The medium may be different, but the power of both art and literature lies in the stories they contain.
Join us in digging a little deeper for the stories behind selected artworks from Southeast Asia in the National Collection, in this exciting collab with Kolektif! Take part in our giveaways to win books and other prizes, inspired by the art and specially curated by us, and learn more about the artworks here.
You know what they say: a picture paints a thousand words.
Giveaway #3: Chayah
Who really is the owner of a woman’s body? The furore about abortion laws in the United States was certainly not the first time society has tried to exert control over what women can and cannot do. Is the worth of the body measured by how productive it is and what it can give?
This was a question that was hard to ignore, even as we looked upon how these artists translated the female form into something so tangible and visceral.
Terracotta and mirror, 94 x 37 x 116 cm
Collection of National Gallery Singapore
This sculpture of a woman contemplating her visibly scarred and sagging body in the mirror defies the conventional portrayal of the nude woman in Western art. Thinking Nude evokes an image of self reflection, rather than objectification of the female body.
The figure’s body, modelled on Lluch’s own, is weathered from the passage of time and bears a scar from a Caesarean section. Lluch also chose to make the work in clay, which she sees as a “feminine” medium for its ability to invoke a soft sensuality of touch. Lluch co-founded KASIBULAN, a collective of Filipino women artists that aims to highlight women’s issues. Her works often draw on the female body and invite viewers to question the preconceived idea of “womanhood.”
Acrylic and gold leaves on canvas, 221 x 190 cm
Collection of Singapore Art Museum
The torso in Smiling Body is devoid of detail, distilled to a pair of sloping shoulders and broadly curving hips. The breasts here suggest the shape of seeds, referencing the nourishment that a mother provides her child. This minimalist depiction of a torso, which is outlined in gold leaf and fills the canvas, creates a mysterious yet humorous presence.
Smiling Body was made the same year that Pinaree Saniptak had her solo exhibition, eggs, breasts, bodies, I, etcetera, at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. During this time, Pinaree developed a distinct iconography of the female body that countered the beautified, sexualised and objectified representations prevalent in art and the mass media.
Pinaree began focusing more closely on the female form after the birth of her son in 1993, her work increasingly expressing sensuality, physicality and spirituality.
So we picked books that contain a quiet fury at the core: Rebel, Rahaf Mohammed’s life story of her escape from the oppressive regime of Saudi Arabia, fighting desperately for her rights till the very end, even as she gets cornered in an airport in Thailand. Making Kin is a chorus of voices in Singapore, about all the ways femininity is underestimated, how they inhabit and are limited by their bodies, and the heavy burden of expectation that comes with female identity.
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Driven by the desire to bring authentic youth leadership into the museum space, Kolektif is an experimental youth programme for 17 to 25 year-olds that empowers young people to bring their creativity and concerns to the art museum.