Speak Cryptic

The masks that are depicted in your art – what do they mean?
I can be quite a socially awkward person as I tend to shy away when I talk to someone or meet someone for the first time. The masks in my drawings always cover my characters’ faces - it came from this idea of shying away and not looking at the world directly. It’s a combination of two major things that make up who I am: Punk Rock and the Austronesian culture. The Malay race belongs to the big umbrella of the Austronesian family. People from these tribes usually wear headbands that are predominantly made up of flowers and leaves and you can see that in my drawings. 

Is it safe to say that you are moved by the early punk culture?
It’s not really based on aesthetics. The kind of punk culture I’m attracted to is more than leather jackets and mohawks. It’s more of the DIY culture - making your own choices and doing your own thing. The problem is, I don’t think we have a symbol based on that idea yet. Which is why I still use the patches, leather jackets and mohawks to represent my love for the punk attitude. 

How was your solo show in Venice?
It was fun, and my first solo show overseas in fact. My gallerist, who was based there, got the space for me. It was during the period when the Venice Biennale was happening so we were trying to take advantage of the hype. There are no roads in Venice so you have to travel by boat. It was interesting to transport my paintings from the airport to the exhibition space. I feel that Venice is a city by itself. There are a lot of Renaissance and conceptual art. So when the Venetians saw my work, they were quite fascinated because it was something different. I guess it either felt alien or refreshing to them. 

Are there any conventions or boundaries in visual art?
Not really, even though people will always be debating about art. I could bring up an intellectual conversation to discuss whether this table is art. All I need to do is gather two to three more people to agree with me to satisfy myself. However, even if you don’t have the numbers to prove it, that’s totally fine. If you feel a connection, then it just might be art. No one should discredit your experience. 

One time, I noticed a fire extinguisher that was sitting in a corner of a gallery and thought it was an art piece. I later realized that it wasn’t part of the show but so what? There was no price to the object but it could still be an art piece. 

What has to be present for an object to be considered as art to you?
If it moves you in a way that no other object can, it’s art. It could transport you to a different space, remind you of your first love or when you mother played a game with you for the first time. It could also remind you of the rain and of good and bad times. 

How has your story changed over the years?
I started doing art when I was 18. The idea of positioning myself as a ‘serious’ artist in the world of art has become quite old to me by now. We have a good support system within the art community in Singapore - the amount of people who are willing to help always outnumbers the people who are unwilling. I have a degree in Fine Arts but that does not make me a fine artist. I don’t think it’s super important to put labels on yourself. What I’m really grateful for is the fact that I fall between pockets of design and fine arts. Singapore is pretty small. If you have been creating consistently, you will get the jobs. Your relationship with the community is important too.

What can we expect from you at Singapore Art Book Fair 2016?
Installation and books! I have a book published by Math Paper Press - The National Archives. It features drawings created between 2011 to 2013.

Say something to the fairgoers! 
Be nice, be kind, work hard. And return your trays, please!