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5 December 2022 — Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia at the National Gallery Singapore

Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia at the National Gallery Singapore challenges the objectivity of historical photographs while shedding light on how its accessibility continues to shape the way we make art and view the world.

It showcases artworks and objects from the 1800s to the present, many of which come from NGS’s photography collection, which has been over five years in the making. 

The exhibition’s earlier sections ambitiously encourage us to reconsider the perception of neutrality in historical photographs. On display is a selection of colonial-era photographs that were made by Europeans for European audiences, reflecting Eurocentric perspectives of Singapore and Southeast Asia. Resisting the idea that any photographic subjects from the region were passive, though, are portraits of the region’s ruling elite, which allowed subjects to control and determine how they were perceived. 

Other must-sees include haunting documentary photographs of the Vietnamese-American War from the perspectives of both the U.S.A. and North Vietnam, signalling a moment that revealed how powerfully photos could portray and popularise either side’s views of the war.

Later sections showcase a conceptual turn in photography, where artists use the medium of photography to document their practice and question how the medium creates new realities.

This leads to a massive display of contemporary artists who incorporate photography into their works as a means of documentation, questioning history, art-making in the digital age, or subverting ideas of life as we know it. Expect to see familiar names such as Dinh Q. Lê, Yee I-Lann, Simryn Gill, Miti Ruangkritya, and Heman Chong here. 

Ultimately, it’s a mammoth exhibition that encourages viewers to consider who takes photographs, why we continue to do so, and what ideas we perpetuate when we produce photographs. If anything, we recommend setting aside a few hours to really soak in all the ideas and numerous artworks that are on display — it’s sure to offer loads of food for thought for your next selfie. 

Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia will run from 2 December 2022 to 20 August 2023 at the National Gallery Singapore, Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, Level 3, City Hall Wing.