A Private Sanctuary


Shen Jiaqi












You’ve been making art for quite a while now. What first got you interested in it and what does your practice mean to you?
I’ve been exposed to art since I was young, because I grew up with my parents who are both in the art industry as well, so I’ve always seen it as a way for me to not just express myself, but to address certain topics that are harder to speak about. So for me, that is usually my practice—discussing topics that are usually harsher or more difficult to deal with.

What are some of the issues that you’re currently discussing or exploring in your works?
The current issue I’m looking at is how in Singapore, we are always very transient. Everybody is either moving somewhere, wanting to move somewhere, or trying to find a space of their own. So in my work, I’m trying to explore the idea of a private sanctuary, which I feel is very rare in Singapore. This includes looking into things like BTO and housing, which is a huge issue that everybody is struggling with. I find this especially relatable because I still live with my parents and we are in the process of moving out as well.

You mentioned that your parents are both artists as well. How have they shaped the way you see or approach art?
My parents are both trained classically, so they are extreme perfectionists. I’m not like that myself, but I do sometimes try to apply that kind of mindset in my own works. I guess the biggest influence they’ve had on me is that they gave me the courage to pursue art. I don’t really have to deal with the hurdle of explaining what I’m doing to them, which I’m always grateful for.

What’s the biggest struggle you’ve faced as an artist in Singapore?
Definitely finances and space, because you need space to make art. You don’t necessarily need a big space, you just need a private space. As an artist, it’s important to meet people who are open to hearing your ideas and who you can bounce your ideas off of, which would be very easy once you have a space to show people your art, and for that, you need to have the money. So I think for many young artists, that is the issue. We can meet people when we are in school, but after that, where do we go from there? The structure is lost. In art, there is no structure.

What’s the most fulfilling or memorable experience you’ve had as an artist over the years?
I once created a series of artwork when I felt very trapped in my corporate job as a teacher. I illustrated this entire feeling into a concept and a series of work, and I met many teachers and people stuck in corporate jobs who felt the same way. Some of them even reached out to me years later saying that my artwork has inspired them to move on to doing what makes them happy. So for me, knowing that I played a small part in changing their lives is my driving force.

Outside of your practice, what’s one habit you’re looking to pick up?
I’m trying to make myself go outdoors more. As artists in a studio, we’re always working indoors, and I’m a very indoor, urban person, so I’m trying to force myself to go into locations that are not so familiar to me for some inspiration.

I love exploring the Kampong Glam area. I find it quite cool because there are the hipster cafés, then there are artists, and then there are also people who have been living there for years making a living, be it at eateries, or KTVs and nightclubs before the whole Covid situation. There are so many layers of people that we can meet there, each doing their own thing, so I like that area a lot.

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