Chasing Flowers by Yanyun Chen

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I’ve been a fan of visual artist Yanyun Chen’s work since we met several years ago. Then, she introduced me to Delere Press, a boutique print-on-demand publisher of art books, where she is founding editor. Since, I’ve been following her explorations with charcoal on paper: “How far can one go with a line, a stroke, a shape, a light, a shadow, an area, a turn, a form, a subject, an object, a trace, a place, a space, an empty whiteness where the paper takes its stance and refuses to leave, refuses to stay?” she asks her viewers.

Her latest exhibition, Chasing Flowers, which opens tonight at NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House, is a series of drawings investigating light and atmosphere through floral still-life. Her images were created in tribute to memento mori paintings and the vanitas still-life tradition, however, her flowers are drawn without colour and not from photographs, but while bearing witness to their withering. “Still-life drawings that are no longer still, but in the midst of dying,” she says.

Her images are both haunting and inviting. Tonight’s opening will also feature a dialogue with the artist. Go check it out!

(Credits: From top to bottom: Flowers I (2014), Nitram Charcoal on Fabriano Roma paper; Dorian Gray (2015), from a site specific installation at The Mill; Flowers III (2014), Nitram Charcoal on Fabriano Roma paper. All images via Yanyun Chen Drawings.)

National Gallery Singapore

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So, my parents are visiting and I’m showing them around this “fine” city again. (They last visited in 2013.) Yesterday, we went to the National Gallery of Singapore. The gallery is housed in the restored former British colonial-era Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, and is home to the largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art in the region. The SG$536 million reconstruction project is a truly spectacular architectural marvel and is, in and of itself, worth a walk through. My parents were duly impressed.

We walked through two exhibitions—Siapa Nama Kamu: Art in Singapore Since the 19th Century and Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century—which collectively showcase about 800 pieces drawn from the museum’s collection of 8,000 works. In Siapa Nama Kamu, they were most enchanted by works by the city state’s Nanyang artists—Chinese migrants who arrived in Singapore and adapted Western styles of painting, such as the use of oil, to portray local subjects. I still find, on my third visit, Between Declarations and Dreams, which presents an eclectic selection of artists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and showcases a variety of techniques, from traditional Chinese brush painting to abstract expressionist collages, to be the stronger of the two exhibitions, despite its obvious art historical flaws.

My parents enjoyed their morning at the museum. My father chatted with the gallery security (who I found rather interruptive and obsequious), and my mother took lots of photographs which she has already posted on Facebook. While I appreciated seeing art that I would likely never see in the United States, I was underwhelmed by the “user experience.” I noticed, as I was visiting with tourists who have less knowledge of art and art history in Southeast Asia than I do, that the museum’s wall text does not provide much context or scaffolding to the novice. The National Gallery wants to the “Louvre or the Met of Southeast Asia,” yet because only a tenth of the National Gallery’s collection is on its walls and in its galleries, the 689,000-square-foot space feels so, so empty. On this visit, I noticed how little of the space was used to display art! Much of what is one view is in closed-off, glass-doored galleries, while the long corridors and numerous open spaces, perfect for painting or installation, remain bare and unused. The National Gallery seems to lack the warmth and bustle—there was no one other than us in many of the galleries—and intensity of the Louvre or the Met.

If you go: General Admission is free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, and $20 for other Singapore residents and tourists. The National Gallery of Singapore is open from 10AM to 7PM from Sunday to Thursday and on public holidays, and from 10AM to 10PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and the eves of public holidays. Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.

My Battambang with Allison Jane Smith

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Allison Jane Smith, a writer and communications consultant. She was an editor at WhyDev, a thought leader in the international development community, and her writing has been featured in The Guardian, ONE, TakePart World, and Matador Network, among others. Like me, she has strong opinions about the Oxford comma. Follow her on Twitter at @asmithb.

And now, over to Allison…

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Battambang is a provincial capital in northwestern Cambodia with more laid-back charm than Cambodia’s flashier cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Settle in for a relaxed visit with great food, incredible local art, and delightful surprises in the Cambodian countryside. I enjoyed my first visit to Battambang so much it turned into living there for a year, and I know many others who have similarly found their stays in Battambang lasted much longer than originally intended!

Must eats?

Chinese Noodle (Street 2) is a perennial favorite for its hand-pulled noodles and delicious dumplings. Its popularity means it can be slow at busy times, but the food is worth the wait.

Jaan Bai (corner of Street 2 and Street 1.5) offers sophisticated small plates inspired by the best of southeast Asian cuisine, from pad Thai to eggplant and shiitake dumplings. A particular highlight is the crab served with Kampot pepper, a Cambodian speciality, and the selection of cocktails and fresh juices mean you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect beverage to complement your meal.

Soline of Choco l’Art (Street 117) serves Battambang’s most decadent desserts. Her chocolate mousse, cheesecake and pastries will satisfy any sweet tooth, and the art hanging on the walls, much of it created by Choco l’Art co-owner and local artist Ke Prak, will please anyone interested in Cambodian art.

For coffee, there’s no better place to go than Kinyei (Street 1.5), whose baristas have won multiple barista championships in Cambodia. Order a street latte for a Cambodian take on a classic latte, or try an iced Cambodian coffee for a truly Cambodian experience. If it’s not too busy, strike up a conversation with the staff; while shy at first, they like the opportunity to practice their English.

Must dos?

Battambang is home of Phare Ponleu Selpak (National Highway 5), a circus troupe that travels internationally. Take the opportunity to see the circus in Battambang, in an intimate atmosphere unlike any other. Phare’s shows feature local artists, musicians and acrobats for a unique artistic experience people of all ages will enjoy.

Don’t miss the bamboo train, a seven-kilometre trip through the countryside on a wooden frame lined with slats of bamboo. When I go with friends, we time our trip for sunset and ask our conductor to stop at the bridge about halfway through the ride, for beautiful views of the sun setting over rice paddies.

Twelve kilometers southwest of the city on National Highway 57 is Phnom Sampov, which has a whole lot to explore – bring comfortable shoes! There’s a complex of temples, a deep cave, and the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampov, now a memorial for the people clubbed to death by the Khmer Rouge. Visit at dusk, when millions of bats pour out of the north side of the cliff, an impressive show that turns the sky black and lasts for a good half hour.

Soksabike offers half- and full-day cycling tours of the countryside, with stops along the way at family-run businesses to learn how they make rice paper, rice wine, and bamboo sticky rice. Stock up on the dried bananas offered on the tour, as they are sold in Thailand rather than at local markets. Book tours at Kinyei (Street 1.5).

Must shops?

Battambang is too small to have much shopping, but the few shops it has are unlike any others you’ll come across in Cambodia.

Bric-a-Brac (119 Street 2) is a one-of-a-kind boutique, serving as a workshop, showroom and gift shop for design textiles, antiques, and souvenirs. Ask shop co-owner Morrison for your turn on the handmade loom, to see what it’s like to weave on a loom that has created tassels and braids for royalty and heads of state.

The Lost Stick (76 Street 2.5) describes itself as an “emporium of strange items and underground comics” and is full of old photographs, novelty toys, and other kitsch. Always worth a browse.

Must art?

Battambang has a long and proud tradition of artistic excellence in Cambodia, and even today most of the country’s best artists come from Battambang. There’s no better place to learn about Cambodian art and meet Cambodian artists.

Across from The Lost Stick is Lotus Bar and Gallery (53 Street 2.5) in a beautifully renovated shophouse. On street-level is a bar, while upstairs is a gallery which specializes in showing the best of local arts. Lotus also hosts film screenings, live music and poetry events, so it’s worth asking at the bar what’s planned for while you’re visiting.

Sammaki (87 Street 2.5) is an artist-run community space offering workshops, exhibitions and other arts-related events.

Must go?

Except for the bamboo train, Phnom Sampov and the circus, everything is located in the city center and is easily walkable. Take a tuk tuk to get to everything farther away.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Allison Jane Smith; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias

 

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE, Scroll.in, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

At Singapore Tyler Print Institute

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A few weeks go, I taught a “Part 2” of a two-week etching and book arts workshop at Singapore Tyler Print Institute, one of my favorite arts spaces in Singapore. The Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) was established in 2002 under the guidance of the influential American master printer, Kenneth E. Tyler. STPI collaborates with outstanding emerging and recognized artists from around the world to push the technical and aesthetic frontiers of printmaking and paper making.

In Part 1, Senior Printer and Senior Education Officer Tamae Iwasaki introduced students to the fundamentals of etching, a method of making prints from a metal plate, usually copper, into which the design has been incised by acid. In Part 2, I guided participants in the production of one-of-a-kind art object, a collaboration between all—the print artist, the book artist (me)—that resulted in a book that exactly represented the content within.

It was a rather experimental collaboration, but I think it was quite a success; the final products were just gorgeous. I hope we have the opportunity to work together again soon!