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Young Singaporeans explore issues of ethnicity through art

by August 25, 2017 General

As part of '87% — Multiculturalism in Singapore' exhibition, Project Synthesis, presents photographs taken by 50 South Asian migrant workers using disposable film cameras. — Picture by Ziaur Ralman As part of ‘87% — Multiculturalism in Singapore’ exhibition, Project Synthesis, presents photographs taken by 50 South Asian migrant workers using disposable film cameras. — Picture by Ziaur Ralman SINGAPORE, Aug 25 — A group of young Singaporeans with no background in the arts are coming together to put on a contemporary art exhibition that looks at issues of race in the Republic.

The exhibition, titled 87% — Multiculturalism in Singapore, aims to explore multiculturalism through art.

It is organised by Amanda Sarah Chin, 21, Yeoh Su Shane, 20, and Terri Teo, 21, and will be held on Sunday.

Both Chin and Teo are undergraduates in English Literature, while Yeoh is currently serving National Service.

The trio, who attend the same church, decided to collaborate on this exhibition motivated by their own experiences talking about race.

“We felt that conversations about multiculturalism in Singapore seemed relegated to our time in school and social media. We simply wanted a physical space for honest conversations about race and ethnicity in Singapore,” said Chin, who is studying at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and is the lead curator for the show.

“Our Chinese privilege has shielded us from a lot of the negative experiences and struggles that our friends of other ethnicities face in Singapore. Organising 87% has been a journey of sorts for us,” Chin added.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by the Ethnic Integration Policy implemented in 1989 to ensure a better racial mix in Housing Development Board estates. Ethnic quotas for HDB neighbourhoods and blocks were established, and the permissible proportion for Chinese in each neighbourhood is 84 per cent while the proportion in each block of flats is 87 per cent.

Said Chin: “There are good intentions behind the Ethnic Integration Policy. However, it doesn’t guarantee immediate integration between each ethnic group, despite living cheek by jowl … Rather, we deepen our multiculturalism through a genuine understanding of members of other ethnicities — hence, our exhibited art works and our living library.”

By exploring issues of multiculturalism through art, the friends hope people will “become more aware of the different ways of engaging in these issues and will be more willing to explore such alternatives rather than stick to the status quo.”

Held at The Yellow Cage, an industrial space used as a venue for creatives in Geylang, the one-day event will feature sculptures, installations, photographs and paintings by emerging artists who will also be present to speak to visitors on the ideas behind their works.

The organisers did not want a “white cube” gallery for 87% — “instead, we chose an industrial space, which reflects the raw, unfiltered complexities of a genuine multiculturalism that contrasts with the neat CMIO (Chinese Malay Indian Others) racial categories that we are put into”, said Teo.

Artists include Priyageetha Dia, famously known for her golden staircase project at Jalan Rajah, who will be presenting a site-specific installation representing her personal encounters as a Singaporean Indian.

For her installation, Dia will transform an industrial lift in a metal factory into a “wind chime” with hundreds of Indian brass bells hanging within the “cage”, while an ambient yellow light glows from within.

Guests will also witness a “living library” comprising individuals standing in allocated spaces around The Yellow Cage, sharing their minority or multicultural experiences through impromptu interactions or timed reading sessions.

As part of the “living library”, visitors will also be able to talk to the Indian, Filipina and Indonesian domestic helpers from The Ladies in the Power of Service (Lips) — a group of domestic helpers that comes together on their day off for the week, Sunday, to volunteer at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

They will be sharing their experiences and cultures through items and food from home.

Also part of the exhibition is Project Synthesis, which will present photographs taken by 50 South Asian migrant workers who used disposable film cameras to capture images of their homes, work and leisure spots, as well as whatever they feel is important to them.

Much of the curated selection of 145 images is being showcased at this exhibition for the first time.

For example, migrant worker and poet Mukul Hossine from Bangladesh will have some of his photography displayed under the Project Synthesis display, and will also be reading poetry and engaging visitors in conversation.

The organisers view the exhibition as a statement that even though many good things have been done in terms of multiculturalism, more can be done to be make things better. They hope to “encourage other individuals like ourselves” to come forward and organise similar efforts.

“The future is self-organised. Through organising these exhibitions, we demystify the notion of how hard it is to organise an exhibition and encourage other individuals who are interested in doing such initiatives themselves to just do it. It’s a good way to make the arts scene more vibrant,” said Chin. — TODAY

* 87% — Multiculturalism in Singapore will be held at The Yellow Cage, 50 Lorong 17 Geylang, on Sunday from 4pm to 10pm