Naima Morelli

Curatorial text: Inessa Kalabekova’s Descendants of the Dragon in Singapore

I have written the curatorial text for the new show “Descendants of the Dragons” by Singapore-based Kazakh artist Inessa Kalabekova at the Music Box Museum. The show opened on 1 December, and will run until 31 January 2024.

Please find the press release down below.

Descendants of the Dragon, a story from the Music Box Museum

From 1 December 2023 until 31 January 2024, the Music Box Museum is honoured to host Inessa Kalabekova’s solo show “Descendants of the Dragon, a Story from the Music Box Museum.”

The series of collages and drawings are inspired by “The Story of the Four dragons”, from an ancient Chinese text called “Classic of Mountains and Seas”, a compilation of mythical geographies and beasts. The artist’s practice, spanning from drawing, collage, and painting, has always been nourished by ancient stories, especially those involving magical creatures. 

The show is a part of Kalabekova’s project for her MFA at Central Saint Martins and a prelude to her final student exhibition in London as the conclusion of the program. It is also a further step from her latest exhibition in Singapore, called “The Nature of Art”, where she exhibited several collages using a layering technique signature to her.

Her style consists in a melodious, rhythmic interaction between rich colours and diverse materials, which include different kinds of museum brochures, postcards, maps, and musical scores. In her collages on canvas, trees, branches, animals, people, and imaginary creatures emerge, resurface, and overlap so that each piece reveals itself to viewers slowly.

Kalabekova’s research for the show was developed deepened during a self-organized residency called “15 Dragon Spirits” in the summer of 2023 in Taipei, where she collected both visual and textual information about dragons in local temples and museums. 

During the residency, she attentively studied museum scrolls. She discovered a particular kind of Chinese paper that she used to create her own scroll, with the help of her two young daughters, who are often involved in Inessa’s creative process. The long scroll depicts a series of blue dragons in watercolour and pencils, rolling and slithering through the clouds.

Back in Singapore, Kalabekova kept her Taipei routine of visiting old buildings and sketching statues and dragons in old temples. During her drawing expeditions around the Lion City, Inessa finally found one particular temple to which she felt a particular connection: the Thian Hock Keng Temple. 

This is one of the oldest and most important Hokkien temples in Singapore, founded in 1839 and gazetted as a National Monument later on. Adjacent to the temple is The Musical Box Museum, which presents a series of ancient music boxes recounting the encounter between 19th-century culture with the Peranakan local culture.

Upon visiting the museum, Kalabekova’s young daughter Alice came up with one story inspired by the music boxes, which in turn had the artist create big dragon collages and realize several portraits. In those fresh sketches of faces with a dragon companion, an entire inner dimension comes to fruition.

In the stories for the music box show, Inessa Kalabekova and Alice refer to a parallel world where spirit creatures live and thrive, evoking in her tale a magical connection between a newborn baby and a dragon.

As it comes across from her portraits and collages in “Descendants of the Dragon,” for Kalabekova reality is just a point of departure into infinite universes. The features of the people depicted in her portraits exude empathy and personality, and we can very much relate to them. But the sinuous dragons hovering on their heads remind us that there is more than meets the eye.

Her four dragon collages at the Museum, also remind us that traditional stories like “The Classic of Mountains and Seas,” never grow old, as long as there are artists to revive them and remind us how a spiritual, imaginative dimension – something old and wise – is buried somewhere within each one of us.

Artist’s bio:
Hailing from Kazakhstan and Russia, Inessa has travelled extensively in pursuit of her art. She sharpened her skills under renowned artists at Central St. Martin’s College of Arts in London, the Ruskin School University of Oxford, and the Russian Academy of Arts, and has called Singapore her home for the last 18 years. 

Inessa had over 20 exhibitions in Singapore, Shanghai, London and Moscow. Her artworks are part of the permanent exhibition of Haegeumgang Theme Museum (South Korea), as well as private collections in over 11 countries inclusive of Japan, Australia, Portugal, Austria, USA, and Dubai.

Descendants of the Dragon, a story from the Music Box Museum

From 1 December 2023 till 31 January 2024
Music Box Museum, 168 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore, 068619

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