PEOPLEText: Aya Shomura

Singapore Art Museum (SAM) occupies a National Monument building that used to be the old St Joseph’s Institution, as well as a conservation building across the road that was the old Catholic High School. Within these historical structures, SAM presents thematic contemporary art exhibitions, featuring works by artists from Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia. SAM is also the organiser of the Singapore Biennale, and the fifth edition, titled “An Atlas of Mirrors”, opens at SAM on October 27th this year. We speak with the Co-Head of the Curatorial Team at SAM, Tan Siuli, to find out more about the museum, her work and some remarkable artists in Singapore.

© Tan Siuli

Please introduce yourself and your work.

I’m a curator at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), a museum that focuses on contemporary art practices in Singapore, and Southeast Asia. I consider myself very lucky to be paid to do something I love! My primary job at SAM is to work together with my colleagues to put up the contemporary art exhibitions you see when you step into SAM and SAM at 8Q. The process leading up to each exhibition opening involves a lot of research and discussion. At SAM, each of the curators oversees a Southeast Asian country portfolio (I oversee Indonesia) so that when we sit down to discuss which artworks and artists might be suitable for an upcoming project, we each draw on our areas of expertise to contribute to the making of a great show.

Right now we have two ongoing exhibitions in both our buildings, connected by a maritime theme. Over at SAM at 8Q is the kids and family-focused show “Imaginarium: Over The Ocean, Under The Sea”, while over at SAM we present the companion exhibition, “Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas”. This is aimed at a more adult audience with artworks that delve into more complex issues.

Rashid Rana “Offshore Accounts-1” 2006, “Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas” 2016 © SAM

What is the best way for a first-timer to experience Singapore Art Museum?

Come with an open mind. At SAM, we present works of contemporary art which often look very different from the art forms that most people are familiar with, such as painting or sculpture. Contemporary art comes in a spectrum of forms and mediums, and very often the choice of material used by the artist gives the work its significance. SAM exhibitions also revolve around big ideas, rather than a chronology or ‘timeline’ of artistic development. As such, when you visit SAM, come with an open mind to explore, to inquire, and hopefully, to be inspired!

While the artwork captions and our exhibition short guides contain plenty of information about the works on show, if you prefer more guidance you can always join one of our daily guided tours. If you would like an insider’s perspective, you could opt for our curator-led tours. During these tours, the curator of the exhibition will share insights on what happened ‘behind the scenes’, and you can also ask questions about the artworks and artists featured in the exhibition.

“Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea” 2016, SAM at 8Q

Tell us about an exhibition that you have curated recently.

Recently, I worked on the above-mentioned Imaginarium and Odyssey exhibitions with two of my colleagues, curators Andrea Fam and John Tung. All of us at SAM are also busy preparing for the upcoming Singapore Biennale 2016, which opens on October this year. Titled “An Atlas of Mirrors”, the Singapore Biennale 2016 will present works of contemporary art from Southeast Asia and Asia. We are very excited to be working alongside our co-curators from Singapore, Malaysia, South Asia and East Asia to collectively explore the resonances and shared histories between our respective regions, and to present works from both established and emerging artists that will create new narratives and ways of seeing.

Portrait No. 1
Fyerool Darma “Portrait No. 1 (Raden Saleh)” 2015, Exhibition “Moyang” Flaneur Gallery, acrylic and charcoal on canvas with charcoal coated frame, 110cm x 84cm

Could you introduce to us a remarkable young artist that you have encountered or worked with?

Fyerool Darma, an artist that will be presented at Singapore Biennale 2016. I was captivated by his series of enigmatic, brooding and beautifully executed paintings at his first solo show, “Moyang” – his works are informed by his research into and recovery of occluded histories from Singapore and our region.

Tan Zi Xi (aka ‘Messy Msxi’) is an artist and illustrator whom I had the pleasure to be acquainted with while working on Imaginarium this year. I love her whimsical and delicate illustrations, and am moved by her passion for and commitment to raising awareness, through art, about the impact of our actions on the natural world. You can experience her stunning installation “Plastic Ocean” at SAM at 8Q from now until the end of August 2016.

Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea
Date: May 14th – August 28th, 2016s
Opening hours: 10:00 – 19:00 (Last admission at 18:15, till 21:00 on Friday)
Closed on Sunday and Monday
Place: SAM at 8Q
Address: 8 Queen Street, Singapore 188535
Tel: +65 6589 9580

Text: Aya Shomura

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