“Everybody has stories to tell:” Creating art space for children at National Gallery Singapore Yayoi Kusama. The obliteration room. 2002 to present. Installation view
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hildren need space to grow and art plays a pivotal role in creating not just any space, but a creative and conducive space. Knowing that is one thing, making such space available for children is a whole new world.

This year, for the first time, the National Gallery of Singapore is making it possible. In its first Gallery Children’s Biennale, Singapore is leading the way in Asia to create space for children through art. The exhibition targets young visitors and it is curated in such a way that aim to captivate the imagination of the young: making art fun, interactive and accessible. The objectives are simple: to nurture children’s deeper understanding and appreciation of art since the young age and creatively engage children with art in a new innovative and educational way.

Ms. Chong Siak Ching, CEO, National Gallery Singapore said “The Gallery believes that art education plays an important role in developing innovative and expansive thinking in our young. For the Gallery Children’s Biennale, we engaged artists to create works accessible for young visitors to showcase how art can be fun, inspirational and educational. This will be a good platform for families to come together and explore fresh perspectives while engaging with art.”

Under the theme “Dreams and Stories”, Gallery Children’s Biennale is under the guiding philosophy that “every child is creative. We believe everyone dreams and has stories to tell - and we want to active their senses, and enable them to express their thinking, ideas emotions,” said Suenne Megan Tan, the Director of Audience Development and Engagement at the National Gallery Singapore.

“A key aim of the Gallery Children’s Biennale is to incubate, pilot and research new approaches of art engagement, within a museum context, where artists and visitors function as partners and contributors to-ward a shared learning experience. While this advances the development of art education and the learning of art by an individual, it also transforms museums into active learning environments in which people can feel, think, look and respond, moving comfortably from what they know to new areas of knowledge”, said Mrs. Tan.

To achieve this, the Gallery brought together 9 exceptional artists from Singapore and broader Southeast Asia to showcase their masterpieces. Some are existing work, some are newly commissioned. Ranging from art installations to performance art, the different forms of art present an inspiring sensory experience for young visitors to engage with art in a new and educational way.

Of all the installations, 5 are created by Singapore artists, 2 by Southeast Asian artists, and 2 by Asian art-ists. Four artists, namely, Singapore’s Cultural Medallion awardee, Chng Seok Tin, Vincent Leow, Ian Woo and Tran Trong Vu are part of the national collection, and whose works are also on display in the DBS Singapore Gallery and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. The likes of team Lab and Mark Justiniani are artists of international repute that create unique participatory and immersive works. While world-renowned, Yayoi Kusama amplifies the Gallery’s mission of bringing high-level artworks that has the capacity to embrace the public and offer art that welcomes our children. Similarly, Robert Zhao and Lynn Lu have also created works to express their beliefs and concerns about the world we live in.

The special thing about these artists is that they are creating works that are more engaging for children, allowing children to touch, stick, walk, browse, organise and even perform an artwork in order to bring young audiences closer to the usually distant, if not venerated, art pieces. Through this process, it is hoped that visitors will be inspired to revisit works of art in the Gallery and contemplate the ever-changing ways in which art constitutes a larger story of who we are. Each art installation is created with accompanying activities and ideas for discussion that aim to spark the imagination of young minds, and generate creative thinking for a new generation of Singaporeans.

But all of these cannot be achieved over night.

Gallery Art Biennale is a small step toward a larger goal of instilling the love of art amongst Singaporean. It is an auspicious start for a long term process. There will be more activities throughout the year at the National Gallery to nurture the love for art for children. The Gallery believes that early exposure to art is beneficial to the holistic well-being of a child as it can improve a child’s literacy, critical thinking and creative skills, among other benefits. All year long, at the Keppel Centre for Art Education offers Family Weekends (a series of workshops, interactive tours and storytelling sessions the 2nd weekend of every month) to create a shared learning experience for children and their family. In conjunction with Gallery Children’s Biennale, a series of public programmes, film screenings, special tours for families, and artist-led workshops for children have been lined up. Visitors can also look forward to an outdoor festival in August.

Although the primary objective of the Biennale targets young visitors, the entire installation speaks to everyone in the family. Because “everybody has stories to tell”, the aim of Gallery Art Biennale is ambitious. It is hoped that through such interactive and engaging process using different kinds of art, the audience to the Biennale will go through a transformative experience, visitors will be emerged knowing more about themselves and the world around them.

“This first edition of Gallery Children’s Biennale welcomes the inner child in every one of us, regardless of age, to embark on this creative journey to explore the world through the eyes of nine artists from Singapore and beyond. We hope that both the young – and the young at heart – will be inspired by the installations and programmes,” added Ms Suenne Megan Tan

Gallery Children’s Biennale opens to public 20 May to 8 October 2017. The Gallery Children’s Biennale is a ticket exhibition. General admission rules apply. Free entry for Singaporeans & PRs. For more details, visit www.childrensbiennale.com. The Gallery Children’s Biennale will be held once every two years.

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Rattana Lao

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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