Duo chosen for Venice Biennale

SINGAPORE - Singapore will return to the prestigious Venice Biennale exhibition next year, represented by artist Charles Lim and curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, who researches art from Singapore and South-east Asia at the National Gallery Singapore.

The announcement was made by Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong at the official opening of the Singapore Art Museum exhibition, Medium At Large, yesterday night.

Mr Wong, in his speech pledging the Government's commitment to contemporary art, also said it is working towards a long-term lease for a pavilion space at the biennale to secure Singapore's presence at the international art event and provide a longer lead time to plan and commission works.

Singapore has taken part in every edition of the biennale since 2001, but it was absent from last year's show because its participation was under review by the National Arts Council. Mr Wong, however, reaffirmed the ministry's commitment to showing at the biennale in Parliament last year.

The proposed exhibition by Lim will draw from his ongoing body of work, Sea State, which explores issues such as the environment and territorial borders as well as notions of histories and everyday life.

The series, which comprises works in different mediums including photography and video, has been widely exhibited since 2005 to critical acclaim, including a special mention at the 2011 Venice Film Festival for the short film, All The Lines Flow Out (2011).

This film, which journeys through Singapore's drains and canals, is on show at the Singapore Art Museum as part of its other exhibition, Unearthed.

For the biennale, Lim plans to open a new chapter on the Sea State series and show new works.

Mustafa, 29, and Lim and their proposal were selected from a pool of eight submissions received by the commissioning panel for the biennale.


The eight-member panel, formed by the National Arts Council, is co-chaired by the council's chief executive Kathy Lai and National Gallery Singapore director Eugene Tan.


Other members of the panel include NUS Museum head Ahmad Mashadi and Singapore Art Museum director Susie Lingham.

The panel, put together for the members' understanding of the Singapore art scene and knowledge of artists who are ready to show at the major international exhibition, had invited artists and curators to submit proposals for this project.

This process replaced the open call that the council previously held for submissions.

In a press statement, Dr Tan says the duo's proposal was chosen because its artistic concerns and concepts "demonstrate how artists can speak to international audiences... while engaging with issues which are specific and locally determined".

He adds that he is confident the Singapore pavilion at the biennale "will possess the intellectual and artistic conditions for stimulating artistic discourse and interest in contemporary art practice in Singapore".

Lim, 40, tells Life!: "I am happy, not for myself, but that Singapore will be back at the Venice Biennale. It is good that the local art scene has representation overseas."

As the artist representing Singapore in its return to the prestigious event, however, he says he feels "a bit of pressure".

He says: "I don't want to disappoint and I hope it doesn't go down after me."

This article was published on April 25 in The Straits Times.

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