(Re)Imagining The Image is a group exhibition which invites eight prominent contemporary artists from Southeast Asia to confront and engage with images spanning from our region’s colonial era to our present age.
The artists in the show draw from a diverse plethora of photographs: from present-day personal pictures taken by the artists—natural landscapes in their hometowns, candid photos taken on vacation—to archival photographs that illumine lost histories in their countries. These original images are then copied, contrasted, concealed, distorted or subverted into vivid, independent art objects in their own right—ranging from screen prints on fabric; watery, ink on paper works; hyperrealist, oil on canvas paintings; or three-dimensional, mixed media pieces.
Employing photography as a tool to critique their contexts or complexify their art-making process, the artists in the exhibit hark back the notion raised by art critic Douglas Crimp in 1977, which freed images and pictures from “the tyranny of the represented.” Rather than being tied to fixed, one-on-one relationships with the original images they converse with, the works on display challenge audiences to expand their imagination and allow the altered images and artworks before them to open up new, dynamic possibilities of meaning.
Nonetheless, it would be difficult to discuss photography in Southeast Asia without addressing the complicated histories attached to the medium, which had long been a tool of colonialism. What appear as innocent, idyllic 19th century portraits and landscapes taken by British photographers in Indonesia, for instance, were in fact highly staged, deceptive photographs that stripped away context and complexity to sell neatly represented images that served agendas of control. Thus, in the show, artists such as Singapore-born Suzann Victor and Bali-based Mangu Putra aim to reclaim such images to reckon with difficult, painful pasts and uncover the invisible truths concealed in these historical pictures—revealing the tensions between those who are seen, who are unseen, and those who see.
The participating artists thus open up conversations on wide-ranging, yet interconnected issues ranging from exoticism, colonialism, feminism, to unresolved personal and collective histories that have long plagued the region. Yet, though their contexts and concerns are diverse, the artists are bonded by a belief in how pictures and their histories are never static—rather, they hold the capacity to perpetually fuel our curiosity, broaden our ways of seeing the world and others, and help us understand more deeply how our past and present are continuously created, shaped and coloured.
Whereas photographs in the region had occasionally been used to silence and suppress, the exhibit is thus a powerful testament to how photographs can in fact be used to do the reverse: spark agency, and liberate.
Venue: Gajah Gallery, 39 Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Distripark #03-04, Singapore 089065
Mon – Fri: 11 am – 7 pm
Sat, Sun and PH: 12 – 6 pm
When: 11 Sep - 30 Oct 2020,
By: Gajah Gallery