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Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia

National Gallery Singapore, 2nd December 2022 to 20th August 2023

Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, Level 3, City Hall Wing

General Admission (Free for Singaporeans and PRs)


Image taken from Men's Folio article : Charmaine Toh, Senior Curator Of the National Gallery Singapore, On the Past and Present of Photography written by Charmaine Tan.

‘Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia’ is an exhibition that highlights the impact photography has made on Southeast Asia, featuring works of photographers working in the region from the 19th century to present day. The exhibition is sectioned into five thematic spaces, beginning with the ‘Colonial Archives’ which showcases photography’s early arrival in Southeast Asia through the lenses of European photographers. As you step into the space, you will be greeted with a statement of the section through a printed wall text. Dark blue and grey walls surround the space, with dim lighting illuminating the photographs. These photographs were published in books as a form of education or printed as postcards to promote tourism and investments. They were framed and hung on the walls of the exhibition, with an exception to a few books being displayed in a glass box. Touchscreen devices containing pictures from the books were installed beside these displays, giving audiences an interactive experience through swiping the digital versions of each page.

The next two sections of the exhibition were presented in a similar fashion, apart from smaller framed photographs being presented on a shelf, and the spaces set with different coloured walls in shades of grey and purple. Curatorial statements were placed at the beginning of each section matching the corresponding-coloured walls as well, giving the audiences clarity between sections. Photographs begin to carry more colour and vary in size in the 4th section, with larger pictures gradually filling up the space. This section is set with light grey walls, building visual contrast complimenting the coloured photographs.

The last section of this exhibition titled ‘Contemporary Imaginations’ responds to the digital age of present-day media and the explosion of photography in contemporary society. As you enter the room, you are greeted with a unique change in the presentation of photographs. Images were printed on materials such as porcelain plates, displayed in books, presented on light boxes or digitalized on a screen, accompanied with sound. Larger scale artworks such as installations and wall sized prints, forming a sense of continuity from the end of the 4th section.

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Wonderland (2007-2008), Chua Chye Teck

God Bless Diana (2004), Heman Chong

The exhibition ends with Heman Chong’s God Bless Diana (2004), where 550 out of 6000 photos captured on a 35-milimetre film camera during Chong’s travels were showcased and printed into postcards for his work. These printed postcards can be bought by audiences for S$1 each. Contrasting the first section of Living Pictures, Chong’s work completes the experience of the exhibition by bringing forth a different perspective of photography through postcards, and how its purpose has evolved over time. Audiences who purchase these postcards can bring home a piece of art with them, enriching the overall experience of this exhibition.

The journey through this exhibition space felt cohesive, making it mentally accessible to the both the general public such audiences who are visiting art exhibitions for the first time, and art enthusiasts. Photographs stood out from the space due to the mindful placement of the works, sizing, lighting and wall colours, making the space visually calming and the gallery walk one that comes with ease.

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