Singapore Contemporary Young Artists

Playing With & For The Community

Non-Dominant Discourse – An Interview with Sha Najak


Last week, 4 Singaporean artists collaborated to showcase Non-Dominant Discourse, an exhibition that offers an attempt to unravel discourse in Singapore society through visual presentations of their consciousness, personal backgrounds and creative inquiries. Having ran its course from 24 Septemberto 1 October at Post-Museum, SCYA catches up with Sha Najak, one of the 4 artists in collaboration to ask about her own thoughts of the exhibition.

Tell us a bit about the exhibition.
We started off with four themes – civil, social, cultural and political (my concoctions having gotten a sense of how the artists might response according to their existing practice). Each of us dealt with this overlapping themes and translated visually what we think is an unpopular or dominant discourse such as censorship but with a non-dominant presentation such as painting.

In my work, I explore migration as a human phenomena through a letter written to my grandmother by my grandfather who is born in Himachal Pradesh, India. The metaphors behind the work touches on mobility seen through the communication via the letter and the presence of a passport framed like an object in the household. The passport which is a form of identity for the human being is sort of like a statistical evidence of us in Singapore. It denotes nationality and the passport image is a visual work to tell authorities that we are the bearer of this document. Imagine this, what if one switches photographs and assumes the identity of another person? Would this document which determines our mobility then become less credible? The letter contains mundane questions and remarks from my grandad who asked my grandma why his son (my father) did not reply to his letters. This is his way of showing and wanting a connection with the other across the border.

Rachel Zeng uses mixed media paintings to describe her views on the socio-political situation in Singapore’s society. Through her observations on fellow Singaporeans and her interactions with authorities, she feels that the acceptance of censorship is a result of the state’s actions combined with our ‘law-abiding’ nature.

Ezzam Rahman explores the identities of cultural medallion winners. The winners are of a particular interest to him as the names are not as familiar to him. Yet the winners are cultural stalwarts with years of experience contributing to the cultural vibrancy of Singapore. How do these winner clinch the award is a question for all of us which he is discussing satirically in this installation work. (ezzam used ribbons and chocolate)

Seelan Palay’s keen interest in current affairs and the role visual culture plays in the relation of information in today’s world, led him to collate and cut out images from newspapers and other printed media. Over the years, his categorised collection has provided him with a vast collection of materials to continue developing works using collage. For this show, he used images from mainstream media to relate a non-dominant discourse of the social and political affairs of today’s Singapore.

What was the main purpose of the exhibition?
Seelan Palay had discussions with Post-Museum to put up a show. This came at a time when Post-Museum was facing financial uncertainties. To support the space and help Post-Museum in a small and humble way, Seelan suggested the idea to me and I felt the same way as well. I felt it is important to support independent art spaces who are open and engaging new artists like myself.

What was your intention and what do you hope viewers get out of visiting the exhibition?
My intention for this show is just like any other artists, the work involved efforts and the presentation can be perceived differently. I am fine with that and comfortable with the opinions of others. For me, this work is a tribute to my grandmother who as a woman during her time, lived as a divorced woman supporting 4 children. She had told me stories of my grandfather whom I have never met and of her trials working 2 jobs – carpet factory and cleaner while receiving some social support from the welfare services as well. Her memories of her lost loved one (grandfather) struck me deeply as I had inherited some of her objects which included a letter written to her by my deceased grandfather. I wanted to present the tenderness of her past and also present a subtle feminist position where a single woman of 4 had to survive under the circumstances, similarly to present times, we see single mothers unable to apply for homes if they are not 35 yet which puts pressure on them.

Being a politically sensitive exhibit, did you face any problems with the media or government?
Not at all. Our intention is to present a show with discourses we find are overlooked through our intepretations. In my work, it is multi-prong. I am addressing the non-dominant discourse of sub-indian groups with stories of survival as well as a migrant relative whose presence lived on as a memory. The non-dominant approach for this work touches on the neglect of our migrant histories which a lot of us know of but we’re not bothered to find out more or learn more of. History is subjective and it can be written by anyone. This tension and struggle lives within my work as I question what is the historical context of migrants who have come here and the question of multiple identities – Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and ultimately my place of birth as a Singaporean. We acquired funding from the National Arts Council and we are thankful for their support.

What were the responses to the exhibition like?
We have good responses to the show. The pre-dominant response is that the works does not match the magnamity of the title. That’s partly my fault. I came up with such a title. I didn’t think others would come to watch the show bearing a lot of baggage and expectations but I was glad to have discourse from artists I respect as well as friends who have been supportive and liked the works.

Final words…
Arundhati Roy once said, “Where are these people supposed to go? This is a peaceful movement but if you’re non-violent, nobody listens to you.”

About isk

Impulsive, obsessive-compulsive, and potentially psychic.

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This entry was posted on October 2, 2010 by in Exhibitions, Interviews.

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