Mr Low Sze Wee, Director, Curatorial, Collections & Education, National Gallery Singapore, shared with Rattana Lao (Modern Diplomacy) on the origin, expectation and reception of the Artist and Empire: (en) countering colonial legacy exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore.
Can you tell us about the rationale of Artist and Empire? Why do you bring all of these pieces to Singapore? What’s the meaning behind hosting such exhibition?
The complex and contested nature of the British Empire was reflected in the considerable public attention drawn by Tate Britain when it held the Artist and Empire exhibition in London in 2015. This was the first time in the United Kingdom that an exhibition had been mounted to examine the topic of Empire through the lens of art. Whilst some applauded Tate for tackling a sensitive topic, others criticised the show for not sufficiently highlighting the exploitative excesses of colonialism.
In deciding to hold the Artist and Empire exhibition in Singapore in 2016, the National Gallery Singapore was drawn to the show’s potential resonance with its audiences, given Singapore’s history as a former British colony. Our curatorial team adopted a different approach for Singapore. Using Tate’s main exhibition themes as a point of departure, we examined the topic from the perspective of the former colonies, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.
The first aspect of our show examines key types of artworks created at the height of the Empire. Produced mainly by British artists or for British patrons, artworks like history paintings, and formal portraits helped justify imperialism and colonial expansion. Other artworks such as botanical or ethnographic paintings, were part of colonial endeavours to produce and exploit knowledge about the colonised worlds. Unlike the Tate Britain show, the Singapore exhibition juxtaposed such historical works with those by contemporary artists. Usually hailing from the former colonies, these contemporary artists often adopt a critical stance towards the legacies of colonialism in their own societies. Hence, their perspectives serve as useful entry points in understanding works from the past.
The second aspect of our show focuses on the rise of modern art movements in the waning years of the Empire as the colonies moved towards self-determination and independence. We took a comparative case study approach to look at how local artists in the colonies responded to the demands for national identity in the context of their own colonial experiences. Many of these works were created by local artists for local audiences, as reflected through their choice of subjects and forms of expressions.
The Artist and Empire exhibition in Singapore draws upon close to 200 works from international and regional collections as well as Singapore institutions. About 15% of the artworks came from the Tate’s 2015 exhibition.
What do you expect to get from this exhibition?
The locus of our exhibition has shifted from Britain to the Asia-Pacific region, with an emphasis on works from the former colonies of India, Australia, Brunei, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore. Through this, we hope the exhibition will generate greater discussion on the formation of national identities and their complex relationships with the colonial experience.
At critical junctures of the exhibition, contemporary artworks have also been included to intervene and critically examine the postcolonial condition. We hope that these juxtapositions help generate insights and dialogue in how we should relate to the past.
How has the public respond in Singapore been? Positive, negative or neutral toward “colonialism” as a theme? How do you think your exhibition help to change or challenge Singapore mindset?
The response to the exhibition has been encouraging. One of our goals was to generate deeper conversations and understanding of Southeast Asian art within a larger global context such as the colonial experience.
It is not possible to point to any one thing, place or person as representing the British Empire. As an entity that spanned so many centuries and regions, and affected the lives of millions of people, its rise and decline remains hotly debated. The Empire is, therefore, a complex idea which continues to change, even till today. What and how artists create are inevitably coloured by their subjective world views and agendas. In turn, the circulation of such visual images, whether through exhibitions or publications, affects how the Empire is imagined by the public. Through this exhibition, we hope visitors will look more deeply into art and realise the cultural specificities of art, and the power of art to change and shape perceptions. In this way, we gain a deeper understanding of our past and present.
What roles do art – and the National Gallery of Singapore – play in promoting education in Singapore?
Art helps to hone visual literacy, critical thinking and analysis. Hence, art education is a critical means with which to cultivate greater interest in the arts amongst our diverse audiences, especially the young.
The Gallery has a dedicated facility, the Keppel Centre for Art Education, which offers a wide array of experiential activities and programmes for our young visitors. We also have regular and special programming during the weekends and school holidays. All these are part of our efforts to nurture an interest in art among our young visitors.
We also want to foster a deeper understanding of Singapore and Southeast Asian art among our adult audiences. Hence, we also organise special programmes such as curator tours and art talks to accompany our exhibitions.
What do you think needed to be done in order to stimulate the art scene in Singapore? How do you see the trend for art?
There is a growing recognition that arts and culture play an integral role in building social bonds and identities. The fact that two significant national monuments have been transformed to establish Singapore’s largest public museum devoted to the visual arts is testament to this. However, in order for there to be a sustainable art scene in Singapore, the state cannot be the only driver of development. We need a more diverse arts eco-system that can cater to a wide range of audiences. This will need the support and active participation of many stakeholders from individuals to corporations and foundations.
New European Bauhaus: Commission launches design phase
Commission launched the design phase of the New European Bauhaus initiative, announced by President von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union address. The New European Bauhaus is an environmental, economic and cultural project, aiming to combine design, sustainability, accessibility, affordability and investment in order to help deliver the European Green Deal. The core values of the New European Bauhaus are thus sustainability, aesthetics and inclusiveness. The goal of the design phase is to use a co-creation process to shape the concept by exploring ideas, identifying the most urgent needs and challenges, and to connect interested parties. As one element of the design phase, this spring, the Commission will launch, the first edition of the New European Bauhaus prize.
This design phase will lead to the opening of calls for proposals in autumn this year to bring to life New European Bauhaus ideas in at least five places in EU Member States, through the use of EU funds at national and regional level.
European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The New European Bauhaus is a project of hope to explore how we live better together after the pandemic. It is about matching sustainability with style, to bring the European Green Deal closer to people’s minds and homes. We need all creative minds: designers, artists, scientists, architects and citizens, to make the New European Bauhaus a success.”
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said: “With the New European Bauhaus our ambition is to develop an innovative framework to support, facilitate and accelerate the green transformation by combining sustainability and aesthetics. By being a bridge between the world of art and culture on one side and the world of science and technology on the other, we will make sure to involve society as a whole: our artists, our students, our architects, our engineers, our academia, our innovators. It will kick-off a systemic change.”
Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira commented: “The New European Bauhaus is about how we live together, our values, our common spaces of work and leisure, our collective and private experiences. This is a project for all regions and territories in Europe. In promoting affordable solutions, it should contribute to social cohesion and to solving housing problems. If we want to bring real change around us – for a more beautiful, sustainable life together, we need to think about how the New European Bauhaus can bridge the generation of new ideas with implementation in physical places. We are therefore exploring across the Commission how our tools could be mobilised to launch a first set of concrete New European Bauhaus actions.”
The New European Bauhaus is a creative initiative, breaking down boundaries between science and technology, art, culture and social inclusion, to allow design to find solutions for everyday problems.
On the dedicated website launched today, artists, designers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, architects, students, and all interested people can share examples of inspiring achievements for the New European Bauhaus, their ideas about how it should be shaped and how it should evolve, as well as their concerns and challenges.
This is the beginning of an innovative co-design process. Organisations that want to put more effort into their engagement in this process can become ‘Partners of the New European Bauhaus,’ by responding to the call on the website.
In the coming months, the Commission will award prizes to existing examples that represent the integration of the key values of the initiative, and that may inspire the discussions about, and the transformation of, the places where we live.
In the next phase of the initiative – the ‘delivery’ phase, five pilot projects will be set up to co-design new sustainable and inclusive solutions with style. The objective of the third phase – ‘dissemination’, is to spread the ideas and concepts defining the New European Bauhaus via new projects, networking and sharing of knowledge, in Europe and beyond.
World Economic Forum Announces 2021 Crystal Award Winners
The Opening Night of The Davos Agenda on Sunday 24 January at 19.00 CET (rebroadcast at 19.00 EST and on Monday 25 January at 20.30 CST), will feature several world-class artists and creative change-makers coming together in a show of togetherness.
The 27th Crystal Awards
Co-hosted by Hilde Schwab, Chair of the World Arts Forum, and photographer Platon, the 27th Crystal Award ceremony honours Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye for his leadership in serving communities, cities and the environment, and French-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado for his leadership in addressing inequality and sustainability.
“Both Sir David and Sebastião are important storytellers of our time who offer insights into the possibility for change. They connect us to each other, they give us a language to imagine, and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking,” said Hilde Schwab.Sir David Adjaye
Sir David and his architecture firm operate globally, with a diverse portfolio spanning private houses, offices, monuments and museums. His largest project to date is the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. He uses architecture as a social act to serve communities and achieve an ambitious environmental agenda.
“For me architecture represents opportunities for storytelling, justice and transformation and my ambition has always been toward projects with these qualities. I am deeply humbled to be recognized with this year’s Crystal Award and inspired to continue to pursue my work with social impact as the guiding force,” said Sir David.
Salgado’s iconic black and white photographs span decades and more than 100 countries.His work documents life on Earth, revealing both awe-inspiring and horrifying scenes, provoking debate about the human condition and issues of inequality and sustainability. The photographs impart the dignity and integrity of his subjects, without forcing their heroism or implicitly soliciting pity.
“In the late 1960s, I was employed as an economist at the International Coffee Organization and I began traveling around Africa. One day, I borrowed my wife Lélia’s camera and I began to see the world in a different way. Soon I wanted to share what I saw through the lens of the camera. I am deeply honoured to receive the Crystal Award for my work,” said Salgado.
World Premiere of “See Me: A Global Concert”
Immediately following the 27th Crystal Awards, the World Economic Forum will hold the world premiere of its 23-minute cinematic musical production, “See Me: A Global Concert”, an international collaborative effort. Filmed on location from September through December 2020 despite the challenges of COVID-19, it is led by music director Marin Alsop and includes the participation of Yo-Yo Ma (USA), the Chamber Orchestra of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Afghanistan), the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra (Austria), the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra (USA), the Choir of the State Orchestra of São Paulo (Brazil), the Orchestra della Toscana (Italy), the Drakensberg Boys Choir (South Africa), the China NCPA Orchestra (China), and sand artist Jim Denevan (USA). The film includes an original composition, See Me, by Reena Esmail. In addition to Marin Alsop, the creative team behind the project includes Film Director Bernadette Wegenstein, Creative Director Es Devlin and Director of Photography John Benam. The project has been made possible thanks to generous support from Intesa Sanpaolo.
“This project is intended as a shared expression of trust and connection in these tough times. We are so grateful to the hundreds of artists, musicians and film teams who took a leap of faith and collaborated across borders to make this beautiful film together,” said Nico Daswani, Head of Arts and Culture at the Forum and Executive Producer of the film.
Preceding the 27th Crystal Awards and the world premiere of “See Me: A Global Concert”, the Opening Ceremony will begin with a welcome message from Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, followed by a special address from Guy Parmelin, President of the Swiss Confederation.
The journey of the Aleramici to Sicily
Filming for the documentary film “Le vie Aleramiche and Normanno Sveve”, which tells the story of the Normans and Swabians dynasties is now almost completed. Fabrizio Di Salvo, Its creator and director, chaired an online meeting with the key European partners in this ambitious cultural project.
The Aleramicibrought their culture to Sicily where it was absorbed by the local population. Even today the Gallo-Italic idiom persists in many Sicilian areas.
Accompanied by the late Roberto Maestri, Di Salvo, (Sicilian by origin and Piedmontese by adoption) visited Sicily on various occasions to participate in study seminars organized by the Piazza Armerina UNESCO club (coordinated by Anna Maria Di Rosa Placa in collaboration with the Regions of Sicily, Piedmont and Liguria, with contributions from Italian Universities).
It was in Piazza Armerina – the only city completely rebuilt by the Aleramici – that Di Salvo and Maestri first thought of retracing the ancient emigration of the Lombards from northern to southern Italy. This project subsequently evolved into the creation of a cultural, touristic and gastronomic network of places marked by the presence of Aleramici, Normans and Swabians from the eleventh to the thirteenth century.
The Euro-Mediterranean Federation aims to unite associations, municipalities, universities and members of the Scientific Technical Committee into a single body which will build upon the work accomplished by Di Salvo over years of studies, meetings, debates and travels in the various countries today involved in the project.
Di Salvo chaired the meeting in several languages, reflecting the international dimension of the event and the zone of scientific research which stretches to the farthest borders of Europe.
The aim of the “The Aleramici and Norman-Swabian Ways”visio-conference was to establish a framework for the different stakeholders to collaborate on future cultural, economic and tourist projects. It took place in the presence of the mayors Enzo Daniele ofSezzadio, (birthplace of Aleramo), Guy Fossardof Hauteville La-Guichard(Hauteville in Normandy home of the theAltavilla family) and Nino Cammarata (Piazza Armerina, a city founded by the Aleramici).
The actor Walter Siccardi, who participated in the filming of the documentary “Le Vie Aleramiche”, also took part, as well as Annamaria Gobello, head of FAI in Sezzadio and the English filmmaker David Paul Carr.
Also involved in the project were the mayor of Troina, Fabio Venezia (Troina was the first Norman capital in Sicily following the conquest of the Grand Count Ruggerod’Altavilla, twinned with Hauteville since the 90s and also with Coutances) and Martin Mundorff (Head of the Historical Archive of Goppingen, city of Baden-Wurttemberg, a region once known as Swabia and homeland of the Hohenstaufen dynasty “Swabians”).
In addition to the mayor of Piazza Armerina, Nino Cammarata, there were also fellow citizens Ettore Messina, councilor for tourism – who last summer chose to present the traditional Norman Palio also with a short trailer on Ruggerod’Altavilla – Marco Incalcaterra, president of the Council, Lavinia Garsia, who in the project manages and updates – together with FiladelfioCrivillaro of San Fratello – the facebook page “Aleramici in Sicilia” (m.facebook.com), Agata Caruso, president of the AIParC Territorial Center partner of the project and Salvatore Lo Re, historian and President of Society of Homeland History of Sicily.
Among the objectives of the Euro-Mediterranean Federation, will be the study of the migrations of peoples that occurred in ancient and medieval times. This research will cover not only Europe but also Russia, the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, Anatolia and the Caucasus. Scientific studies will be supported by a high-level academic committee, including the well-known Henri Bresc, Luca Sineo of the University of Palermo, Davide Pettener of the University of Bologna and Joanna Drell of the University of Richmond United State .
These studies will serve to demonstrate that all peoples of the earth are connected to each other and form a single race, the human one.
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