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Our 7 Favourite Events from Singapore International Photography Festival 2020

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Singapore International Photography Festival 2020

Every other year, the Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) brings photography to the forefront on this island of ours. This year’s festival theme, Departing and Arriving, invites us to dive into our pasts, histories, and belief systems, to examine how they have led us to where we arrive at.

An exciting festival that occurs across at least 12 physical venues in addition to the digital realm, the SIPF promises something for everyone, photography aficionados and the curious public alike. And if you’re wondering where’s a good place to start exploring the festival, here are seven of our favourite SIPF events which, in our humble opinion, are not to be missed.

1. Hundred Daughters Hundred Patience Hundred Meals by Kevin WY Lee | 37 Emerald Hill

There’s arguably nothing more poetically Asian than expressions of love and respect communicated through enquiries of whether one has eaten. This is a theme addressed by Kevin WY Lee’s intricate and thoughtful presentation in the SIPF, in his work Hundred Daughters Hundred Patience Hundred Meals presently on display at 37 Emerald Hill.

It’s about Lee’s father who was born in a rice-farming village in Kaiping, Southern China, and the trajectories of his adult life as experienced and witnessed by his only son. The enterprising gentleman later moved to Fiji, opening a Chinese restaurant which would later come to “define him as a restauranteur.” The title of the work references Lee’s father’s given name at birth, Pak Nui (meaning ‘a hundred daughters’), bestowed upon him to fool demons who a soothsayer had warned his parents, were out to get the child.

Lee’s work involves a display of 100 glorious images of meals prepared by the artist in memory of his late father, as well as snapshots from a 2012 road trip to Lee’s father’s home village:

A fried youtiao dish prepared by Kevin WY Lee. Image courtesy of the artist and SIPF.
A fried youtiao dish prepared by Lee. Image courtesy of the artist and SIPF.
An image of Kevin WY Lee’s father, courtesy of the artist and SIPF.
An image of Lee’s father, courtesy of the artist and SIPF.

If this interests you, head down to 37 Emerald Hill to check out his work.

If you are curious to hear more perspectives on how artists approach photography, Lee is just one of the many talented photographers who will be featured in SIPF’s upcoming online ‘Walking with Photographers’ virtual tour. Photographers involved in these virtual tours include the likes of Lee, Robert Zhao, Aik Beng Chia, Mindy Tan and Lavender Chang.

‘Walking with Photographers’ is an immersive experience led by local photographers, through a 360-video stream of a personal tour of a district or neighbourhood which they know inside out. The photographers will also be speaking about their own works and projects inspired by these spaces, connecting the physical environment to their final works. It’s a rare chance to find out more about the dynamic process of image-making by hearing first-hand from the photographers themselves.

Tickets will cost $5 per screening, and the programme will be presented as ‘videos on demand,’ allowing you to join in the experience, any time of the day wherever you are. Find out more here.

2. Combing for Ice & Jade by Kurt Tong | Esplanade Tunnel

Installation view of Combing for Ice & Jade by Kurt Tong at the Esplanade Tunnel
Installation view of Combing for Ice & Jade at the Esplanade Tunnel. The video still features a pair of jade earrings, a gift to Mak that the photographer describes as the only luxury item that she owns up until today.

If you’ve passed through the Esplanade Tunnel recently, this heart-warming photo series will surely have caught your eye. Hong Kong-born photographer Kurt Tong focuses his lens on his nanny, Mak Ngan Yuk, in this series of photographs that tells her story as a Comb Sister. Mak is part of the community of “self-combed women”, women in Southern China who took a vow of chastity in return for the freedom to work and not be tethered to the strict marriage customs of their time.

On view are the eight photographs that Mak had of herself throughout her life – all passport sized portraits that were taken for official documentation purposes. As if a counterpoint to this sparse minimalism, Tong’s project explores Mak’s life through a variety of materials and media, including found photographs from his family archives and Mak’s extended family, new images that he has made, a Chinese ink painting and Chinese women’s magazines from decades past.

Image still of a video that accompanies Combing for Ice & Jade, in which Kurt Tong sheds light on his nanny Mak Ngan Yuk’s life.
Image still of a video that accompanies Combing for Ice & Jade, in which Kurt Tong sheds light on his nanny Mak Ngan Yuk’s life.

Mak’s sense of humour and quiet tenacity comes through perhaps most clearly in the short video that accompanies this installation, where the photographer’s affection and love for his childhood caretaker is also plain to see.

The exhibition runs till 10 Jan 2021 at the Esplanade Tunnel and admission is free.  

3. Photobook Showcase | Emerald Hill

Bookworms, you’re in for a treat if you make a pitstop at 37 Emerald Hill. There, in addition to dedicated rooms with artistic displays, you’ll find 24 selected photobooks painstakingly put together by SIPF participants. The photobook, often billed as a new way for showcasing and appreciating art offers intellectual inquiry from a different perspective than say, that of a traditional museum exhibition. The absence or presence of captions, and the specific chronological flow of information as presented by the bookmaker offer intriguing opportunities for reflection.

A selection of photobooks on display at 37 Emerald Hill.
 A selection of photobooks on display at 37 Emerald Hill.
Exhibition view of the photobook gallery.
Exhibition view of the photobook gallery.

Delve into the photobooks and plethora of information awaits…

Anna Pylypyuk and Volodymyr Shypotilnykov’s photobook ‘My First Telik’
Anna Pylypyuk and Volodymyr Shypotilnykov’s photobook ‘My First Telik’ features a collection of Soviet-era images, with the term ‘telik’ being a common name for the TV. In the past, black and white TVs were bought on credit and were subjects of familial pride. Amongst others, a TV set was a status symbol, a portal to the world beyond and a transmitter of state propaganda. Today, the artists observe that people manifest their social status in images of global travel or branded items, while once upon a time, a TV managed to do that job. Photographs in this project were gathered in a treasure hunt over numerous flea markets, second hand shops and online auctions. They reveal a pattern in amateur photography, outlining how people are fascinatingly able to all take the same kinds of pictures without being taught to do so.
An image from MAKIKO’s photobook, about Hashima also known as ‘Gunkanjima’ or ‘Battleship Island’.
An image from MAKIKO’s photobook, about Hashima also known as ‘Gunkanjima’ or ‘Battleship Island’. The island was once a centre for undersea coal mining and an important part of Japan’s industrial revolution. Hastily abandoned in the mid-1970s, when its coal reserves neared depletion, the island remained effectively untouched for the next three decades, turning into a living time capsule of sorts. To the author “this (was) a place about which you could easily become obsessed.” If it seems familiar to you at all, you may have recognised shots of it from the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall.

The photobook display runs till 30 Jan 2021 at 37 Emerald Hill, Block 2, Level 1. Click here for more information about the photobooks on display.

4. Inside Out Singapore |  Across Multiple Public Locations

Installation of portraits for Inside Out Singapore at 37 Emerald Hill. Image credit: SIPF.
Installation of portraits for Inside Out Singapore at 37 Emerald Hill. Image credit: SIPF.

French artist JR’s global participatory art project, Inside Out seeks to change the world by giving everyday folk like you and me an opportunity to make a statement for what we stand for. Inspired by his large-format street “pastings”, black and white photographs of Inside Out participants are blown up into large scale portraits which are then pasted on walls and buildings, transforming messages of personal identity into works of public art. Inside Out group actions have taken place in over 129 countries, advocating for causes ranging from climate change to Black Lives Matter and gender-based violence.

This global participatory art project aims to transform personal messages of identity into art for public consumption. This project aims to unveil 1,000 portraitures and stories of people in Singapore, encapsulating the essence of the nation’s unique collective identity.

These large-format photographs will be printed out and pasted onto the infrastructure across the following locations: DECK, The Substation, 37 Emerald Hill, Tekka Centre and Kreta Ayer Square.

Interested in being part of Inside Out Singapore? Get your portrait taken at photo booths set up at various venues around our island or look out for the Roving Inside Out photo booth truck. Follow the ‘Inside Out’ event page for more information.

5. Margins: drawing pictures of home | ArtScience Museum

Nguan, Untitled, 2012, from the series Singapore 2007 – 2020.
Nguan, Untitled, 2012, from the series Singapore 2007 – 2020.

Singaporean photographers Nguan and Darren Soh are two of the 15 contemporary photographers whose works at being shown at The ArtScience Museum’s final exhibition of the year, Margins: drawing pictures of home. In Nguan’s photograph above, three swimmers look up as an airplane flies overhead. Darren Soh’s series, SS24 The Last Train, 2011 captures images of Senandung Sutera 24 (SS24), the last passenger train to depart Tanjong Pagar train station for Kuala Lumpur.

Darren Soh, SS24 The Last Train, 2011.
Darren Soh, SS24 The Last Train, 2011.

Echoing the theme of the Singapore International Photography Festival 2020, Departing and Arriving, these images strike a particularly poignant note in this surreal and disruptive year, when countries have closed their borders, international travel has all but shut down and departures and arrivals reduced to a trickle.

The exhibition examines, through the diverse perspectives of the participating photographers, the elusive and fluid idea of Singapore as “home”. Yes, the Singapore Girl is featured (John Clang). And, while no show about Singapore would be complete without food, the works of Wilfred Lim and artist duo Chow & Lin present the subject in unexpected and provocative ways. Sim Chi Yin, Charmaine Poh, Alecia Neo and Zakaria Zainal bring to light the hidden stories of immigrants and foreign workers who have chosen to make a home on our shores.

The exhibition runs till 28 Feb 2021 at the ArtScience Museum. Further details can be found here.

6. The SGscenery2020 Project

Image courtesy of George Wong and SIPF
Image courtesy of George Wong and SIPF.

2020 was a year that saw many people turn inwards – whether you were stuck at home during the pandemic lockdown, or forced to whittle down your social circles thanks to distancing guidelines, it was a tough period for us all. Photographer George Wong taps into the zeitgeist with his latest iteration of a project initially conceptualised for Singapore’s 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2015, titled Scenery.

While the 2015 project featured “crowd-sourced” photographs submitted by members of the public, showcasing the vantage points of Singaporeans from various walks of life, SGscenery2020 invites members of the public to share the views from their homes, prompting conversations about life in pandemic lockdown and the safety of the interior juxtaposed against the vagaries of the exterior, external world. View the presentation at the Deck Library, or submit your own photograph to this immersive project.

More details can be found here.

7. In Conversation | Online Talks

The In Conversation series is a lively panel session of nuggets of insights and clarity on photographer’s personal projects and practices.

This year’s SIPF Open Call theme Departing and Arriving ponders on the effects of photography shaping our views around us.

In this pandemic-ridden age of digital media, photographers are confronted with yet another technological pivot – that of the accelerated consumption and proliferation of the digital image. In this environment, how might they cope with new challenges or develop relevant and exciting perspectives?

Tune in with Open Call curator, Liana Yang as she engages ‘in conversation’ with Open Call Finalists, Miti Ruangkritya (Thailand), Kathy Anne Lim (Singapore) and Shwe Wutt Hmon (Myanmar) on 7 January 2021.

Myanmar artist Shwe Wutt Hmon’s work at the SIPF, Dharmatā (2019)
Myanmar artist Shwe Wutt Hmon’s work at the SIPF, Dharmatā (2019) questions the taboos in her society surrounding womanhood and menstruation.

In addition to the artists above, there will also be a number of other talks ongoing till 9 Jan 2021. Explore the SIPF website for more details.

With this plethora of SIPF events, you’ll note that there is something for everyone – whether you’re an avid photographer yourself, or a novice looking to learn more about the field. The festival has also thoughtfully adopted a hybrid approach of digital and physical presentation, putting the safety of potential visitors at the forefront of this artistic journey. We may not be able to travel overseas during this holiday period, but the SIPF invites us to join its photographic odyssey whether it’s from the comfort of our own homes or in person at physical events. Step on board and enjoy the ride!

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For more information on the SIPF, visit their website here.  

This article is produced in paid partnership with Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore International Photography Festival. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.

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