National Gallery Singapore connects the dots to tell a regional story and history in the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery
An exhibition of around 400 artworks will present a cohesive regional narrative about Southeast Asian modern art. The curatorial direction was announced today as National Gallery Singapore introduced its long-term exhibition Between Declarations and Dreams that will be presented at the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery.
Presented chronologically from the 19th century to the 1990s, and conveying shared artistic impulses and historical experiences, the curatorial approach breaks away from national frameworks to tell the story of Southeast Asian modern art. The exhibition draws from Singapore’s National Collection as well as significant loans from private and institutional collections. The Gallery is privileged to present a selection of important artworks on long-term loan from collections in the region, including from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as from the Southeast Asian collections of our MOU partners Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. The Gallery will also present newly-acquired nineteenth-century masterpieces by Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, as well as new acquisitions of Southeast Asian modern art by Fua Haribhitak, Chuah Thean Teng, and David Medalla, to name a few.
The title Between Declarations and Dreams is taken from a 1948 poem by Indonesian author Chairil Anwar, who epitomised the modern artist as a creative individual. The phrase captures the experience of artists in Southeast Asia, working between the historical, ideological or political markers that frame their practice, and the personal, subjective, expressive and creative motivations in art-making.
“The history of colonisation and the experiences catalysed a whole range of different values with the region’s beliefs, ideas and social structures. By drawing on common themes, we want to introduce fresh perspectives that enable visitors to fully appreciate the richness and complexity of modern art in the context of the entire region, and not just within their respective national histories. This is a bold step we have taken to create a moving and penetrating experience for all our visitors,” said Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore.
The curatorial narrative explores four main themes (see Annex for more details):
- Authority and Anxiety (19th to early 20th century): The section examines the birth of modern art in Southeast Asia in the significant social changes of the 19th century. Greater cultural contact with the West, often through the colonial experience, influenced the kind of art produced. Local elites used art to assert and defend their status, while artists asserted their cultural prowess by making use of new styles and techniques. The sense of a break from the past, or profound change, can be understood as the beginning of the modern.
- Imagining Country and Self (1900s to 1940s): In the early 20th century, the growth of art schools and institutions led artists to develop a stronger sense of professional identity. Artists began to express a stronger sense of place in their works and actively strove to express their newfound identity through innovative forms.
- Manifesting the Nation (1950s to 1970s): During and after World War II, artists documented political events and issues, and used the style of social realism to awaken feelings of nationalism. At the same time, artists were also eager to be part of the international trend of abstract art. This took place at a time when artists were searching for a national identity as many countries across Southeast Asia gained their independence.
- Re:Defining Art (post 1970s). Artists in this period became more concerned with political and cultural issues, not just the form or appearance of an artwork. Using a wider range of approaches and materials, they experimented with other genres such as installation, video, photography and performance.
Mr Wee Ee Cheong, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, UOB Group said, “UOB is honoured to play a part in the telling of Southeast Asia’s story to the world – a story of transformation and progress. Although our business first took root in Singapore, we have grown into a bank of more than 500 branches across Southeast Asia that is committed to supporting businesses, and through art, the community. Through the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, we hope to cultivate a deeper appreciation of Southeast Asia’s rich history and heritage and of how far we have developed as a region.”
The UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, will occupy three levels of the former Supreme Court building. It will open its doors to the public together with the rest of the Gallery on 24 November 2015. Visitors will also have access to other gallery spaces featuring Singapore modern art and interactive learning facilities. Admission to the Gallery is free during the Opening Celebrations from 24 November to 6 December 2015. Following this period, admission to the permanent galleries will continue to be free for Singaporeans and permanent residents.