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  • 1. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   adm330 contemporary southeast asian art WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT LIM WEI YE BRYAN 071487C17 • YEAR 2 VISUAL COMMUNICATION
  • 2. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   APAD — Tradition, Innovation & Continuity is an exhibition by the Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya1 (APAD) held in collaboration with the Singapore Art Museum. The exhibition brought together past and present members of this artistic group to explore the diversity in their artistic disciplines and approaches “that straddle the old and new”. One of the art pieces that stood out among the rest for me is Rosman Mohd Shalid’s Speed — The Driver and The Companion (2008). To me, the piece embodies the spirit of the exhibition and contemporary art by synthesizing tradition and modern techniques to speak about a social concern. By breaking of the modern art boundaries of art qua art, Speed is truly contemporary as “art of and for its time”2. Rosman’s Speed is a towering charcoal drawing of almost three-meters with two collaged elements. There are two human figures in this piece, drawn naturalistically with no background elements. Both figures are depicted wearing clothes worn commonly by Singaporeans today. The standing figure has a collaged Formula 1 (F1) helmet as a face. It is, however, discernibly a female with the proportions, dressing and long hair. This figure is portrayed pushing a young, physically disabled boy seated and strapped onto a wheelchair. The boy has a cap on, with a small, embroided badge of the Singapore flag collaged onto it. The expression on the boy’s face seems uneasy or expresses a certain discomfort. This sense of uneasiness can also be seen in his hands that appear to be clutched and are held close his thighs. The boy’s legs, with the right leg extended beyond the support of the wheelchair, seems rather awkward in their placement, which could provide the reason for the wheelchair. The wheelchair that the boy is seated on is drawn just to fit the boy almost perfectly, with very little room for additional movement.                                                          1 Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya means the Association of Artists of Various Resources 2 Nadarajan, Gunalan. “Not Modern: Theses on Contemporary Art”. Contemporary Art in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore
  • 3. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   2008 was a milestone year for Singapore with the world’s first ever F1 night race held in the heart of the island state. The “historic night race” was reported to “wow (the) world”3 and created “valuable buzz”3 for Singapore. During the months leading up to the event, F1 imagery flooded all popular local media, either promoting and or riding on the bandwagon of the buzz as marketing strategy. However, it was rather apparent that the F1 fever did not quite infect the common Singaporeans as initially thought. The reality of the situation can be summarised by the words of Straits Times news editor, Carl Skadian, “Frankly, it can seem to some as if Singapore is throwing a giant party. Only thing is, someone forgot to invite the Singaporeans.”4 Not only are Singaporeans not excited, they questioned the motive behind the desire to have this event in our land scarce island. Many expressed deep concerns over the possible repercussions. Others debate over the Singapore Government’s sudden change of heart towards the Grand Prix after thirty-five years since the demise of the Kallang Rally in 1973 due to safety and road closure inconvenience issues. Throngs of Straits Times articles3,4,5,6 were published as inter-mediatory, to help win “local converts”7 to the F1. From the title of the work to the various F1 motifs found in Speed, Rosman is unambiguous about his subject matter. The work joins in the dialogue with the other opinions regarding the F1 race in Singapore. A multitude of questions would arise as one study the drawing. They are also the clues that can aid us in the understanding Rosman’s viewpoint of the F1. When viewing the artwork, one would be arrested by the sheer size of the drawing. The almost life-size drawing draws your attention to it, desiring to bring you up-close to the                                                          3 Lim, Leonard. “Historic night race wows world,” The Straits Times. September 29, 2008. Page A1 4 Skadian, Carl. “Pride in F1 race missing,” The Straits Times. September 25, 2008. Page A2  5 Wang, Meng Weng. “Night race wins new converts,” The Straits Times. September 27, 2008. Page C35 6 Lim, Leonard. “Well done, Singapore,” The Straits Times. September 29, 2008 7 Tan, Daniel. “Thanks a million,” The Straits Times Forum. September 30, 2008. Page A22
  • 4. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   issue that he is engaging. The choice of monochromatic colours suggests the bleak tone of his viewpoint. Harshly juxtaposed with the monochrome drawing are the bright red images of the F1 helmet and the Singapore flag collaged onto the subjects. This brings to the foreground his subject matter. These brightly coloured elements set against the black-and-white drawing also seem to suggest that the glamour of the race and the image that Singapore is portraying is of utmost importance — all other matters will take a backseat. These two elements also function as a labelling device. Rosman makes us question about the juxtaposed relationships he has created in this work. This technique is reminiscent of Berlin Dadaist John Heartfield, whose harsh and forthright collages made people question the Weimar Republic and the totalitarian leadership of Adolf Hitler. Interestingly, the F1 helmet has been placed over the face of the woman. Race car drivers and the grand prix are typically associated with masculinity. This makes us wonder why this has helmet been placed over a woman’s body. It also rouses the question of the identity of the woman. The concealment of the face brings about this sense of mystery, transforming what could have been as simple as portrait of a woman into something laden with connotations. Without a face, the figure has been dehumanised. One could further argue that, without the face, the woman is now seen as cold and machine-like. This instils in the viewer a degree of distrust and doubt in the figure. This contradicts the image of a woman of her dressing, proportions and relationship with the boy that would typically call to mind as a maternal caregiver. However, the helmet removes that loving dimension from the woman here, making us question her possible agenda. The Singapore flag, poignantly placed on the boy’s cap, has a clearer purpose. It reminds us of the Singapore flag badges that national representatives don on their attire when they represent the country internationally. It seems to suggest that the boy is a representative
  • 5. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   of Singapore, or even possibly symbolic of Singapore. This begs the question: why is a physically disabled boy a representative or representation of Singapore? Personally, the identity of these two figures seems to be symbolic in nature. The woman could be the personification of the Singapore government running the country as a “nanny state” with the “persistence in attempting to penetrate many aspects of (Singaporean) social life”8. The boy could be seen as Singaporeans at a common citizenry level; the physical disabilities could imply the pre-existing problems and disabilities that Singaporeans are facing at this point. From this viewpoint, a further insight of Rosman’s viewpoint through Speed can be suggested through the interaction between the woman, the boy and the wheelchair as placed together in his drawing. By undertaking on the F1 event, the “nanny” of the state has also symbolically now assumed the role as the F1 driver. For the Government, the decision for the event is backed by immense benefits, such as the publicity3, the tourist dollar9 and “the potential to bolster a Singaporean identity”9. However, the sacrificing of one’s identity for that of an F1 racer to reap such benefits portrays a rather superficial, pragmatic and materialistic nature of its administration. The woman grips the handles of the wheelchair, poised to achieve her aims. We are also reminded that the woman in the role of a nanny is also connotative of a certain sense of assurance, assuring the boy that the F1 decision is beneficial for all. However, the monochromatic colours and the blank background signal something more ominous and unknown. It is echoed in the uneasy expression and clutched hands of the boy. This puts the spotlight on whether Singapore is ready to take on something like the F1 race. Through the anxiety expressed by the boy, Rosman probably feels that Singapore may not be ready afterall. The rigidity and concise fit of the wheelchair and the strap restraining the boy seem to                                                          8 Mauzy, Diane K., and Milne, R. S. Singapore Politics Under The People’s Action Party. London: Routledge. 2002 9 Chiang, Grace. “Orchard Road packed,” The Straits Times. September 28, 2008. Page A2
  • 6. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   suggest the reality that Singaporeans do not have much freedom to decide or to fight back. Despite not having a face, it is still discernable that the woman is looking out at the viewer. The condescending outward gaze draws us into the image and seems to ask us if we are questioning the decision she has made. Rosman, through Speed, exemplifies the spirit of APAD through his successful marriage of the traditional charcoal drawing of a portrait genre and modern technique of photo collage. By providing an essential continuation of a dialogue for the increasingly independent thinking Singaporeans in voicing their opinions, Speed also exemplifies the spirit of contemporary art as “art of and for its time”. This dialogue exists not only in the Singapore F1 race but also in critique of the past, present and future decisions that the Singapore Government has and will make. (1511 words)
  • 7. ADM330 CONTEMPORARY SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART QUESTION 1   Rosman Mohd Shalid Speed — The Driver And The Companion 2008, Charcoal and collage on paper, 290 x 150 cm