If there is one defining feature of this age of social media, it’s got to be the hashtag. At its most basic level, the hashtag has an exploratory function, allowing users to quickly track down content that interests them. Digital marketers and academics however, will note that there is often more to the humble hashtag than meets the eye.
In their article, Evaluating the descriptive power of Instagram hashtags Stamatios Giannoulakis and Nicolas Tsapatsoulis explain that outside of their basic role to organise knowledge and enable the retrieval of information, hashtags have an additional “metacommunicative use.” Amongst others, they can be used to give emphasis or call attention, express a kind of judgment or verdict, express humour, or bring awareness or support to a cause.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the massive shift of physical art events online, the humble hashtag’s metacommunicative uses have never been more apparent. In these socially-distanced times, they create a bridging lifeline between audiences and creative producers who may not be able to meet in person. Sitting at the core of the local arts community’s shift towards all things virtual in pandemic-ridden times, is the National Arts Council’s (NAC) #SGCultureAnywhere campaign.
Kickstarted in April 2020, the publicity campaign aims to “bring together the best of Singapore’s arts and culture digital offerings on one integrated platform to be enjoyed and experienced, anytime and anywhere”. There are over 1,000 digital (and some physical) experiences and performances – ranging from livestreamed content and virtual exhibitions to workshops and activities for the little ones. If you’re looking to find all initiatives under one roof, they’re conveniently housed on the A List website featuring over 100 homegrown artists and art groups. The digital hallmark of the campaign, the #SGCultureAnywhere hashtag has become the point of departure into a world full of cultural experiences for audiences and artists alike with over 14,700 tags on posts on Instagram alone. You might remember that our magazine too (@pluralartmag), took part in this initiative with the Our Heartlands project, something that we personally found to be a meaningful and rewarding exercise – one that supported the creative community in a time of crisis while also creating greater awareness about Singapore artists. (We’re also going to shamelessly plug the website here and let you know that the artworks on it are still available for sale, with full proceeds going to the artists)
First associated with arts projects bearing some element of public funding, and as part of the government’s drive to push out public spending in the pandemic-stricken area of the arts, it’s fair to say that the #SGCultureAnywhere initiative has since spiraled beyond these initial parameters, and taken on a life of its own.
If you’re looking for some interesting visual arts Instagram accounts to follow, check out some of our picks below – we went down the rabbit hole looking for accounts bearing the #SGCultureAnywhere hashtag, and this is what our search turned up:
The “visual artist + performer + hantuologist” – Rizman Putra
Artist Rizman Putra (@manicjango) who calls himself a “visual artist + performer + hantuologist” is no stranger to the digital world. He took part in this year’s Singapore Art Week in the critically-acclaimed Bus.Stop.Art with his Jom Draw installation placed at a bus stop, which encouraged passersby to express themselves through drawing “without the fear of not having the desired (artistic) skill set.” The artist who discovered the #SGCultureAnywhere initiative when he took part in the NAC-commissioned “From The Living Room Series”, sees the tag as something which has “united us as a community.”
In his own recent #SGCultureAnywhere project, From Gelam to Glam, Rizman worked with UV paint to create a black light drawing installation inspired by the native Gelam tree, after which Kampong Glam was named:
The Nimble Curators and Consultants – Chan + Hori Contemporary
Local gallery Chan + Hori Contemporary has been making waves in the physical and digital world for all the right reasons. In a daring pivot away from its physical home at Gillman Barracks, the gallery now operates as curators and consultants with a significant online presence, paired with occasional physical pop-ups where required.
Head to its Insta page @chanhoricontemporary and you won’t even be re-directed to a traditional website. Instead, you’re pointed in the direction of their hot new Spotify series the Shangri-La Art Podcast. Partner Khai Hori heads the Art Gallery Association of Singapore as its President and his IG story updates are the best thing to follow if you’re in need of some art world gossip and salty assessments of new-fangled art things (NFT anyone?). Junior partner and curator Deborah Lim (@deborah.lim) is also fast making a name for herself, most recently having received a prestigious Honourable Mention for her curatorial work at the 2021 IMPART Awards.
We found her on Instagram through an #SGCultureAnywhere-tagged post on an online panel discussion about art collecting at Gillman Barracks’ signature event Art After Dark last November. Deborah was moderating, and although no one had instructed her to do so, she found herself using the hashtag of her own volition. She explains that, “While on the one hand it is a tag initiated from a top-down perspective – it really applies more to ground-up projects and access.” Viewing the tag and broader campaign as something representative of an “ideal,” she saw resonance in the idea, when applied to her own panel discussion event.
The National Muralist – Yip Yew Chong
A familiar face in the brick and mortar physical world of Singapore, it would be hard to navigate the country without some sense of the art of Yip Yew Chong (@yipyewchong). His public murals often take on a life of their own, and are the much-reshared subject of many a social media profile. Yip tells us that he is not “internet savvy,” but with his works located in such visible and iconic spots all over Singapore, why on earth would he need to be? Nonetheless, Yip gives his nod of approval to the NAC digital campaign for being successful in creating awareness about local art and artists and increasing viewership. His first solo show, Something, Somewhere, Somewhen, at Art Porters Gallery (@artporters) was featured on a-list.sg and Chong has since been using the #SGCultureAnywhere hashtag for his Instagram posts, presumably, to keep the momentum going.
Pandemic restrictions don’t seem to be lifting anytime soon, but if you’re looking for a digital signpost to show you the way around Singapore’s creative community, #SGCultureAnywhere’s a great place to start.
This article is produced in paid partnership with the National Arts Council. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.