Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale

John Paul "JP" Tanchanco

Posted at Jan 07 2017 02:00 PM

Check out Filipino Artists and their fellow Asian contemporaries as they illuminate the world at the chic art festival in Singapore that’s happening till February 2017.

I had some time to chat with some of the festival people to find out how the launch was and what visitors and tourists can expect when they visit. 

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 1
Harumi Yukutake's Paracosmos propels the viewer into a parallel world – a space of otherness that is recognisable but unfamiliar.

Singapore Biennale 2016

The Singapore Biennale is a contemporary art festival that brings together unique artists and art expressions across Southeast Asia, East Asia and South Asia. 

According to the organizers, the 2016 show, “An Atlas of Mirrors,” aims to explore shared histories and realities within and beyond the regions to provide multiple dimensions of seeing ourselves and our world.

An Introduction to Singapore Art Biennale 

Curator Joyce Toh explained to me that the show’s nine sub-themes make it very interesting for visitors and tourists to connect and navigate through diverse art installations and works from various event artists such as: 

- An Everywhere of Mirrorings that features geometry and geography, mirrors and maps, space and place; 

- An Endlessness of Beginnings presenting myths, cyclical time, ahistorical realities; 

- A Presence of Pasts uncovering cultural & colonial legacies, beliefs, collective memory; 

- A Culture of Nature that shows nature, cultured, simulacra and the real, stewardship of the Earth, 

- A Share of Borders that depicts nation and geopolitics, cultural boundaries, shared histories; 

- A Breath of Wills that expresses agency & the limits of representation, sites and voices of resistance, self and other; 

- A Flow of Identities that exhibits national and cultural identities, cultural and regional imprints, memory; 

- A Somewhere of Elsewheres that discloses migratory experiences, displacement, home and belonging, 

- A Past of Absences that exposes marginalised and fictive histories, psychogeography, ‘what ifs’.

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 2
Qiu Zhi Jie's synergy of history, philosophy, mythology and science shows diverse expressions from monsters to Utopia.

“These themes arose from the artworks that were selected for the Biennale. The nine sub-themes offer a conceptual and thematic framework to help visitors approach the artworks and make connections between the pieces so they are experienced in conversation with one another, rather than just being viewed as individual or isolated pieces,” said Toh.

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 3
Melissa Tan's “If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them”

Toh added that aside from their roster of internationally renowned high-profile artists, there are also young artists from South East Asia and the Philippines that have garnered popular responses from visitors.

“There are many internationally renowned and high-profile senior artists in this Biennale, such as Qiu Zhijie from China, Subodh Gupta from India, and Do Ho Suh from Korea. At the same time, many visitors have taken delight in encountering works by younger artists such as Melissa Tan (Singapore), Pannaphan Yodmanee (Thailand) and Ryan Villamael (Philippines), who may not be so well-known outside their home countries yet but have created powerful and thoughtful works that leave an indelible impression,” she said.

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 4
Ryan Villamael's Locus Amoenus is Latin for a Pleasant Place that expresses Paradise thru numerous maps and nature shapes

Ryan Villamael's Locus Amoenus is Latin for a Pleasant Place that expresses Paradise thru numerous maps and nature shapes

Toh also shared how the crowd responded to the Pinoy artists in the show.

“Many of our audiences feel that the works by the Pinoy artists deal with topics that are engaging and relevant to wider issues in society today, and that these stories are expressed in very heartfelt and visually striking ways.”

Dex Fernandez, Gregory Halili, Martha Atienza, Ryan Villamael and Patricia Estaquio are among the Pinoy artists gracing the exhibition with their creative expressions.

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 5
Patricia Estaquio's "The Hunter Enters the Woods" is rendered with hyper-realist precision that reflects the man-made and natural world through the metaphor of the Orchidace

“All the works have been very well-received, as they reach out to audiences differently. We were delighted that Martha Atienza’s multi-media installation, 'Endless Hours at Sea' was shortlisted for the Benesse Art Prize, together with four other works," said Toh. 

I was proud to see that a number of Pinoy works were very authentic as they explored and expressed the lives and stories of Philippine communities. 

One of my faves is Gregory Halili’s miniature eye portraits on mother of pearl. I had feelings of soulful connections just by looking into the 

authentic eye expressions on mother of pearl. Its description states that the art delves into the lives of Filipinos in coastal communities scattered across the Philippines. Toh said many visitors found it a very moving and intimate work. 

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 6
Gregory Halili's Karagatan or Breadth of Oceans

Another excellent talent is Dex Fernandez' work. He created a mural that spoke of the Pinoy communities in Tacloban as well as in Singapore. The murals were a kaleidoscope of expressions of the psyche. I loved one of the murals that had a guitar. It filled me with music and material goodness. The other murals expressed useless religious objects, degradations and souvenirs that were rendered useless in times of crisis, such as the one in Tacloban. 

Toh explained that over the six weeks Dex was painting on site at the museum, several visitors approached the Filipino artist to learn more about the work.

Pinoy artists impress in Singapore Biennale 7
A colorful expression of goods from one of the murals called I Wander, I Wonder by Dex Fernandez and Do Ho Suh’s Gate which is a meditation on home and belonging

Replying to my questions, Dex Fernandez explained the source of his inspiration for his murals.

“In this biennale, my work is very thematic which is something new to my craft. This time, I worked with different groups of people and I get inspired by their personal stories. I’ve learned a lot about the story of their belongings and I will share these stories with the foreign audiences, which was the initial aim of my project. Through this, I have adopted the role of an illustrator and a speaker to our fellow Pinoys. I don’t really know what they would expect from me. On my part, I just wanted to present the colorful life of being a Filipino,” he said. 

Other Pinoy artists Gregory Halili and Ryan Villamael were very grateful and enthusiastic for being part of the show. 

“I believe Filipino artists are very passionate with their art. We work very hard and we take our art seriously. We don't take shortcuts. One can see the passion through our art. Though we almost always work alone, at the end of the day, there is camaraderie among the Filipino artists. We support each other, even if it's just a nod to acknowledge a great job done. In Singapore, after installing our art, we (Patricia, Martha, Ryan and Dex and I) went around as a group to see most of works at the Biennale. We had a wonderful time just admiring other artists' works,” said Halili. 

Toh and the folks at Singapore Benniele are encouraging tourists and Pinoys to visit their exhibit that runs till the 26th of February, 2017. So, those planning a trip for the Chinese New Year, SG is the place to be! 

"Hopefully, this ASEAN integration will encourage a more sustained and concerted effort by institutions and art organisations in the various Southeast Asian countries to present and exhibit works from across the region – in dialogue with one another – beyond that of their respective countries alone. This will enable the works of Southeast Asian artists to be seen and understood in a wider context, beyond a narrow national framework alone, and this will enable Southeast Asian artists to have a more visible presence in the world art scene,” Toh said. 

Singapore Benniale was opened by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. 

Titled An Atlas of Mirrors, this Biennale features works by 63 artists and art collectives from 19 countries and territories across Southeast Asia, East and South Asia.

Artworks of various media are curated around nine sub-themes and presented at seven locations, with the Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q as anchor museums. Visit . 


John Paul C. Tanchanco is a travel, food, party, film and music aficionado. He is also an economist, businessman, MYX/Awit award-winning media producer and Kala guitarist.

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