How art is empowering Singapore children to better understand the new normal

PHOTO: Pexels

The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in all our lives. Sadly, the kids weren’t spared from its brutality either. From being confined inside homes, to adjusting to online schools, to feeling isolated; the pandemic has deeply affected young minds.

But in these tough times, many children found solace in arts, as it gave them the freedom to channel their inner turmoil through creativity.

theAsianparent recently caught up with Suenne Megan Tan, Director of Audience Development and Engagement at National Gallery Singapore, to understand how parents can use art to empower children and help them adapt to the new normal.

She also spoke about National Gallery Singapore’s upcoming "phygital" edition of its popular Children’s Biennale that starts this November. 

Art has given children a platform to express themselves better, especially during the pandemic 

PHOTO: Children’s Biennale

Amid these challenging times when kids have been pushed to the extreme and are trying to adjust to the new normal, art has become a productive outlet. 

It has provided them a platform to creatively express themselves and also make sense of their experiences and the world around them.

“Its ability to spark curiosity and imagination becomes all the more important in a time where kids have been deprived of physical play and home-based learning brought its own challenges to parents working in the same environment as their school-going children,” highlighted Ms Tan.

The beauty of art is that it transcends physical boundaries and also brings people closer.

She further explains, “Now more than ever, art enables children and adults to navigate the ever-changing world in a safe environment that still encourages them to be creative. It allows their imagination to run wild and instils in them a sense of confidence that they are not alone in their struggles.”

For instance, we know that doodling or any form of art and craft can be quite therapeutic for children as they get a chance to create art with their own hands.

Keeping this in mind, one of the works at Children’s Biennale this year is titled Head/Home. It has been created by the husband and wife duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, and it encourages children to build a model of their home using a cardboard box and household objects.

Ms Tan highlights, “This simple activity fosters a sense of belonging and place. It also encourages creative expression as children are free to model their home through their eyes and from their hands.”

Theme of Children’s Biennale 2021

Unlike the last few years, the 2021 edition has gone global with a hybrid “phygital” format. It offers both physical and digital art experiences and will allow participation from people no matter whether they are based in Singapore or overseas. 

Through the Children’s Biennale edition this year, the National Gallery Singapore and the artists hope to convey the importance of connection and personal development for all ages during the pandemic.

ALSO READ: Back to the drawing board: The rise of Singapore comic artists

The invited artists were guided by the theme Why Art Matters in the creation of their artworks.

All the nine artworks commissioned for the Children’s Biennale also explore one of four sub-themes: Home, Environment, Diversity and Time.

Ms Tan further explains, “These timely topics bring to the fore current issues that are relevant to the present, as well as future generations while igniting curiosity, character-building and critical thinking in a playful and imaginative manner.”

What to look forward to at the 2021 Children’s Biennale

The decision to adopt a “phygital” format was due to Covid-19 and the need for safe distancing measures and also capacity restrictions. 

“We are preparing nine physical installations on-site in time for the November opening. Visitors can expect more immersive experiences and large-scale physical representations of the works available on the microsite,” Ms Tan tells theAsianparent. 

Calling for Rain by Khvay Samnang, located at the Auditorium Anteroom, is one of the key highlights of the exhibition.

The installation will feature actual props and head masks of the characters shown in the film inspired by Reamker, which is the Cambodian version of the epic poem of Ramayana. 

“While the format may have changed, but the objective of the Biennale remains the same. It will continue to encourage public engagement through the development of participatory, immersive, and interactive art installations,” says Ms Tan. 

How parents can use arts to help kids adjust to the new normal

Ms Tan elaborates that the pandemic has drastically disrupted all our lives and routines, including our kids’, but art can help to ease our little ones into this new normal world. 

Here’s how:

1. Physical boundaries shouldn’t clip the creativity of kids

At a time when we are living in a period of prolonged social distancing, kids shouldn’t feel isolated and be limited by their physical boundaries.

The current circumstances shouldn’t restrict their creative juices from freely flowing and their ability to stay connected with their peers from different backgrounds and cultures.

Here, digital artworks can help to bridge the physical gap and inspire connections through shared experiences with the help of technology.

A Day’s Book by Joyce Ho is a perfect example to elaborate the above point.

As Ms Tan explains, “Transcending physical boundaries, this co-creation of art invites participates to write and draw a story, which can then be accessed and continued by someone who enters the digital space the next day.”

2. Equip kids with confidence

Amid the ever-changing times and restrictions, art can remind children that they are not powerless. Ms Tan feels that not only should we try to encourage kids to view art, but also help them create it.  

“By introducing them to engaging art experiences that allow for co-creation, we are able to support them in their growth and foster their appreciation in the arts further. Exposing them to collaborative artworks can also help them learn the necessary skills and values to navigate these times.” shared Ms Tan.

This will equip the kids with confidence and the new normal world will look less daunting to them.

ALSO READ: These 2 Singapore-based artists are grateful to be living passion-filled lives, despite the pandemic

3. Bond with kids

Parents, guardians and caretakers do play an important role in helping their kids in the transition phase.

Keeping this in mind, Gallery Children’s Biennale is providing parents ample bonding opportunities, where they can take part and co-create artworks with their children. 

4. Instils a sense of empathy

Art provides kids with a safe and comfortable gateway to learn about the world and experiences beyond their own. It gives an opportunity to them to be aware of other cultures and also connect with others on a much deeper level. 

For instance, the art installation-Head/Home by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan and A Day’s Book by Joyce Ho enables children to learn more about the experiences of other children around the world. 

5. Encourage kids to think freely

Parents should provide their children with enough opportunities to be creative. Ms Tan says one way to do so is by promoting play.

“Research shows play can improve children’s various abilities, from their planning and organisational skills to their emotional and stress management. It also helps to stimulate their minds and boost their creative thinking from a young age,” she added.

The many benefits of creative play are not limited to kids alone, it can also help parents to bond better with their kids. 

The pandemic has given rise to mental health issues in kids. Can art help them?

PHOTO: Children’s Biennale

In the current circumstances, kids are chock-a-block with the burden of stress and sadly, there is no outlet.

As they stay home more, they are also not able to play and speak to their friends easily. 

Art thus helps to ease the pressure, even if it is just for a moment.

Ms Tan feels that art helps people to express themselves better when words do not come easy. It thus reduces stress and diverts their mental focus on their creative expression instead. 

“Art also functions as a bridge to connect them to others their age. It allows them to discover that they aren’t alone in the experiences they are facing. It exposes them to other’s stories and struggles, helping them to feel less alone. This is a healthy way of taking care of their mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as their friends’” noted Ms Tan.

5 activities to try with your kids at Children’s Biennale 

There are a series of exciting programmes that have been lined up at the Children’s Biennale. From experiencing captivating storytelling sessions, interactive movement exercises, parent-child sound exploration workshops and more!

Here are some activities that you should explore with your kids at the Children’s Biennale.

The microsite offers many craft activities which parents and kids can download and do it together. 

  • Weave a basket using recycled magazine pages similar to the artist’s work
  • Make a paper animal come alive through this origami-esque activity 
  • Roll two pictures together to create a seamless image like Dinh Q Lê’s Voices from the Centers
  • Unlock you and your child’s colouring skills with this sheet inspired by Sandra Lee’s ‘Conversations with an Octopus.’
  • You can also craft a special pop-up honeycomb card reminiscent of the bees’ homes at Speak Cryptic X ADDADDADD’s BEHOME.

Ms Tan concludes by sharing her advice to parents: “Let us open ourselves to the power of art in building character, fostering critical thinking, and instilling a sense of empathy and confidence. We need to navigate this challenging period. We are not alone in facing these uncertain times, and we will never be alone in a world.”

This article was first published in theAsianparent.