Exhibition Extravaganza: An Interview with Benedict Yu, artist behind Are You Home?
Home is where the heart is. But for multidisciplinary artist Benedict Yu, the idea of home itself is a matter of contention, being a Third-Culture Kid born in Singapore but raised in Taichung, Taiwan. This mingling of identities, upbringing and cultures then creates a strange paradox and contradiction in Yu, as he struggles with feeling homesick for his childhood home in Taiwan while feeling an odd sense of connection to his birthplace of Singapore.
“I was born in Singapore but moved Taiwan when I was just one month old, where I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up,” Yu explains. “Over there, I became used to speaking Chinese but not English, and ended up being much closer to Taiwanese culture rather than my roots in Southeast Asian culture instead. Yet you can’t help but feel you belong to both places.”
Yu’s first solo exhibition in Singapore then, the deeply personal Are You Coming Home? 回家吧, 孩子 at SPRMRKT at Cluny Court, tackles precisely such issues and dilemmas of what exactly home is, and the person he’s come to be. “Growing up, there was always this sense that I was different somehow, even if I seemed to fit in and I spoke both Mandarin and Taiwanese fluently,” Yu explains. “Since I was a kid, I always knew my mum was Singaporean along with some extended relatives, but I was only told I was Singaporean in middle school. That was when my sense of identity was shaken up and I began to question myself a lot.”
Most significant however, is when Yu came of age and found himself in a most peculiar situation. Having citizenship in both countries, he is also obliged to serve both conscript armies. While he has now completed his two years of National Service in Singapore, Yu has now returned to Taiwan to complete his Taiwanese military service there. Says Yu: “It’s so strange to serve a country’s army when know next to nothing about it, almost as if you’re fighting for a foreign land.”
Further creating a sense of homesickness for him was how Yu was disallowed from visiting his family in Taiwan during the last two years, due to a complicated set of rules that would have forced him into beginning his military service in Taiwan upon returning. Caught between two worlds, it’s no wonder Yu feels alienated and took it upon himself to create the art in Are You Home? over the years in National Service.
“All of this led me to feeling this estrangement from both countries and a lot of confusion over my identity,” he adds. “Where is my home and where do I belong? These were the questions going through my head as I worked on my art, which then segued into bigger issues of the historical struggles that are happening or have happened in each place.”
Through this series, Yu adopts a range of media and techniques, such as oil paint, markers and digital painting, as he explores his own and other Third Culture Kids’ experiences of feeling uprooted or displaced, attempting to construct and conceptualise a safe home for himself in each piece as he figures out his feelings towards his two homes and himself. Says Yu: “Singapore and Taiwan have such close bilateral relations, and are actually very similar despite having had such divergent histories. As small nations, they’re both vulnerable, and there’s always this fear that each country will be crushed by a larger power, something that both are aware of and so vow to always remain strong. As much as I feel for both countries, I still haven’t made up my mind where I’ll eventually settle down and choose citizenship for.”
As iffy as identity can be, it’s an issue far too many of us take for granted, knowing that we have a fixed home to return to at the end of the day and a country we can call our own. So many Singaporeans fly to Taiwan for a quick holiday and come home with no incident, yet remain unaware of the many stories of those caught in the in-between who do not enjoy such freedoms, facing internal struggles aplenty when faced with the reality that their identities are in flux. Embracing vulnerability as he traverses homesickness and uncertainty, Yu’s works then culminate in a moving showcase of his emotional journey as he attempts to find his way home.
Are You Home? runs from 20th July to 20th October 2019 at SPRMRKT at Cluny Court. For more information about SPRMRKT, visit their Facebook here