Discourse around Singapore’s place in the world usually begins with its immediate Southeast Asian neighbours and ends with its former colonisers plus wider Asian region. Refreshingly then, for the 2024 edition of Singapore Art Week (SAW), two major exhibitions thoughtfully examine conversations and parallels between Singapore, Southeast Asia and the Global South.
At National Gallery Singapore (NGS), Tropical delves into the modern history of Southeast Asia and Latin America and challenges their shared colonial narratives. These regions, as posited by Syed Hussein Alatas's 1977 text The Myth of the Lazy Native, contain more than bananas and parrots. Seven years in the making, this show brings together some 200 works by over 70 artists. It tugs on a number of threads, including uses of textile and embroidery and the similarities between Indonesia’s anti-colonial Modernism to Diego Rivera’s statements on class. Along with Tropical, NGS is currently running the second of its series on early regional video art, See Me See You (until 4 February).
African ties to Southeast Asia are explored in Translations: Afro-Asian Poetics (18-30 January). Held across several venues at the Gillman Barracks gallery hub, it is organised by Zoé Whitley and assistant curator Clara Che Wei Peh, at the invitation of local curatorial non-profit The Institutum. The show will see more than 100 artists from the two continents consider interconnected narratives about identity, migration and diaspora.
The two exhibitions provide a strong conceptual framework for a particularly lively 12th edition of SAW, centred around the flagship fair Art SG (18-21 January). This year, SAW has a record number of events and exhibitions—more than 150. A smaller boutique regional fair, S.E.A. Focus (20-28 January), launched in 2019, also returns this year, and will provide a curated showcase of regional artists, like FX Harsono and Yee I-Lann, brought by 22 galleries.
S.E.A. Focus is again being held at the shipping facility turned art venue Tanjong Pagar Distripark, which is also the temporary venue of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), while its main downtown heritage venue is being reconstructed. SAM this year welcomes back the local multimedia star Ho Tze Nyuan with the mid-career survey Time & the Tiger (until 2 March 2024). Nearby, Gajah Gallery presents a show about colonial-era body language in Southeast Asia (until 24 February).
Singapore has made headlines for attracting wealthy émigrés from Hong Kong and mainland China, and this year sees a number of dealers, curators, collectors and media from greater China visiting Singapore for the first time, or the first time in many years, to investigate the buzz. The Beijing collector Li Fan (also known as Lee Fan) on 16 January opened a new private institution in Singapore, the Whale Museum, currently exhibiting art by Huang Yuxing and Ouyang Chun.
A handful of independent and artist-run spaces have also been founded in recent years, among them Comma Space, which continues a series of symposiums on art and sustainability on 19 and 21 January. Angie Seah’s solo project A Room of One’s Own continues until 8 February at Starch.
Gillman Barracks brings back its popular Art After Dark late-open evenings on 20 and 27 January. There, Richard Koh Fine Art shows a political solo show by the Myanmar dissident artist Htien Lin, titled Reincarnation (until 27 January), which reflects upon his recent time as a political prisoner after opposing his country’s military junta.
The gallery Yeo Workshop is showing new paintings by Filippo Sciascia (until 11 February). Its founder Audrey Yeo is currently the president of the Singapore Art Gallery Association, which has been strengthening the co-ordination of SAW and learning from other art weeks around Asia. “There have been great engagements around town,” Yeo says, with collaborations with entities like Valentino, Soho House, the Yenn and Alan Lo Foundation and the Mandala Club. “Our geographical location and stability of politics means Singapore will always be a place that attracts an interesting mix of quality international expatriates who are keen and earnest about cultural exchange and interactions, and I personally have been impressed by the growing collector scene here.”