We walked with her – Amanda Heng at the Singapore Art Museum

We walked with her at the showcase of her multi-disciplinary practice at 8Q, an extension of the Singapore Art Museum. I didn’t know what to expect, after I heard from the museum security guard a little bird that the exhibition was going to be “interesting for boys”.

Amanda Heng’s practice began at the cusp of the burgeoning contemporary arts scene in Singapore, in the late 1980s. Soon, this Singapore girl began redefining cultural and socio-political norms in our society. Her installations never fail to raise an eyebrow even to the untrained eye.

Singirl revisits, an exhibition commissioned by the Singapore Arts Museum, showed a series of Heng’s photographs that were supposed to evoke views on what we think is truly representative of the nation’s cultural identity. Clad in a Singapore-girl sarong kebaya, Heng visited and was photographed in ordinary but supposedly significant places in Singapore not overrun by urbanization (such as Kampong Buangkok, the last Kampong in Singapore). It was a reflection on what Singapore was, and how our bastardized cultural identity currently is. There was a cheeky element to this exhibit: it called for any females to expose their buttocks to be photographed, for a future Singirl installation or performance.

Missing struck a chord in me. This was one of Heng’s earliest installations which was done in 1994 to commemorate the deaths of nameless babies of the female gender from infanticide. The installation still haunts me to this day. Baby clothes in white, starched and red string hanging from the ceiling, provided a poignant and striking visual. One feels as though he has stepped into a space with the feeling of being in a horror movie, or a graveyard for babies, or both.

Apart from the above, I had difficulties appreciating the rest of the exhibit highlights (yours truly, my body and lets walk).

Heng can be applauded for her courage, and doggedness in the long years of her practice, which bespeaks of a fierce streak of wanting to be heard on issues in and around Singapore, in her own preferred way.
But she could try keeping some of her pieces more accessible to the common man (ie. people like me).

I did walk with her, or at least tried to, but could not bring it in myself to want to speak to her in any way, and connect.

That said, I do urge Singaporeans to visit the exhibit for themselves. Her installations are honestly what we don’t see every day from a Singapore-born artist.

Amanda Heng’s speak to me, walk with me will be on at the Singapore Arts Museum, 8Q, from 7 October 2011 to 1 January 2012.


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