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Gajah Gallery's MONUMENTA: In Lightness opens up discourse on light in Southeast Asia

For its group exhibition MONUMENTA: In Lightness, Gajah Gallery touched on the organic strands of everyday life. It featured paintings, sculptures and installations by fourteen artists from across Southeast Asia. The large-scale works explored how light becomes part of life through vision, nature, lifestyle and community. Considering our urbanised society where light pollution is rife, the exhibition reminded us to reflect on the form and rediscover the roots of illumination.

In this interview, curator Eya Beldia speaks about the formation of the exhibition and her process of selecting the works in response to personal and cultural examinations of light.
Gajah Gallery's MONUMENTA: In Lightness opens up discourse on light in Southeast Asia

by SAND Magazine

May 11, 2019

Interview by Kimberly Kiong

How did the idea behind MONUMENTA: In Lightness come about?

It all started with the largeness and the grandiose of art which isn’t commonly seen in Singapore because the city is small and dense. There’s always a concern for space, discussion and discourse about space globally which I find important to discuss. There is a heightened hyperconnectivity within Asia now and so many new ways of presentations are coming up. Works today are installation-driven as compared to paintings and depictions. Gajah Gallery is perfect to host this discussion because it has the size to present a show of this scale.

What does light mean to you in the context of Southeast Asia? How did that influence your curation process and selection of artists?

Coming from a background in art history, light in itself does not just represent 'illumination' in the tangible sense to me. It is the concept of taking the object away from the dark, both literally and figuratively. I am interested in the philosophical and societal concerns of light and I don’t want the perception of ‘light’ to remain boxed in a particular stereotype. Luminescence takes centre stage of the discussion pertaining to different cultural and political landscapes in Southeast Asia.

Regardless, MONUMENTA: In Lightness is not a presentation of my take on light but rather, it is an open discussion of light and its symbolism to various voices in the region. My role as a curator is to facilitate a conversation around light, not impose my views in the final showcase. It is about how the artists view light and not how I view light. Gajah Gallery has worked with most of the artists before so I was confident in their delivery.
Some questions posed to the artists were ‘where does light come from?’ and ‘how does light affect art and society?’
When curating the exhibition, how did you anticipate having these works in a shared space, providing their own unique versions of the main narrative: the study of illumination and Southeast Asian culture?

Some works were traces of previous works so we had a rough gauge as to how it will all come together in the final showcase. For example, I’ve seen Suzann Victor’s Rising Sun before and it made such an impression on me but I saw it at a different space. Having this work re-contextualised in the setting of Gajah Gallery reveals the multi-faceted complexity of light. It is made of many individual lenses and they’re reflecting everything, three hundred and sixty degrees. By standing at different points and looking at the piece for different periods of time and at different angles, you are able to experience the same work from various perspectives.

It reveals the reality of infinite possibilities, the way in which light can work in so many directions. It made me think about how we are also forms of light to others, and how we may enlighten others in our interpersonal relationships. We have that opportunity of illuminating the lives of others.
For the most part of the setup, I was away. The gallery team knew the strengths and limitations of the gallery really well so they were able to optimise the space to the showcase’s advantage. By categorising the artist’s responses into various themes, the team was able to plan out a seamless walkthrough of transitions between each theme. For example, Semsar Siahaan’s G8 Pizza and the Study of the Falling Man (2003) and Leela Promwong’s In the Bar No. 2 (2018) were placed close together because they touched on the socio-political dynamics of their home countries.

Did you hope to address any issues or concerns with Southeast Asia’s growing landscape of digital luminescence and manipulation of politics online?

Curating according to my own ethos of facilitating an open discussion without inserting my point of views, I have no particular agenda. I only hope to showcase a breadth of differing voices to allow viewers to reflect, empathise and challenge. I think the artists’ voices alone are strong enough. We have artists such as Leela Promwong and Chua Ek Kay who already have a distinct presence in the industry.

MONUMENTA: In Lightness serves as a platform for discourse around light. In this age of excessive and rapid spread of information, it’s imperative we are all open to differing views and learning from one another. As such, I have no desire to present a certain bias but only to present the value in a discourse.
How should viewers approach this form of questioning?

I’ve no ideal viewer in mind nor do I have an ideal means of questioning when encountering these works. To me, an exhibition is a presentation of various views and you don’t have to agree with all of them. Each view, be it from the artist or viewer, is valid. Each experience will be different as we each come from different backgrounds. For me, it’d be largely influenced by art history and I’m sure my experience differs from yours as we both possess different types and amounts of information. Each one of us were naturally attracted to a certain element and discourse so I do not want to impose a certain method of viewing the works. I want to welcome every viewer to participate in the discourse in their own way.

How would you describe the curatorial approach in terms of spatial and personal interaction of each exhibition? In relation to that, how did MONUMENTA: In Lightness serve its purpose spatially?

Each exhibition is unique and as I am based outside the country, it was a different experience being in contact with the team. During the initial stages, I was anxious for a good while but it all came together. I have a great team behind and Jasdeep has a vision. He has been over there for two decades. My concern with MONUMENTA was the presentation of content and not veering away from that focus. It definitely is the largest exhibition I’ve worked on to date.

According to Joseph who oversaw the management of the exhibition here in Singapore, the team had to put greater consideration into the works’ shapes and sizes to fit into Gajah’s existing wall space because wall length was a constraint. They placed Suzann’s Rising Sun in the middle as a centrepiece to encapsulate the theme of this entire exhibition – looking at how light transforms perspectives; we all view the world through a different lens. Around her work would be an installation and pieces by young female artists. They also wanted Rudi Mantofani’s The Earth and The World be seen through the lenses. Works placed around him are by Handiwirman Saputra, Yusra Martunus and Yunizar who are his fellow members in the Jendela art group.

Gajah Gallery is a Singapore-based contemporary art institution dedicated to the representation and promotion of regional artists, with a focus on South East Asian art. With over 20 years of history, the gallery places close attention to natural elements, cultural and socio-political notes – creating a discussion on the overlooked elements of everyday life in the region. The gallery ignites critical discourse in the contemporary art community, engaging in collaborative features with local universities and private institutions.


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