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5 Reasons to Catch the National Gallery Singapore’s Children’s Biennale—Even If You Aren’t A Kid

If you’ve visited the National Gallery Singapore (NGS) anytime since May last year, you’ve probably walked past the colourful, larger-than-life artworks of the Children’s Biennale. But if you were there for a more “grown-up” exhibition, you might not have given them a second look.

That’s a pity, because the Children’s Biennale offers opportunities for joy, exploration, and connection whatever your age. Initiated in 2017, the project showcases art “created for, with, and by children,” bringing a playful touch to the gallery space.

Featuring 11 artworks by 10 artists from Singapore and beyond, the 2023 edition revolves around the theme “Let’s Make A Better Place” and the four core values of care, respect, imagination, and collaboration—and is free for all to explore!

We corresponded with the Biennale’s Lead Programmer Nurdiana Rahmat on the uniquely challenging yet rewarding work of crafting art exhibitions and programmes for children. Read on for a peek behind the scenes, and for our top five reasons to check out the Biennale before it closes on the 31st of March.

1) It’s created not only for, but also with kids—making it a Children’s Biennale in every sense of the word!

Bringing little ones? You’ll be pleased to know that the Biennale is created through close collaboration with actual kids, with focus groups and “play test sessions” informing its themes, activities, and learning materials. 

Nurdiana explains that the Biennale’s programmers work with the artists to strike a “delicate balance” between artistic intention and learning objectives for the gallery’s youngest visitors: “It is an incredible challenge, but something we thoroughly enjoy, because when done right it is very visible in the way children engage with our work.” 

Two of the installations are even specially designed to be suitable for toddlers. In Chiang Yu Xiang’s We Move This City, visitors pass through a gantry to enter “Creatopia,” a transportation-themed play space filled with soft, stackable Tetris blocks. Kids can watch the scenery go by from their “MRT” window, and say hello to an adorably spooky fellow commuter made of felt. 

Chiang Yu Xiang, installation view of “We Move This City” (2023). All images by author.

Inspired by the peaceful sights and sounds of the forest, the equally toddler-friendly HUTAN (by LittleCr3atures®, Jevon Chandra, and Lynette Quek) is the perfect setting to wind down after a jam-packed day at the museum. Look up to see giant plants and fabric strips resembling hanging roots, while a lamp casts mysterious shadows around the space, creating the dappled look of a forest floor. 

LittleCr3atures® x Jevon Chandra x Lynette Quek, installation view of “HUTAN” (2023).

2)  It’s the perfect chance to bring your inner child out to play.

If you’re feeling worn down by the pressures of adult life, a few hours at the Children’s Biennale may be just the thing you need. The interactive installations and hands-on craft and drawing activities make it an approachable, low-stakes platform for creativity and art appreciation.

Step into, for instance, Tawatchai Puntusawasdi’s two installations Compound and Optical Paths, whose warping lines and bold colours transport you into an optical illusion or comic-book world. 

Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, installation view of “Optical Paths” (2023).

Or, visit the watery wonderland of Ly Yeo’w When I Am With You. Inspired by a 2022 incident in which beachgoers were taking home animals from the Changi intertidal zone, the installation reminds us to treat living things with the core value of respect. Little ones can climb into a giant shell to play pretend, while grown-ups can join them in a game of “I Spy” with the horseshoe crabs, starfish, and other sea creatures occupying the rocky tide pools and “sandy” floor. 

Says Nurdiana, “The wonderful thing about children is the way their mind works—the way they look at everything so creatively and imaginatively. Somewhere along the way, we (or some of us) tend to lose that quality as we grow older.”

Ly Yeow, installation view of “When I Am With You” (2023).

In The Magic Forest, you can peek once again into that childlike state of wonder. Presented by Norway’s International Museum of Children’s Art—one of the first institutions in the world to collect, preserve, and exhibit art by children—the installation showcases masterpieces by kids around the globe. It’s an opportunity to access how children see and experience the world (but also a prompt to consider their art as a serious topic for exhibition and study). 

After a jaunt through the forest, don’t forget to add your own artwork to the wall! The whimsical works in the Gallery Children’s Biennale speak not only to children, but also to the imaginative, uncynical parts of ourselves that remain.

International Museum of Children’s Art, installation view of “The Magic Forest” (2023).

3) It appeals to all kinds of artistic tastes.

Naturally, lovers of vibrant colours and “more-is-more” aesthetics will find something to like here. But even if your tastes lean more minimalist or conceptual, don’t walk away thinking the Biennale has nothing for you. Instead, look out for Kumi Yamashita’s Foundation Wave—a conspicuous, sculptural presence in the Supreme Court Foyer. The amorphous shape settles into various human side profiles as you walk around it, and the recorded sounds of visitors’ heartbeats echo through the space.

Kumi Yamashita, installation view of “Foundation Wave” (2023).

And don’t miss Wang Ruobing’s Tide, an installation highlighting the pollution that litters our oceans. Pieces of flotsam and jetsam—including marine debris collected by non-profit group Our Singapore Reefs—are strung up in a circle and attached to a pulley system. At selected times, the motor kicks into action, simulating the undulating rise and fall of the tide. 

Adults and kids alike can observe the random assortment of objects (a bicycle, a traffic cone, and fishing implements, just to name a few) and imagine their stories: who might have used them, and how they ended up in the sea. It’s a piece that will appeal to fans of the assemblage or readymade—forms of contemporary art that incorporate pre-manufactured or found objects—as well as a sobering reminder of the marks we leave on the natural world.

Wang Ruobing, installation view of “Tide” (2023).

4) It calls you to reflect on the profound experience of parenthood.

Nurdiana’s personal favourite work is Fadilah Karim’s SAMA-SAMA (TOGETHER), and for good reason. Not only is this the first time the Biennale has explicitly highlighted parenthood, but it’s also connected to her own experience becoming a first-time mother while developing the exhibition. She notes:

“As we develop an art exhibition or programmes for children, we tend to forget that half of our audiences are parents and caregivers. This year, we thought it’d be interesting to put that at the forefront through this artwork installation. The work explores Fadilah’s journey from artist to mother, and how sometimes the boundaries are so blurred but they remain two distinct parts of her.”

SAMA-SAMA features inviting spaces where young visitors can build blanket forts, curl up with books, or draw portraits of themselves and their loved ones. Accompanying these interactive elements are reproductions of Fadilah’s photorealistic oil paintings, which depict daily life with her daughter Aira. In one, the artist paints while Aira plays with a roll of toilet paper; in another, Fadilah’s face is covered in alphabet stickers. Taken as a whole, the installation communicates the bittersweet, joyous, and infinitely complex experience of being a parent.

Fadilah Karim, installation view of “SAMA-SAMA (TOGETHER)” (2023).

5) It’s fun for all ages!

The Biennale caters to a wide range of ages, from babies to adults. Nurdiana compares it to an onion, with the outer layers representing the youngest audiences and the inner layers the older ones, engaged on a deeper level through tours, discussions, and other programmes.

One particularly versatile piece in the Biennale is Izziyana Suhaimi’s participatory work made from textile waste. Nurdiana recounts, “When we first launched, we were amazed at how children from the very youngest engaged with Izziyana Suhaimi’s Can you see the forest for the trees? Babies especially just love to hold on and feel the t-shirt yarns […] Older children can also take their time to read through the messages about waste and its impact as they view her murals. The way they engage with her work is very intuitive and it is lovely to observe.”

But adults are also more than welcome to weave a piece of yarn into the artwork—collectively, hundreds of hands come together to create something beautiful and intricate that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Izziyana Suhaimi, “Can you see the forest for the trees?” (detail; 2023).

Arahmaiani’s I Love You, meanwhile, complements her calligraphic flags recently displayed in the Islamic contemporary art exhibition The Neglected Dimension. Featuring large sculptures that spell out “I Love You” in Jawi script, the tender installation asks, “ How do you show love to the people around you?”—a question that we should all ask ourselves once in a while, whether young or old. 

Arahmaiani, installation view of “I Love You” (2023).

Making a better place

Whether you’re a kid or a kid-at-heart, the Children’s Biennale has something for everybody. Of course, it’s the perfect exhibition to visit with the children in your life—but it’s also a place to let go of inhibitions and tap into your inner child. 

Yet it simultaneously presents opportunities to think about serious topics. Says Nurdiana: “This personal experience [of first-time motherhood] also largely influenced the way we developed the theme [“Let’s Make A Better Place”]—because our wish for children, as parents, is for them to live in a better world, a better place. There is a fear of what we as adults are leaving behind for children who will be inheriting the future of this world.”

What is, indeed, the world that we’re leaving behind for the children of the present? And can accessing the imagination, playfulness, and joy of childhood help us craft a kinder one? Perhaps these are questions that art can help us start to answer.


The Children’s Biennale at National Gallery Singapore runs till 31 March 2024. Visit the website for more details, and purchase My Biennale Buddy and art packs at the Gallery to enhance your experience with additional activities.

Header image: Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, installation view of Compound Paths (2023)

This article is produced in paid partnership with the National Gallery Singapore. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.

Enjoyed this article? Read about how to raise a museum kid, check out this article featuring our littlest correspondent, or pick up baby’s first art history text.

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