SAM x Shentonista: What’s In A Name — Slice Of Life

Our names tend to be the very core of our identity. It’s the first name that we respond to as children, and the pillar around which we build up our sense of self.

That said, we all have our own complex relationship with our given names. We might love it for what it is and all that it means, or we might choose to go by an alternate moniker or nickname as we grow older. No matter the way in which we identify with our names, it’s something that’s inextricably tied to us and our identity.

So when the Singapore Biennale 2022 was named Natasha, it got us thinking—what exactly is in a name?

To find out, we chatted separately with some of the good folks at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM)—Faris, Gabby, and Ling—about art, identity, fashion, and everything in between.

In the first part of this series, we caught up with Gabby, who we last met here. Colourful, bubbly, and oh so bright, Gabby works in the Education department at SAM, typically working with primary school children. Her passion for art and the community really comes through in our chat, as well as in her personal style (yes, she’s almost always dressed this colourfully!).

That said, it’s no surprise that she chooses to go by Gabby instead of Gabrielle in most circumstances, which better suits her personality, as she tells us. Read on as she shares more about this name she’s adopted, and how the way that she presents herself reflects who she is and what she believes.

Tith Kanitha, Hut Tep Soda Chan, 2011, 2017, as part of Singapore Biennale 2022 — Natasha.

Shentonista (S): Is there a particular meaning or story behind your given name, Gabrielle?

Gabby (G): It’s not really a story per se, but my parents have always reminded me of the meaning behind my name, which is ‘God is my strength’. I don’t really think about the meaning that much, but when times are tough or when I’m struggling, relying on God is something that I do, so that’s when this particular meaning comes to mind.

Growing up, I liked my name, but people could never pronounce it right. In primary one, my teacher even started calling me by my Chinese name instead of ‘Gabrielle’! So over time, I just shortened it to Gabby so that it would be easier for others (laughs).

S: How do you express this identity of yours through the way that you dress?

G: I like to be intentional in the things that I wear and purchase, but unintentional in the day-to-day. So the things that I have in my closet are usually from small businesses, recycled, or thrifted.

I’m not a fan of big brands. I like it when there’s a story behind the things that I wear and own. I think it’s more fun that way, and I like the vibrancy—bright colours, interesting motifs—because it encourages people to imagine and be curious about what fashion even means.

Also, I like talking to people and getting to know people, and this kind of dressing or style encourages conversation, so I enjoy that a lot.

S: If you were to curate an exhibition with your clothes, what would it be called?

G: It would be called I am Me, and the description would be “An exhibition of strangeness, stories, and a whirlwind of everything else”.

I like to collect things from different places, because I like to take back something that has a story behind it, so in this exhibition of my clothes, you will see a bunch of random things that you probably wouldn’t find elsewhere, or lots of mismatched items.

Tith Kanitha, Hut Tep Soda Chan, 2011, 2017, as part of Singapore Biennale 2022 — Natasha.

S: What does the name Natasha mean to you, and how has this name informed the way that you experience the Singapore Biennale 2022?

G: Prior to the Biennale, “Natasha” didn’t really mean very much to me. I have some friends named Natasha, but that’s it. It’s just a name I hear every now and then. But Natasha being the name of the Biennale got me to see it as a person that I can get to know, through the artworks and the way that I experience them again and again. Because I work at SAM, I get to see these pieces all the time, and I learn new things about them each time.

It reminds me of how when you meet a person, you might think that you know a lot about them, but then each time you revisit certain conversations, you’ll see that they’re constantly growing and changing, and I think that’s the way that I perceive Natasha—an ongoing growth of an exhibition, or a person, where you never really know what new things and what new perspectives you’re going to gain after walking through it and looking through the artworks again, or by taking a closer look.

Tith Kanitha, Hut Tep Soda Chan, 2011, 2017, as part of Singapore Biennale 2022 — Natasha.

S: Why did you choose Hut Tep Soda Chan for this collaboration?

G: The moment I saw it, I could make the relation that it was from Cambodia, because I’ve been to Cambodia before, and it was very colourful, much like the work, which matches my personality and style as well (laughs).

Jokes aside, I chose this piece because the meaning of the work really resonated with me. The artist created the work to look like a home from Cambodia where she’s from. The fact that all of the items showcased were sourced from her neighbours, and were things that people willingly gave or lent to her for this work, revealed a very personal story of her community, and how the community spirit there is so alive. Because I’ve been to Cambodia, I know that Cambodians are very welcoming and generous, which is not something that we feel very often in Singapore.

Furthermore, to see a home that looks quite different from ours, and how those who have so little are able to find so much happiness just within what they have really gets you thinking. In Singapore, we have so many things, and yet I think there are a lot of unhappy people. It really makes you question why this is so, when people who have so little can be so happy, so fulfilled, and filled with joy. I feel like this is something that we should confront more often, and not be afraid to contemplate on.

S: How did this piece inspire your outfit choice?

G: The skirt that I’m wearing was thrifted—I don’t know who wore it before this, I don’t know who didn’t want it, but the idea of repurposing and reusing certain things and seeing beauty in things that are small, or even things that other people don’t want, is something that was inspired by the piece.

My earrings as well are made from scraps, which shows how anything can be made into something beautiful, if you take the time to look at it and be creative with it, and I think that’s what the people in Cambodia are able to do. The children there, they don’t have much, but just a water bottle can become a ball, and it’s very endearing to see that kind of childlike innocence.

Tith Kanitha, Hut Tep Soda Chan, 2011, 2017, as part of Singapore Biennale 2022 — Natasha.

S: This piece is an interactive one, where you can step into the room, lie down, and touch anything inside it. How do you think interactive art like this allows people to better understand or engage with art?

G: I think experiencing it through your body, with your own hands, definitely leaves a different impression. You experience a lot more because you use all of your senses, and the smells and textures put you very close to the work as well.

Personally, experiences are things that I always remember. I may not remember what exactly I interacted with, or when or where it happened, but I remember if it was good, and how it made me feel, and that’s why I love interactive art. You never really know how people are going to interact with the work, so you never really know what the boundaries are because you can touch means you can touch, so you start pulling, and I kind of like that—there’s no one right way of interacting with the work.

S: What do you hope people will take away from Hut Tep Soda Chan?

G: I hope that when people look at the work, they’ll really appreciate the things that they have, and look deeper to see where our unhappiness lies, and to grow from it, and to have the courage to work it out so they can find that joy and happiness within themselves, and in our community.

This is a content partnership with Shentonista and the Singapore Art Museum. We’ll be at SAM on 14 & 15 Jan from 1–5PM, hoping to photograph and tell the stories of those who come by—we hope to see you there!

Entry to the Singapore Biennale galleries is free from 6 to 15 Jan. To learn more, go to or follow @sgbiennale (IG) @SingaporeBiennale (FB).

Singapore Biennale 2022
Natasha joined by many other names

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