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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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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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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 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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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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I’m honored and humbled to have had the chance of writing about the work of an extraordinary artist and human being such as Cambodian painter Vann Nath. The piece is out in the new issue of Art Republik and is part of the Cambodia reportage I realized in February. This is the fifth piece about Cambodian art I did for the magazine, and I’m so happy to have these beautiful pages as an outlet for the research.

In the article, which I wrote in conjunction of the publication in Italy of Vann Nath’s memoir by ADD Editore “Il pittore dei khmer rossi”, I traced the legacy of this artist on Cambodian contemporary art, and how his example and practice influenced the new generations of artists in the Kingdom.

Here is the link to the pdf version of the piece

 

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museumsrome

I have just been back from Japan a couple of days ago,  and it has been great to find my essay on the state of contemporary art museums in Rome published on Culture360, the webmagazine of the Asia-Europe foundation.

The piece stems from my conversations with Hou Hanru and Giorgio de Finis, and takes into consideration the example of the ex-GNAM, La Galleria Nazionale directed by Cristiana Collu. While in the piece I take a bit of a critical tone, I hope that you can read through the lines my positive feeling for a scene in transformation.

Here is the link to the piece

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loredanaMAAIAM

CoBo Social has just published my new article where I discuss the show DIASPORA Exit, Exile, Exodus at MAIIAM in Chiang Mai with the curator Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani, as well as the importance of tackling geopolitical change in Southeast Asia from a variety of angles.

Here is the link to the piece

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Back with some updates from my life. There is noting better than a warm, sleepy Saturday morning without super-urgent deadlines for articles, to stop for a second and ponder and reflect on the amazing ride I have been on since the beginning of the year. Basically, a moment of quiet to park the horse and smell the roses. I feel this is somewhat necessary to have a clearer picture of my narrative, because of course it’s a story, but we humans need to make sense of things, and it’s fun, and my heart longs for it! I feel that when I’m talking with friends I tend to focus on the problems, maybe because I have identify them as the alley to let it all out. But my public writing, whether for these occasional rants or even in my articles, is really the place where I feel compelled to look at beauty, while not shying away from complexity. I feel it’s my wiser self talking, and I’m happy to get raw and vulnerable. Well, most of the times!

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Little by little parts of my Cambodia research/reportage are coming out in the press: here is a piece on the Phnom Penh-based supergroup Stiev Selapak which has just been published on the Singapore-based art magazine Art Republik. Can’t wait to have the physical copy in my hands!

Here is the link to the article

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