraying Lee Kuan Yew since 2012 so that was not something new for me. Lee Kuan Yew is important for me, personally, believe it or not, because he’s a way for me, of balancing the failed politics of my region and providing myself, and perhaps other people too, with a positive example. When I represent Lee Kuan Yew I represent everything he did. When you see the work, you’ll see his face, but that’s because it’s my medium, it’s how I express myself, (through portraiture). People are sometimes misled by the fact that the work is a portrait. They think it’s very literal, that I’ve been opportunistic by appropriating the image of a well-loved figure for the purposes of commercial success. In fact, where I come from, we are a very small country just like Singapore. We are very multicultural, just like Singapore. Except, perhaps, we are the example of a failed Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew can also be considered as having a complicated legacy. How does that fit in with your ideas of representations of him?

I think about this all the time. Western politics now are gearing more towards very strong and opinionated leadership and I don’t know if that’s the best direction to head in. I do know that the world population has increased so much since Lee Kuan Yew came into power that there has to be a way that we can all come together and find harmony. He took certain measures to achieve that harmony. What I’d like to take from his legacy is (the idea of whether) the measures that he took can be applied in other parts of the world and in other societies. There has to be a balance between the positive and the negative. Even with the criticism he faced, he managed to find some kind of balance and we see this because, to me, the outcome (of his actions) was eventually harmonious.

Just to be clear — and I should have said this at the beginning–  I’m not a historian or a political commentator! This is just my emotional response.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)

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A full gallery of Laudi’s works, together with those of artists Yeo Shih Yun, Chihiro Kabata and Yuuri Kabata can be found here. All works are available for sale, write to  [email protected] for details of pricing.

The artists were to have exhibited their works at the INSTINC booth at Art Stage 2019. We are very pleased to announce that they have now found a new home at  PLOT, 23 Teo Hong Road, S(088332). You are warmly invited to attend the following events:

Panel Discussion 3 – 4 pm, Saturday, 26 January 2019

Opening Party 7 – 9 pm, Saturday, 26 January 2019

Dance performance by Chiharu Kuronuma (Japan) 8 pm, Saturday, 26 January 2019

Daily Opening Hours 12 – 8 pm, Saturday 26 January 2019 and Sunday, 27 January 2019.

A small selection of works by Yeo Shih Yun and Laudi Abilama are also available at Gajah Gallery, in its latest show, Monumenta. Read more about Gajah’s dramatic rescue efforts here.



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