Naima Morelli

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Sherman Ong: Motherland

In 2013 the now defunct gallery Chan Hampe hosted an important collective show analysing the effect of segregation in the Lion City. This was called ‘Motherland’ and was curated by Christina Arum Sok. The show examined Singapore as the home to people as different as the first generation of coolies arriving to find work, all the way to today’s foreign executives and migrant workers. In the press release, the curator mentioned how Singapore has become home to a wide array of people looking for opportunities and how they tend to not blend as naturally as the state propaganda would led to believe:

“ […] foreigners have largely embraced elements of ‘Singaporeaness,’ adapting or re-inventing themselves like chameleons to wear different hats that embody both their native culture and that of their adopted home. It is not so much assimilating or integrating into a ‘Singaporeaness’, but rather a celebration of multiplicity and a fusion of differences that should be emphasised. Instead of the xenophobic attitudes that shun the ‘infiltration’ of foreigners as well as the preoccupation with a sterilized racial harmony that only gives room for Chinese, Malay, Indian and the ambiguous or all-encompassing ‘Other,’ perhaps it is now the time to unlock the door for the ‘Others’ and adopt a broader, more accepting approach to differences. It is this element of ultra-diversity that gives Singapore the edge, making it a competitive city-state that attracts people from all walks of life.”

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Fyerool Darma: destructing and reconstructing regional history

Fyerool Darma’s world is black and white, sleek and genuine; conceptual yet tied to the peculiarity of materials. If you were in Singapore at the beginning of 2017, you couldn’t help encountering his work everywhere – in very different sectors of the art world. At Art Stage Singapore 2017, he was part of the Yeo Workshop booth with his works ‘After Babelfish (of Shank series)’ and ‘Portrait No. 11 (Puan Saleha, Zaliha or Salihat)’. We saw him performing in the art space Objectifs for the collective show ‘Fantasy Islands’. And if that wasn’t enough, at the Singapore Biennale you can also encounter his work ‘The Most Mild Mannered Man’ – a bust of Sir Stamford Raffles and a bustless pedestal inscribed with the name of Sultan Hussein. His interest in bridging the memory-deprived Singapore of today with the wider history of the region and the many possible narratives that have shaped the island’s past, and continue to shape the island’s future.

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Ho Tzu Nyen: representing the global collective imaginary

There are artists who make objects, and are pretty damn good at their craft. Then there are artists whose production allow them to live and work in the art system. There are also artists whose work is autobiographical and very much tied to their lives. And finally, there are artists whose art is a direct continuation of their philosophical grasp on the world. Technique for them is an extension of their thought.

Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen belongs to the latter category. In his first solo exhibition in Berlin at the gallery Michael Janssen called “No Man II”, he presented a new multimedia installation. This whimsical, interactive, compelling, yet mysterious work looks like a museum of popular imagination of the human figure. We can find here clichéd representation from pop culture, from American soldiers, to characters similar to the movie Tron, all the way to mythology.

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VuthLyno

The developments for visual art in Cambodia are not well-known yet. At CoBo social a group of writers and I are trying to fill some gaps with articles and interviews to the protagonists of the scene.

Vuth Lyno is certainly one of the most prominent figure in the art system of the Kingdom. The director, curator, artist and art activist is a pivotal figure in the still small but growing Cambodian contemporary art scene – I have huge respect for him and was a real honour to speak with him during my trip in Phnom Penh.

Here is the link to the interview

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Boedi Widjaja: the idea of place

What is a place? How do you feel connected to a place? Since moving from Singapore to Indonesia at age nine, artist Boedi Widjaja kept on asking himself these questions. My first encounter with Boedi Widjaja’s work happened in Rome. It was the day after the opening night of the 2012 Premio Celeste, an international prize dedicated to showcasing young talents from all countries. The building where the award ceremony happened was interesting in itself. A former power plant, the Centrale Montemartini was a unique example of industrial archaeology turned into a museum of classical statuary. The contrast couldn’t be any starker. Among the black steel levers, timers and dark machines, white marble statues emerged. The immaculate splendour of ancient Greek and Roman bust of Dyonisus and Apollo were juxtaposed to the steamy image of progress in the industrial age.

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ThaiArtistsSpirit

My new article “5 Thai Artists that Connect Us to Spirituality” has just been published on CoBo Social. Some of you may know my new research scope is Thailand, and I’m planning to visit for a reportage in 2019. My previous long-form reportage have been Indonesia (2013), Australia (2014), Singapore (2015-2017) and Cambodia (2018).

So what form do these reportage take in our multimedia world of information and “liquid society” (to quote Zygmunt Bauman)? Well, the form must also be flexible. The bulk of the Indonesia research ended up in a book. My Australian reportage took the shape of a series of articles and an exhibition in Rome. The Cambodian material has also come out as articles. The Singapore research has also become a book which is the process of being published as a web-series, every Monday on this blog and on Medium. For Thailand, I’m planning to realize some videos as well. Will see how it unfolds.

To go back to “5 Thai Artists that Connect Us to Spirituality”; I love to write these kind of pieces because they allow me to look deeply into the practice of artists thematically, and then summarize the essence of their work in few paragraphs. I learn so much from doing this work, and I’m so happy to have the chance to share it with you guys!

Here is the link to the article

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Migration

Geographically small and without local resources, Singapore has historically based its entire survival on the presence of the sea as a strategic location to commerce. A city port and a global trading hot spot since the beginning, creating a good relationship with the region and projecting a reliable image has always been key. In shaping their identity, the Singaporeans couldn’t afford to be purely preoccupied by the way they perceive themselves, but also in the relationship they have with the outside world.

These two narratives are not parallel, but blend into each other. Singapore is a city in constant and rapid flux; his port is bustling with activity and the airport is almost a mandatory stop for fights to and from Asia. You would expect that in such a mobile space, “the local” and “the other” won’t look that different. However, those who aspire to become locals learn quickly that the papers granting Singaporean citizenship can’t really grant a inner sense of belonging to the individual and they don’t make the community accept you.

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manifestapalermo

Here is an art event where contemporary art don’t lose itself in mere theoretical speculations, but rather tackles important and timely issues. The 12th edition of the Biennale Manifesta called “The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence” (16 June to 4 November 2018, Palermo, Italy) examines through site-specific artworks the themes of migration and the environmental concerns of our times.

I spoke about it with founder Hedwig Fijen and creative mediator Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli for Culture360, the webmagazine of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

Here is the link to the piece

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 Writing history


When we were studying history in school as kids, we perceived it to be a fixed, unchangeable entity. “Only history will tell”, is still a common saying, which identifies history as the ultimate judge, operating with the fairest of methods. We see that mentality in art history as well. Van Gogh is your typical case in point of the neglected artist in his lifetime who History then recognised as one of the major artists of the 20th century. At the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome my professors used to see art history as a force opposed to the art market. Market success was described to us students as kind of a cheat. Conversely, history couldn’t care less about money and other such vileness. Apparently what history remembers are the true masterpieces of real artists, not certainly what’s up on the stock market. Good art is what will stand the test of time.
While I subscribe this view, I’m also aware that along the winds shaping the rocks of history, market forces are in the picture as well. Today more than ever. History is a re-reading of the past according to what the present values important and useful. The retelling of every story necessarily implies highlighting some elements and hiding others. It does that in a functional way. In this sense, we can consider the old saying, “History is written by the winners” has been true until the ‘80s came along and postmodernism challenged this notion.

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NateeUtarit

“In the Forest of Fontainebleau, Natee remarried the world. He stepped away for a while from the human drama that is inherent in every social interaction and accessed a much slower, much quieter world, where he was not continuously bombarded by images and input from contemporary society. This allowed Natee to focus on the smaller folds of reality. It is similar to when you concentrate on subtle variations in your breathing while meditating. If you get to apply that same heightened attention to reality, everything around you transforms and takes the form of childlike wonder at the simplest things, like the sky, a sprinkle of light and the color of moss.”

In my new piece for CoBo, I have a conversation with Thai artist Natee Utarit about his new work for his show “Untitled Poems of Théodore Rousseau” at Tang Contemporary in Bangkok.

Here is the link to the interview

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LASLO_coverDEFINITIVE
Hello dear readers. I’m glad to announce that from today on this blog and on the platform MEDIUM I am starting the publication of my reportage on the Singaporean contemporary art system. I have been working on this for more than three years, and I’m proud to finally share it with you!

You will read a new essay each Monday for about six months, and this will culminate in a final publication. After considering different options to get this material out there, I very much liked this idea of publishing a new episode each week. It reminds me of those writers like Salgari or Jack London who used to publish their books “in episodes” on newspaper, making it into almost an appointment with their readers.

This is the index, comprising of the interviews that you will read in the next few months:

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VasanSitthiket
You might have guessed it; alongside Cambodia, my current research is expanding towards Thailand. I first had a glimpse of the depth of at the artists from this country in the 2015 exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which looked at Southeast Asia. Then with the Thai focus at the last Art Stage Singapore I learned some more. I continued expanding my understanding thanks to some editing work of interviews to Thai curators and collectors. And now I’m glad to say I’m hooked!

Thanks to the wonderful curator Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, who is a contemporary Thai art expert, I had the chance to meet Tawan Wattuya and Vasan Sitthiket in Rome. In this regards, it has been super-interesting to interview them and compare the work and perspectives of these two artists from different generations.

Here is my interview with Vasan for your friendly neighborhood magazine CoBo. I walked away from this chat with so many insights, and hopefully I managed to convey some of those to you dear reader!

Here is the link to the interview

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