Naima Morelli




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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To Stephanie Fong, founder and director of FOST Gallery in Singapore, the job of a gallerist is not just about selling the art, but rather providing an experience. With an uncontainable passion for culture, as well as an eye for the evolving trends worldwide, Stephanie has become a point of reference in the Lion City’s art scene.

I had the pleasure of talking with Stephanie for CoBo Social during my last visit to Singapore a couple of months ago, and I found he combination of strenght and grace – in both her personality and in the way she runs her business – incredibly inspiring:

“Why are you doing this?” She laughed and replied almost immediately: “I think at the core of it it’s what I’m meant to do. Now looking back at my journey, it all made sense, even though I hadn’t really planned it that way. Maybe it has been all about faith.”

Here is the link to the interview


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CoBo has published my review of the Teng Collection at Art Stage 2018. I was very happy to write about the first ever showcase of this outstanding collection, and compelled to learn and reflect on the ethos who is driving the collectors.

This piece actually came out last week but I didn’t post it immediately on the blog because in these past few days I have been busy running around Phnom Penh to collect interviews for my current reportage on Cambodian contemporary art. But here you go, you can read it at the link below.

Here is the link to the review

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Culture is a gift to share. Driven by this ethos Yanyun Chen and Jeremy Fernando founded in Singapore the publishing house Delere Press, which marries art and literature. I have interviewed both of them for Culture 360, the webmagazine of the Asia-Europe Foundation.

Here is the link to the article

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CoBo Social has just published an interview with one of my favorite Singaporean artists, Gerald Leow. We did the interview this past June, at the time he exhibited his latest series “I am Time Grown Old To Destroy the World” at Chan+Hori gallery in Singapore.

Here is the link to the interview

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I love the end of the year so much. Looking back and taking stock of what worked and what didn’t, because acknowledging that even what apparently didn’t worked is the seed for something even bigger to happen. And also, recognizing that nothing is ever wasted, and everything will converge eventually, because it’s all you, all one person is one universe following his own personal trail of crumbs.

In the past few months I haven’t posted on the blog my regular rants/reflections on my journey through life. This is because I realized that instead of being focused on the present and what was at hand, I was rehearsing the “narrative of my life” a little too often. Too much of looking back and planning ahead, instead of sitting down, spot the priorities and get down to them. Which resulted a dispersive mindset and lazy habits. And now that is the right time to reflect, look back and appreciate, it just feels so much better. A few lessons have unfolded. And while of course everything is unfolding all the time, I feel that right now I can see a motif appearing, whereas in the past few months it was more the phase where everything was colliding before taking a recognizable form.

Enough with vagueness! Let’s get down to the specifics; one thing I learned this is that when you ask your friends for feedback in a particular area of your life they know you well for, they will always tell you that “in the past you were so much better at this.” Of course you know that this is not true. There were movements where you showed up with your higher self in that sector. One particularly focused training session, a period where you were really pushing with work, another week where you realized a set of very good comic book pages. Growth is never even. You’ll have moments where you are quietly learning in some areas and it doesn’t show, and moments where it finally come up. It’s a gift to have friends to keep you in check, but most importantly you have to regularly practice, day in day out.

On the edge of 2017 I can see how all the expressions of my being are starting to come together, and hopefully in 2018 they will find a way to coexist harmoniously as an even flow. Ok, let’s be more specific. I guess I’ll start by looking at the year through the lens of my different practices.

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Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen has a new show at the Berlin gallery Michael Janssen, called No Man II. In this interview for CoBo, I spoke with him about his process, his conception of his characters as empty shells, and his love for books. Ho Tzu Nyen’s work and ideas are endlessly fascinating for me.

Here is the link to the interview

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CoBo has just published my new piece titled “5  Singaporean artists working with the theme of Bureaucracy”. Researching the Singaporean art system and the artists’ practice, I noticed the emergence of this set of preoccupations with organisation, repetition, boredom, archiving, censorship, procedures, rules – which definitely dismantles the romantic idea of the artist as we conceived it. Bureaucracy is so pervasive in society such as the Singaporean one, that becomes not only a conditio sine qua non for art to be happening, but also a subject in itself to reflect on.  This article features artists Jack Tan, Terry Wee, Zihan Loo, Lim Tzay-Chuen and Lai Yu Tong.

Here is the link to the piece

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CoBo has just published my interview with gallerist Audrey Yeo, director of Yeo Workshop in Singapore. I realized the interview a few months ago and it was greatly inspiring to talk with such an important igniter of the Singaporean art scene.

Here is the link to the interview

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For the Hong Kong webmagazine and collectors’ platform CoBo I usually write about Indonesian and Singaporean artists, and the dynamics of their art systems. It goes without saying that the two art environments are highly connected. Sometimes an event or a show happens which remixes the way the two art systems interact, and that’s precisely what happened with the Super/Natural show in Yogyakarta, by Gajah Gallery.

In this piece I look at this pioneering operation, talking with the gallerist Jasdeep Sandhu and the two curators, trying to ponder what this show meant, and if it can have a legacy for the evolution of both the Singaporean and the Indonesian art systems.

Here’s the link to the piece


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