Inspiring Positivity - The Art Connection
Artists from three projects under the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF’s) Arts for Good initiative talk about intercultural exchanges, mutual sharing and appreciation, and their personal takeaways.
BY SASHA GONZALES
PHOTOS EDWIN KOO, SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION
ased on the belief that arts and culture can foster inclusive communities, enable livelihoods and promote sustainable urban living, the SIF’s Arts for Good initiative aims to inspire and encourage positive social change both in Singapore and overseas by facilitating collaborations between Singaporean artists and their international counterparts.
We take a look at three of the projects completed under the Arts for Good umbrella thus far: an Arts Therapy International Humanitarian Mission, Twin Cities – Singapore Exchange, and Art Of Sustainability.
Arts Therapy International Humanitarian Mission
From February to November 2016, the SIF partnered Red Pencil International (RPI) and Jiyan Foundation in conducting a three-step, train-the-trainer programme for 20 psychotherapists working with Syrian refugee children at Qushtapa Camp in Erbil, Kurdistan.
This equipped participants with art therapy knowledge and skills, which were incorporated into their psychotherapy approaches.
Edwin Koo, a Singaporean photographer, joined the RPI team in June 2016 and documented the experience. He says that the mission – which involved him photographing displaced Kurdish children – opened his eyes to war’s severity, and the invisible and oft-ignored human costs of political and military conflict. He says the experience taught him to view the children as more than just subjects in a photographic project, and motivated him to bring a little joy to their lives.
“On my second day at the camp, I decided to take a pause from ‘taking’ photos to ‘making’ photos,” he says. “Even though I spoke no Kurdish, I wanted the children to know they are important.” He started shooting portraits of them, and printed the best images on little Instax prints, which he gifted to them. The children were delighted.
“I would like to make visible the efforts to counter the invisible cost of war and violence, by paying homage to the people who suffer, and to those who seek to alleviate the suffering,” Koo says. “One of the only ways to confront the cost of war is to come face to face with these children.”
Twin Cities – Singapore Exchange
This ArtsWok Collaborative cross-cultural study exchange from Sept 19 to 24, 2016, explored how the arts can be harnessed to create positive social change. Co-supported by the SIF and other Singaporean artists and creative producers, a team travelled to Minnesota in the United States to meet various American community leaders to exchange ideas and insights. The Singaporean artists were exposed to the idea of “The Third Place”. Used by photographer Wing Young Huie to describe his studio/gallery space along Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, this term also refers to the spaces occupied by diverse groups of people.
Such spaces host encounters, interactions, and the forming of relationships, and so embody and represent those individuals’ philosophies and community-building work.
“ It deepened my interest in observing and documenting cultural sustainability and the preservation and evolution of identity within our organic cities. ”
Kenneth Lee, Singaporean artist
Singaporean Han Xuemei, a Drama Box resident artist, says her experience in Minnesota and interactions with Americans inspired her to search for or construct a similar “third place” in Singapore. While there, she visited various spaces, including Wing’s photography studio, the Chicago Fire Arts Center – a non-profit arts organisation that provides classes to people with an interest in fire arts (art forms produced using sparks, heat, and flames) – and Northern Warehouse Artists’ Co-operative.
It inspired Han to imagine one in Singapore. “In a world where lives are increasingly shaped by ‘forces beyond us’ (governments, corporations, terrorists, etc), and where nearly every aspect of life is slowly becoming dehumanising, it is important to create spaces where we can reconnect with the capacities of being human – to fully exercise our right to make choices, imagine and create,” she explains.
Minnesota has a long and complex history (it was the site of several conflicts). This, coupled with its current political progressiveness, got Singaporean artist Alecia Neo to ask herself how art could play a part in reshaping the world today.
“I wondered: In a time where differences are politicised and made dangerous, in what ways can we generate possibilities and imagine creative responses and solutions to complex realities?” She adds: “This trip didn’t provide any easy answers, but it offered us some glimpses into what it might take to ‘recreate imbalance’ in society, to necessarily shed light on fresh or hidden narratives on uncomfortable and inconvenient realities.”
Art Of Sustainability
A diverse group of sustainability experts and eight artists from Singapore and Shanghai collaborated to raise public awareness about living sustainably. Their resulting mixed media exhibition, which ran from Sept 9 to 25, 2016, used arts and culture to promote awareness of and encourage the public to actively pursue sustainable urban living. Participating artists drew inspiration from shared insights and experiences, and involved communities from both cities in reflecting on what they could do to encourage the larger community to lead more sustainable lifestyles.
Kenneth Lee, a third-generation Chinese Singaporean whose artwork, Laundry, was part of the exhibition, says he learnt a lot from this cross-cultural collaboration. He says it offered a sense of shared perspective, space and place, and was a good opportunity to explore cultural diversity. “It deepened my interest in observing and documenting cultural sustainability and the preservation and evolution of identity within our organic cities,” says Lee. In the process, he also enjoyed discovering his roots and heritage, while getting to meet and interact with Chinese artists.
Karen Mitchell, Singaporean creator of paper installation Life Residency, says that the theme of sustainable urban living is definitely one that both the Singaporean and Chinese artists could relate to. The cross-cultural exchange also revealed to her differences in the way Singaporean and Chinese artists experience their art, and gave her a better understanding of how to use art for good.
“Our Chinese colleagues brought to the table their mastery of technique over their individual art forms, from years spent practising their craft,” she explains. “What we had to offer was exposure to community art, which we learnt is uncommon in China, and the added value there is in working with different communities; in so doing, we create awareness of and appreciation for art and societal issues.”
SIF'S SINGAPORE INTERNATIONALE
Another way the SIF champions the arts is through its Singapore Internationale programme, which supports the presentation of Singaporeʼs creative works overseas, with a focus on cross-cultural collaboration to strengthen intercultural understanding and appreciation.
To date, the SIF has partnered more than 270 artists, arts groups, cultural leaders, and multi-sectorial partners to bring their work to international platforms via more than 800 projects. One of this yearʼs projects is Circle of Life – Fukuoka, a collaboration between Singaporean visual artist Justin Lee and Studio Kura International in Fukuoka, which ran from May 1 to 17. Lee, who was there to meet international artists under Studio Kuraʼs artist-in-residence programme, enjoyed encouraging the local children and elderly to mingle and express themselves through workshops.
Another example was Small Steps, a dance performance by members of the Down Syndrome Association (Singapore) (DSA) that took place at the BOLD Festival in Australia from March 8 to 12. Alvin Ho, assistant director (services) at DSA, said the dancers wanted to create awareness of the special needs communityʼs talents and were proud to represent it and Singapore on the international stage. One performance, for elderly Australians at a retirement home in Canberra, resulted in many friendships being made. “Our dancers loved the fact that our audience was so culturally and linguistically diverse, and judging by our audienceʼs smiles and laughter, they loved our dancers too.”
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