Solo exhibition - VA-nishiogi Gallery
Tokyo, Japan, May1995
Performance and installation
"Baba" was a derogatory term for the Straits born Chinese, used by the more recent arrival of other Chinese immigrants. They called them "baba" because the Straits-born Chinese have mostly lost the ability to speak their ancestral Chinese language fluently. Today we use the more politically, correct term, "peranakan", to describe this unique marriage of Malay and Chinese cultures amongst the Straits-born Chinese.
"Dada" was a short-lived (1916-22) but dynamic art movement, which responded to the industrial age and was born out of despair from the First World War. "Dada" was often frowned upon for questioning established values, morals and aesthetic that they had lost faith in and found them meaningless after experiencing the catastrophic destruction of the Great War. However, their iconoclasm and seemingly irrational antics should not be simply dismissed as negative nihilism. Theirs were calculated efforts for liberation, renewal and the rediscovery of creativity. The use of chance -and encouragement of spontaneity spurred a broader imagination and expanded consciousness. It led to many new movements and gave us hope for other possibilities.
The "babas" or peranakan is a less self-conscious evolution of cross-fertilization of cultures arising out of expediency. The Straits-born Chinese found them in a foreign land and surrounded by a charming people with customs that is more conducive to the climate and terrain. It was a natural process of adopting the local new ways and incorporating their old ways from their old country. With recent developments in history, nation building and restructuring of society in education, employment and entertainment strains the identity of the individuals in society. Not everyone can conform to strict regulated expectations of the "ruling" culture, which defines social norms. There is c proliferation of difference in tastes, values and attitudes despite -a stick /reward and punishment inculcation to enforce identity within a restrictive social hierarchy.
Over the last decade, many new forms of art is evolving in Singapore. Artists are adopting new strategies, experimenting with different mediums and discovering frontiers and processes. No doubt some of these were precedent Ed by artists in the west, but they are not entirely alien to Asian or Singaporean roots. In many rituals and customs of Southeast Asia, we find what we might call installation and performance in the contemporary sense. For example, the Chinese elaborate rituals to commemorate the dead during "cheng meng" and the seventh month "hungry ghosts" festivals often have features of "installation" anti "performance" if we look at them from a modern perspective. Furthermore many of these rituals have undergone various adjustments and modifications to suit modernization.
New art in Singapore and Asia at large respond to the modernization and urbanization that is encountered everywhere in the World today. It is inevitable that artists are looking at their roles differently as they evolve different individual ties and consciousness in new social structures and environments. Traditional aesthetic must be reevaluated and discarded if found to be wanting in the new consciousness of contemporary situations In doing so, it is not to forget and erase our past but to face and embrace the future.
"Neo-Baba" looks at art and artists in Singapore that show a possibility for individualism and self willed consciousness which overcomes normalization of mainstream culture to bring out unexpected discoveries in creativity, liberation and enhancing consciousness. No doubt, such unconventional art infringes and confronts the mainstream culture and inevitably invites criticism and even censure. Not unlike the "babas", the "Neo-Baba" faces threats of discrimination and marginalization. Recognition and acceptance becomes an uphill task and marginality becomes a site for resistance.
- Lee Wen 1995