Artists' champion

Artists' champion
Gallerist Helina Chan exhibits artists whose works are original and are "more difficult than decorative".

Singapore gallerist Helina Chan, who is Shanghai-born and Hong Kong-bred, began championing home-grown artists with a sartorial faux pas, but for a good reason.

The former high-end fashion merchandiser wore a medical face mask when she visited artists' studios here in 2012.

Ms Chan, who represents famous artists such as Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming and French-Chinese Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian, says: "People might have thought I was weird or that I went in with a mask on because I found their studios smelly or dirty."

The reason, however, was neither.

She was battling lupus and a severely suppressed immunity; doctors had prescribed six months of rest and no work.

But she refused to close her gallery, iPreciation, and unsettle the lives of her employees.

She was also indignant after hearing news that last January's Art Stage Singapore fair would dedicate a pavilion to Indonesian artists instead of home- grown talent. "I got a bit angry and I wanted to do something for Singapore. How come Singapore artists are so invisible?", she says of her reaction then. The gallery did not take part in the fair until this year.

Pushing past her physical distress and social unease - her illness and medication had left her swollen with red blotches on her face - she knocked on the doors of more than 10 acclaimed Singapore artists, including Tay Bak Chiang and Lee Wen, to offer to stage a major group show for them at the gallery.

However, she saw no reason to carefully explain why she wore a mask on the visits; she had no need for sympathy.

As a child who lived through the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and later, as a fashion merchandiser mediating between international designers and manufacturers in developing countries, her gruelling life had left her hardnosed.

But she has a soft side.

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