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Finding the Art in our Heartlands: Arts & Cultural Buildings

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Finding the Art in our Heartlands: Arts & Cultural Buildings

In the past few months that we’ve collectively stayed at home, what are some places in Singapore that we have missed? In this series, we invite Singapore visual artists to respond to beloved places that have patiently awaited the day that we can visit them once more, as well as some of the essential services that have kept us going during this pandemic.

This week, artists Chand Chandramohan, Vimal Kumar, Alysha Shah and Yip Yew Chong respond to some of the major arts buildings in town that sustain and support Singapore’s many artistic communities. Slide over the photos to reveal the artists’ works.

The Substation | Chand Chandramohan, The Garden Within, 2020

The SubstationChand Chandramohan, The Garden Within, 2020, digital illustration and collage, 3840 × 5760 pixels (300 dpi)

It might be surprising to behold artist Chand Chandramohan’s softened, rose-pink rendition of The Substation as the work – at first glance – presents such a starkly different outlook from the actual site. Nonetheless, the garden with which she has enveloped the building speaks to an important part of The Substation’s history. Its garden once held a range of performances and was “considered a haven for many artists of a multitude of genres”.

The Garden Within pays homage to this past garden that embraced – as The Substation continues to embrace – all forms of art, much like a safe space with paradisical overtones. The predominance of garden-related and natural elements in Chandramohan’s work therefore reflects those early years of The Substation, where varied and novel art forms and practices thrived under its shelter, being a place that artists could call home.

Three decades on, The Substation remains true to its roots by continuing to champion diversity and a spirit of openness, especially in these times of uncertainty. Reasserting its vision as a “Home of the Arts”, its latest campaign ‘Coming Home’ seeks to avail every inch of space at The Substation to arts practitioners and fellow institutions, such that artists may return to the space and work collaboratively on meaningful projects.

As the pandemic upends the livelihoods of many an arts practitioner, Chandramohan’s shared vision of a garden-home for the cultivation of creativity must all the more be tenaciously held, in hopes of revitalising the arts scene in Singapore.

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Artwork information: Chand Chandramohan, The Garden Within, 2020, digital illustration and collage, 3840 × 5760 pixels (300 dpi). This single-edition original work is for sale at the price of S$500. Interested buyers may contact Chand Chandramohan at chand927 [at] gmail.com.

Indian Heritage Centre | Vimal Kumar, Indian Heritage Centre, 2020

Indian Heritage CentreVimal Kumar, Indian Heritage Centre, 2020, watercolour and ink on watercolour paper, 35cm x 24cm

The Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) is an unmistakable modern icon that lies at the heart of Little India, a district that sports many traditional eateries, Hindu temples, spice shops and flower garland vendors, among others.

By day a ‘shining jewel’, by night a ‘glowing lantern’, the shimmering façade of the Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) captivates many a passer-by on the streets of Little India.

Its distinctive architecture is inspired by the stepwells of India known as baoli. Originally built for the collection of water, the baolis of India developed into communal spaces that brought communities together to celebrate Indian culture and heritage. This perfectly captures the essence of the IHC, which since 2015 has stood as an iconic building that seeks to blend both traditional Indian as well as modern architectural elements.

The IHC by night is a majestic sight, its stepwell-patterned façade lit up with a dazzling array of colours. The pattern is mirrored in the IHC logo, where the diamante motif is repeated and rendered in a bright palette. It is perhaps with reference to this that artist Vimal Kumar has incorporated splashes of colour on an ink drawing of the IHC.

In his work, black ink lines outline an architectural design while the splash of colours lend a touch of vibrance. Says the artist, “In my illustration, I wanted to capture the elegance of the building’s structure that harmonises the elements of Indian and modern aesthetics.”

The ephemeral puffs of red, blue, green and yellow bring to mind Holi, the joyous Hindu festival where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil by throwing coloured powder in to the air and at each other.

Though Kumar’s colours spread freely on the paper and bleed into one another in delightful splashes, they do not obscure the clean, firm and precise lines tracing the IHC building, testament perhaps to the Centre’s indisputable place in our nation’s arts and cultural scene.

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Artwork information: Vimal Kumar, Indian Heritage Centre, 2020, watercolour and ink on watercolour paper, 35cm x 24cm. This original work is for sale at the price of S$250. This version of the work has been overlaid with watercolour, while the base illustration is in black and white. It can be painted using watercolour to resemble the actual building if requested, for the price of S$350. Interested buyers may contact Vimal Kumar at das.vamsidhari[at]gmail.com.

Malay Heritage Centre | Alysha Shah, Malay Heritage Centre, 2020
Malay Heritage CentreAlysha Shah, Malay Heritage Centre, 2020, embroidery on calico cloth, 4 x 8.5 inches

The artist Alysha Shah holds the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC) close to her heart, as she and her family regularly attended Malay dance performances there year on year without fail. This heritage institution that lies at the heart of the Kampung Gelam precinct certainly holds much allure for the artist, who out of pure fascination, has painstakingly hand-embroidered a likeness of the building.

“It is a beautiful place that is rich with Malay culture and informative pieces on kampung life and Singapore’s history,” marvels Shah, who makes a practice out of portraying the charm and magic of the places that she holds dear, as she has done in her The Tangkak Series (2016).

The bright yellow and white threads that form the exterior of the building complement the  verdant greenery of its surroundings, creating a contrast that alludes to the cultural richness that the MHC brings to the Singaporean community.

The artist’s use of embroidery to depict this monument softens its otherwise cold, structural façade, turning it into a site for tactile exploration. If one could glide one’s fingers across Shah’s work, one would feel its softness and appreciate the differential stitch patterns between the sturdy structural components and the natural elements in the scene.

Swiping back and forth between the embroidered and photographic versions of the MHC, one can appreciate the thread lines that form the building, just like how this Centre continues to knit together a Malay community that prides itself on its enduring heritage.

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Artwork information: Alysha Shah, Malay Heritage Centre, 2020, embroidery on calico cloth, 4 x 8.5 inches. This original work is for sale at the price of S$300. Interested buyers may contact Alysha Shah at alyshhhh [at] gmail.com.

The National Gallery Singapore  | Yip Yew Chong, Grand Hotel de l’Europe, Singapore, 2020

National Gallery Singapore - Old Supreme CourtYip Yew Chong, Grand Hotel de l’Europe, Singapore, 2020, digital drawing using Adobe Fresco’s oil painting brushes, 2000 x 3000 pixels

The naturalistically painted Grand Hotel de l’Europe resembles the National Gallery Singapore in many ways, with its classical colonnades and imposing exteriors. The most distinctive difference is the square crown of the hotel and the green dome of the gallery.

Many would perhaps know that the National Gallery was repurposed from Singapore’s Old Supreme Court Building, but how many would know that this present attraction now stands on the site of the Grand Hotel de l’Europe?

Artist Yip Yew Chong captures this monument of Singapore’s past in its radiant glory, illuminating its grand colonial façade with textural cream, chrome and white tones in his digital palette. Known for his public murals in the heritage districts of Singapore that delightfully depict bygone places and eras, Yip brings to life this hotel building of Singapore’s colonial past.

Yip is fond of telling stories of places past within present-day scenes, with the hope of evoking a sense of warmth and nostalgia in viewers. In this post-COVID world where our sense of community and intimacy is threatened, many find ourselves resisting the future and clinging to fond memories of the past.

With the ease of “sliding” (or swiping) back and forth – first to the past, and then to the present, we are made to see how two eras seemingly morph into each other, as if they were just a blink away. Perhaps this embodies the tension of our times – a yearning for pre-COVID days while grappling with our present situation. And so the artist on Yip’s Padang, in painting the present (green-domed building) into an image of the past, might be telling us to look past the past; and to look instead towards the future.

Yip’s work perhaps also subtly reminds us of the transformative power of the arts—to envision the future, to bring it to life, and to stir the soul in clever and unexpected ways.

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Artwork information: Yip Yew Chong, Grand Hotel de l’Europe, Singapore, 2020, digital drawing using Adobe Fresco’s oil painting brushes, 2000 x 3000 pixels. This original work is for sale, with the price and medium of delivery available upon request. For details, contact Yip Yew Chong at yip_yewchong [at] yahoo.com.

Keep your eyes peeled for more artists’ creative responses to the places that they’ve missed in other articles in this series, as well as our upcoming microsite in August!

All photos in this article were shot by Jeremy Goh of Trippin’ Creatives.

All works produced are original and were specially commissioned for this project. If works are sold, Plural Art Mag will take no commissions in respect of such sales. If you are able to, we urge you to consider acquiring a work as this will go towards sustaining our vibrant community of local creatives, as well as the wider ecosystem that supports them.

This project is produced by Plural Art Mag as part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign.

We are one of only a handful of independent art publications covering Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. If you like what we do, please support us on Patreon, or get in touch about other ways to contribute towards keeping us going.

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