What started ten years ago as drawing sessions for a group of illustrators in Singapore has grown into the inaugural Illustration Arts Fest (IAF), marking a milestone for Singapore’s illustration scene.
The event is overseen by festival director Michael Ng (better known as Mindflyer), and takes place over two weekends that bring together local illustrators and comics creators for workshops, talks, and a marketplace. According to Ng, it’s the “ultimate climax” for a loose network of illustrators that he co-founded with Lee Wai Leng (Fleecircus), and Andrew Tan (Drewscape), the Organisation of Illustrators Council (OIC).
“Who are the illustrators? Nobody knew a few years back,” says Ng. “Clients and friends are finally realizing we have interesting illustrators at home, and that you don’t have to go to Japan or America or England to see something different.”
The element of introspection seems to be a common thread amongst Singaporean photographers here. Specific examples fail to come off my head now, but a lot of the work I have seen from emerging photographers in the past year always circle around their personal memories or subjects. A chair at home, a family portrait… it seems like most Singaporean photographers when allowed to pursue their own body of work prefer “self-expression” as compared to something like documenting the society around them.
How often is this element found in Singapore photography, and could such an element in our visual language say something about the country?
I think it may reflect the kind of environment the photographers are in. When trying to take photographs in the public, they get unfriendly stares, hands-covered faces or stern-looking security guards questioning their right to take photographs. Why go through so much hassle to take photos? Why not just turn the lens at yourself?
A society of “mind-your-own-business” further discourages photographers from being pesky and getting themselves out of their comfort zones. So they turn to what is easily available and comment on themselves.
It may also be due to the need to express themselves because of how small one feels in Singapore. Unable to express themselves freely in the presence of larger voices like the state, documenting personal artifacts and lives becomes a way of contesting the domination and assuring their existence as individuals.
These also lead to photography that is often conceptual and abstract. So what they cannot say or document, they hide behind photography that allows them to say something but not say it, all at the same time.
Formula for the language of Singapore Photography:
Introspection + Abstract = A form of self-censorship