Light / Dark mode

4 August – Familiar Others at the National Gallery Singapore

Dalam Southeast Asia at the National Gallery Singapore has developed a reputation amongst art geeks for offering up some of the most cerebral presentations in town. Its second exhibition Familiar Others does not disappoint.

 The show which opens to the public today, is about the representation of Others in art, i.e. cultures or communities that are foreign to the artists concerned. This is done through the works of three artists – Malaya’s Yeh Chi Wei, Indonesia’s Emiria Sunassa and Eduardo Masferre who spent most of his life in the Philippines.

Curator Phoebe Scott explained that, “This kind of representation brought with it certain ideas about the represented cultures. Sometimes they were exoticising and linked to colonial notions.”

Candidly, the exhibition’s curators admit that even Between Declarations and Dreams (The National Gallery’s own permanent exhibition on Southeast Asian art) has applied a kind of ‘internal exoticising,’ in the way that Singapore has itself looked at regional art.

The works on display here offer a critical look at the curation and presentation of such art.

Exhibition view of the show
Regarded as a leading figure in photography in the Philippines, Eduardo Masferré (1909–1995) sought to photograph peoples from the communities of the Cordillera region of the Philippines where he lived. These communities had previously been the subject of demeaning and sensationalist representations – especially during the colonial period – but Masferré aspired to present their culture in a dignified and respectful manner.
A closer look at his work
Emiria Sunassa (1894–1964) was one of the earliest female modern artists in Indonesia. In her adventurous life, she traveled widely across Indonesia, and her paintings often presented diverse peoples of the archipelago. Emiria claimed to be descended from the former Sultan of Tidore in the Maluku Islands. Because Tidore had historically exercised control over areas of Papua, Emiria argued that this made her the rightful “Queen of Papua”, although her claim was never officially accepted. This painting by her is entitled “Bahaya Belakang Kembang Terate (Danger lurking behind the lotus)” (1946-48)
There’s no traditional wall text here, just comments from poets, musicians, academics reflecting and responding to the work. These commissioned respondents all have some kind of community ties to the art. Here, Alena Murang a singer-songwriter from Sarawak, responds to a painting by Yeh Chi Wei described as “The Dayak Plays the Musical Instrument.”

All in all, it’s a super thoughtful show, full of intelligent prompts and beautiful art. It runs from 4 August 2022 –  19 Feb 2023. Visit the National Gallery Singapore for details.