I used to believe that renown Balinese I Nyoman Masriadi was overrated.
I’ve seen photos of Masriadi’s paintings featured in newspapers. Now, I’m no art studies major nor a curator, but I wondered how something which looked like an humongous editorial cartoon (Masriadi’s huge canvasses, depicting cartoon-like images, are noted for their political message) was being bought and sold in regional auctions for over 50,000 U.S. dollars?
But I was stunned after viewing his first solo exhibit in Singapore. And I thought that yeah, he really deserved such accolade and the high prices that his artworks command.
In a way, it also changed my perspective that this wealthy city-state is nothing more than a shopping mecca.
I used to be based in Singapore, and worked there as a business journalist. I was cynical whenever I read about the government’s drive to make it the regional arts hub. Another money making venture, I thought. Art lovers, like me, who’s high in appreciation but low in funds, aren’t the kind of travelers that Singapore’s bureaucrats are too keen to attract.
But back to Masriadi. My visit to 8Q, Singapore’s two year old museum which is dedicated to contemporary art, spurred me to change my mind, not only about Masriadi’s artworks but also about Singapore as well.
8Q is an extension of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), and was so named because, a) the museum’s location is at no. 8 Queen Street and b.) the museum’s location is also approximately 88 steps away from SAM.
It was in 8Q that Masriadi held his first international solo exhibit in 2008. It was here that I learned to appreciate the artist (and the deep pocketed art collectors who bid for his paintings). It was also in 8Q that I recognized the fact that while I can’t even afford to buy even a square inch of Masriadi’s paintings, I can at least enjoy them, have the pleasure, the fulfillment of looking at a great piece of art for hours by just paying less than 10 U.S. dollars, the price of admission fee to 8Q. And I don’t have to spend much for anything else too, as 8Q is located in the heart of the city, very near the bus and train stations and also food courts for cheap eats.
Indeed, Singapore’s is a haven for well-curated and subsidized art spaces. Other things may be expensive in Singapore – alcohol, rent, designer bags (but then they’re expensive anywhere), but the arts is not. It’s home to a lot of museums, including 8Q and SAM, which are among my favorites. The last time I was in SAM, I even managed to catch an exhibit of Mexican art, and had the chance to view the artworks of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Another favorite is the Peranakan Museum – a museum dedicated to the arts and culture of that distinct ethnic group who descended from Chinese traders who came to Malaysia and Singapore in the 15th century and married local women. The marriage produced a colorful, mixed culture. The Peranakans are into fusion centuries before the word became another cliché. The museum showcases the usual things associated with the Peranakans,- beaded slippers, elaborate wedding costumers, ceramic jars decorated with brightly colored flowers even a copy of a poem detailing how to be a good Peranakan housewife. But what I liked most in this museum is the display of the old style telephones. I just picked it up and I can listen to a taped conversation of a Peranakan woman talking either to a friend, a brother or a neighbor. It’s a good introduction to the Peranakan dialect which is primarily Malay, but mixed with Hokkien words (as most Peranakans were descended from the traders born in the southern Chinese province of Fujian).
Of course museums aren’t the only place to view art. There are a lot of galleries here too , especially at the expat enclave of Holland Village. But I prefer to go to this gallery called Utterly Art, housed on top of a shophouse (these are two-storey houses used by Chinese migrants before, where they put up shop at the ground floor and live on top of the house). Utterly Art is just a few blocks away from the central business district. I often go there to view art pieces from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. If I want to view some photo exhibits, I head straight to Objectifs, a center that offers short course on photography and film making ( I took some courses there) just to look at the photos exhibited by the students and visiting artists. Like Utterly Art, it’s also based in a shophouse, but located just across the shopping mall in Bugis.
Sometimes, I’m really lucky because I can find some of the most interesting artworks in the most unlikely places in Singapore.
Such as the garden – or the Singapore Botanic Gardens where I usually just go to jog or perhaps do some nature photography (it is home to an extensive flora and fauna). But last December, when I went there to attend a friend’s wedding, I was pleasantly surprised to see an exhibit by Singapore and South Korean artists. The theme is about nature of course and the month-long exhibit featured, among other things, a giant sculpture of chili by Kumari Nahappan and Korean artist Lee Jae Hyos wooden ‘trees` sculpture.
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Prime is a Manila-based journalist, blogger and a true blue gypsygal who’s into art and food tripping. She and her sister are the gypsygals behind www.gypsygalstales.com – a site for independent women travellers. You can also follow their adventures on Twitter: @GypsyPrime.