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Jenson Takes Flight : Art, Fashion and All Things in Between

Jenson Tan

Jenson Tan, Art Lead at DNMC Creative

Venue: All around Singapore, and over e-mail

Hello Jenson, tell us, what inspires your personal style? Share some of your favourite outfits with us ?

I think my best friend best summarised my general style: pencil pants with oversized boxy tops. My personal style is definitely inspired by feminine sensibilities. I share some of my pants with my mother and steal her clothes. I follow a rule where I contrast wide silhouettes with tight ones . So if I wear a wide top, I’ll pair it with tight pants, and vice versa.  I also only try to wear black face masks, whether cloth or disposable.

One thing about me is that I hate covered shoes. You will always see me in leather sandals or, slippers and shorts. The only time I wear shoes is when I have to or when I’m working out.

Jenson Tan at the 2018 edition of Culture Cartel, representing the art gallery Kult - his dungarees are from a thrift store, and his Feiyue shoes are from Taobao
At the 2018 edition of Culture Cartel, representing the art gallery Kult – my dungarees are from a thrift store, and my Feiyue shoes are from Taobao. I wanted to look like a mix of cute and street, and everyone looks quite cute and street in a dungaree.
In general, my clothes are from Taobao, but not any Taobao supplier. I like to source for nice indie shops on Taobao. They can be quite androgynous and there are good finds out there. Otherwise, I wear a lot of UNIQLO, in a mix of ladies and gents apparel. Some brands I’m coveting at the moment  include Anaabu and GRAYE.

I also make it an extra point to wear only T-shirts, shorts and slippers on Sundays because that’s how everyone should be — #softsundayslack.

Jenson Tan Outfit from Taobao
Outfit from Taobao (Image credit : Darren Chiong )

I also want to credit my mother and Chand Chandramohan, the artist–model, for my skin. Specifically, my mother for her genes and Chand for all the beauty tips (she should really be a beauty blogger).

Jenson Tan, his pleated high-neck top is from a Taobao Store called Coln, and his jeans are from UNIQLO.
My pleated high-neck top is from a Taobao Store called Coln, and my jeans are from UNIQLO. I wanted to wear this pleated top because it looked good and because it provided a nice silhouette for photos. It was also baggy enough to further accentuate how long my legs are, so the choice was obvious. Image credit  Darren Chiong
Jenson Tan at Singapore Art Week at an exhibition called Inner Like The OutAR
This was taken during this year’s Singapore Art Week at an exhibition called Inner Like The OutAR. My jumpsuit is from a thrift store in Johor Bahru. I wanted to wear this because the show looked like a psychotropic showcase, and I wanted to look super grunge in response to it. Image credit: Tina Fung

Now that we’ve moved back to a partial lockdown, what do you wear when working from home?

My green army T-shirt and black admin shorts. The quintessential Singaporean male PJs, although, I’m trying to change this about myself. When you work in your PJs, you definitely don’t feel like working at all. It’s absolutely horrible as I can stay in my PJs till around 3pm if I’m not expecting a guest or  going out to buy something! My family members are mostly essential workers, so no one is home to smell or criticise me.

You’ve worked as an arts writer, exhibition organiser and arts manager, amongst others, while also concurrently being a student at NTU’s School of Art Design & Media (ADM). How did you manage all of this, and more interestingly, why was it important to you to take on all these roles while studying?

Well, it involved a lot of shifting of  time around in my timetable and making my bosses believe that I could work independently outside of the office.

I needed the money, and all that I knew how to do, was work in the arts (I have a Diploma in Arts Business Management). To be frank, a lot of the work I did in the arts and also in agencies, was for the pay cheque. My parents were quite supportive of me working while in school. I come from a typical middle-class Chinese family here in Singapore, so I had to prove that I could make my own coin in order to be able to pursue my areas of interest in school. (My family) only agreed to my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts degree) because they knew I could already make my own coin in the field.

At one point, my brothers and my father forgot that I was still in college and asked me whether I was still in school!

Jenson Tan student photo for NTU ADM grad show collaterals
This was my student photo that was used for all NTU ADM grad show collaterals. My jeans are from UNIQLO. My back tattoo is by Eugene and my arm tattoo is by Gillian. Image credit: NTU ADM Grad Show 2021 Photography Team

I believed that I wanted to work in the art scene full-time when I graduated and I didn’t want to do anything small, so I took on bigger projects gradually, hoping that they would lead me to bigger things in life. It does take a toll on your sanity and health. I fell sick numerous times during this process and almost failed a few classes. It’s a miracle that I lasted for so long. I give thanks to my bosses for giving me the opportunities and the space to grow with them. Personally, looking back, I think the cost and detriment was only justified in my head, and may not really have been worth it. Know your worth people!

As a new graduate coming out into the working world full-time, do you have any advice for aspiring art industry workers? Would you recommend a career in the arts?

A gallerist once told me, “it’s harder than it looks.”

It really is harder than it looks.

No one wakes up all dolled-up to serve the public at an exhibition. Many times, we paint walls, drill holes, sweep and mop floors and also pour wine and serve. At selling shows, you need to put your “customer service” face forward. At the end of the day, it’s just like any other job or career: try it, do it, and if you fundamentally hate it, you will be miserable while doing it. The reality is (to me anyway), that passion only goes so far, and you might be more disappointed and disillusioned than ever. So unless you can live with frequent heartbreaks, disappointments, and tears, I really don’t recommend a career in the arts.

What do you think the future holds for the local and regional scene?

I’m definitely optimistic about the regional scene as galleries are not backing down in their online presentations and fairs are still going on in spite of the lack of travel. I’m also interested to see how independent local projects are emerging from the ground up. These include Rifqi Amirul Rosli’s and Aki Hassan’s digital presentation “Falling Into Its Thingness“, some of I_S_L_A_N_D_S’ projects, and of course, the work of MAMA MAGNET.

Critically, as a region, people are more mindful of the works or initiatives put out during the pandemic and during periods of political unrest. I won’t say that I’m extremely aware or “woke” in that aspect, but I’m sure no one can take bullshit in this generation. I’m also interested to see what digital projects come about in the future. I spent a great deal of time researching virtual exhibitions and digitalising art for my undergraduate thesis project, so I’m definitely invested in seeing the kind of work that artists will make in time to come,  for digital consumption. (Please do not confuse this digital consumption with crypto-art!)

Looking back at some of my favourite projects- my work with Tulika Ahuja and Sean Cham in 2019, stand out.

Tell us about your favourite artist and artwork please?

I don’t have a favourite artist, but this work by Shilpa Gupta is my favourite, it’s extremely understated and poetic. It feels like the flapboard is having a fleeting conversation with the viewer as time goes by.  I also like the paintings produced by Geraldine Javier, and the images of Joel-Peter Witkin.

Who’s your favourite fashionable art – world person?

Hmm… I think people would expect an answer like Yayoi Kusama! I’d say Korean artist-model Kim Sang Woo and Korean artist Kim Hyunji?  They are both very fashionable and when I met Hyunji in Sydney, I loved whatever she wore. Super street but also super chic. I also love how Indonesian artist, Syagini Ratna Wulan, dresses. She’s very stylish and I believe she also owns a fashion label. Locally, I love how Samantha Yap and Tulika Ahuja dress, and also Caryn and Dharshini from Yavuz Gallery.

Thanks Jenson and all the best with your adventures after school!


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