SAM x Shentonista: Novel Ways Of Dressing—Untitled

Though art is always created with the artist’s purpose and message in mind, it’s a medium that invites and encourages personal interpretation and debate. For Yen Hui, the collections manager and assistant curator at Singapore Art Museum (SAM), the journey of discovering diverse meanings begins from the title itself—for her, it’s akin to the cover of a book, where you take the plunge into a different world presented by the artist. Much of her work at SAM revolves around diving deep into different perspectives too—from liaising with various individuals to deconstructing the essence wrapped within an artwork, Yen Hui’s role at SAM is as layered as her fashionable interpretation of Nguan’s artwork for this feature.

Find out more about Yen Hui below as she shares about the kaleidoscopic lens she’s privy to as part of her day to day work life, and how that has shaped her understanding of art. Like Yen Hui, you can also seek fashion inspiration from the ongoing Time Passes exhibition by SAM and stand a chance to be rewarded with $500. Continue reading on till the end of the article to find out how you can participate in our Novel Ways Of Dressing open call.

Shentonista (S): Share with us more about what you do at SAM!
Yen Hui (YH): My work at SAM can be quite broadly described along two tracks. As collections manager, I oversee matters pertaining to the care and use of objects in SAM’s collection. This includes administrative responsibilities like looking into policies and processes, to more complex operations like coordinating the loan of works to other institutions, both at home and abroad. Much attention is also placed on strategies for contemporary art conservation. As an assistant curator, I work with artists and fellow SAM colleagues to realise projects and exhibitions while conducting research around visual cultures of various regions or areas of interest. All these fields are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

S: What do you think is a common misconception people have about your role?
YH: Maybe the assumption that curators sip champagne while looking at art all day! While the latter is definitely true, the champagne part is definitely false (laughs).

S: Tell us what was it about Nguan’s piece that stood out to you. What does it mean to you, and how did this artwork inspire your outfit choice?
YH: The bus that shouts “Kid’s exams brings back (not-so-fond) memories of school and uniforms, hence the white shirt I wore. I also picked this piece for another reason: while working within the visual arts, my work deals a lot with language and texts, and I find myself obsessing over possibilities of interpretation whenever I encounter a work. A part of that intrigue lies in how artists decide to name their works, because their titles create a point of entry or frame around which you could begin understanding them. I was reminded of an interview Nguan gave, in which he mentioned that he likes to see his photographs as “the middle of a story, where the before’s and after’s are left entirely to the viewer.” So this non-coloured, relatively blank outfit, in the spirit of the “untitled”, tries to reflect that space of possibility for the production of multiple meanings.

Nguan, Untitled, from the series ’Singapore’, 2013, as part of The Learning Gallery. Collection of the Singapore Art Museum.

S: Your wardrobe mostly consists of black tones—what is it about the colour that attracts you?
YH: I like my clothes how I like my coffee—black like my soul (laughs). I’ve just always felt the most at ease in black, even in my youth. I don’t like to spend time thinking about what to wear, so black comes very naturally.

S: Nguan’s photos tend to invoke a sense of nostalgia for days gone by—what’s something you’re nostalgic for?
YH: Simpler times without the pervasiveness of technology—although that seems impossible now with the current state of things.

S: If you could travel back in time into your own past, what’s one thing you’d do differently?
YH: Am I allowed to say I’d do nothing differently? Everything I‘ve done or experienced, be they good or bad, worthwhile or not, have led me to where I am today.

Nguan, Untitled, from the series ’Singapore’, 2013, as part of The Learning Gallery. Collection of the Singapore Art Museum.

S: What would you say is the most interesting aspect of your job?
YH: The most interesting and rewarding aspects are the conversations that take place with artists, other curators and educators, audiences and so many more because I get to see things from different points of view.

S: Which, to you, is the most interesting artwork in SAM’s collection, and why?
YH: I enjoy many works in the collection, but one particular work that my thoughts have kept returning to recently is Life of Imitation (2009) by Ming Wong. In this two-channel video installation, the artist re-stages a pivotal scene from Douglas Sirk’s melodramatic 1959 film titled Imitation of Life where the character Sarah Jane (a girl of mixed heritage who renounces her African ethnicity to pass off as a white person) sees her African mother for the last time. In Ming’s work, three male actors from the three main ethnic groups in Singapore (Chinese, Malay, and Indian) are casted in the two female roles instead, systematically rotating characters as the video unfolds. What intrigues me the most is the destabilising of identities here as the three actors perform ethnicities—and more interestingly, a gender—not prescribed as their own. It brings to mind the writings of Judith Butler who argues that gender is something learned and performed based on cultural norms: “an imitation for which there is no original.”

S: Nguan’s artwork captures a fleeting moment in our daily lives that we might otherwise not ponder much about. What kind of a role do you think artists like Nguan play in terms of documenting our lives and society?
YH: Nguan’s photographs may look immediately dreamy with their sweet, pastel tones, yet they often reflect themes of loneliness and isolation, and capture the ennui of its subjects. The disparity between the tone and intent of the image offers a glimpse into the psyche of our society, encouraging a deeper look beyond surface beauty.

S: How do you think art has impacted your life or your thought process?
YH: Art is an invitation to see the world through someone else’s perspective and encourage empathy through that process, and life is much richer for that.

Be fashionably inspired by the artworks that are part of the ongoing Time Passes exhibition and stand a chance to be rewarded with $500—to participate in our open call for Novel Ways of Dressing, simply follow the steps below:

1/ Visit the Time Passes exhibition either digitally (at the link here) or in-person, from now till 30th November
2/ Find your fashion inspiration from any work on display and dress up
3/ Snap a photo of yourself in your curated outfit next to the artwork that inspired it, and tell us why you were inspired by it. If you’re visiting the exhibition virtually, simply tell us in your post which artwork you’re referencing.
4/ Share it on either Facebook or Instagram (or on Stories!) and remember to tag the Singapore Art Museum (@singaporeartmuseum), Shentonista (@shentonista) and add the hashtag #NovelWaysOfDressing to your post!

This is a content partnership with Shentonista and the Singapore Art Museum. Throughout this month, we’ll continue to share more stories from the individuals that make up Singapore Art Museum how they were inspired from the works on display at SAM’s Learning Gallery, so keep a lookout.

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What others are saying

  • Hello
    I am interested to take part in Shentonista x Novel ways of Dressing .taking inspiration from the works in the art exhibition Time Passing .However I tried to view the exhibits virtually but only a few pieces are available on the screen . Could you put all the exhibits, on line ? Thank you . Irene Chua