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Art What!: 7th Singapore International Photography Festival – Departing and Arriving

Screenshot 2020-11-15 at 8.34.46 PM

The biennial Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) is back for its 7th edition this November, with two months of exciting international and local exhibitions, curated tours and masterclass seminars lined up for people of all ages and skill sets. From 5th November 2020 to 30th January 2021, festival-goers are invited to explore exhibitions across various venues, take part in guided photography walks and tours, join in online discussions and springboard their career in photography through portfolio reviews.

Themed ‘Departing and Arriving’, SIPF 2020 aims to highlight the festival’s reflective outlook on the human condition through the medium of art. Set amidst a global pandemic, this year’s theme takes on an elevated meaning as it emphasises on the eventual arrival of understanding identity and belonging through a journey of departure. By splitting between physical exhibition spaces and virtual discussion sessions, the festival’s unique programme allows participants to explore modern human movements and perceptions against current societal constraints.

Calvin Chow’s The Blindness of the Sea

To kick off the festival, the main exhibitions will take place at the newly conserved 37 Emerald Hill and DECK, with key exhibits being showcased at the Esplanade Tunnel and at 6 Downtown Line MRT Stations. 31 open call Showcase portfolios, chosen among hundreds of international and local submissions, will also be exhibited at the above locations. Additionally, SIPF will be collaborating with ArtScience Museum for the 3rd time on an exhibition titled Margins: drawing pictures of home. The exhibition presents the works of 5 contemporary Singaporean photographers who reflect on timely topics important to the nation. Through the lens of the artists, the photos capture intimate stories that explore their hopes and dreams for Singapore while defining familiar places that make the city-state home. To add on, guided tours and photography walks will also be conducted as part of SIPF’s programme, giving participants a chance to understand the festival’s theme as intended by the artist.

While on a media tour of the exhibitions at 37 Emerald Hill, SIPF and DECK Director and Co-Founder Gwen Lee, she commented on the challenges this year has brought, and the viability of the space. More specifically, the SIPF team had always actively been looking for old schools for the event since April, with how using classrooms as demarcated exhibition spaces helped with space constraints and aided in safe distancing, without cramming everything into a single large space, making 37 Emerald Hill (the former Chatsworth International School) an ideal location. Gwen also emphasised how having a physical space for the festival was important, with the feedback they received from how mental health was at risk during the circuit breaker period, with people constantly cooped up and unable to find space to breathe or just relax outside of home. Humans are social creatures after all, and having a space to break the monotony of the last few months was important. 

At the same time, setting up the festival hasn’t been easy. Not only were there multiple sites to set-up, but permission to use 37 Emerald Hill was only granted 3 weeks before the exhibition opening, with only about a week the team had to come onsite to set everything. The resulting exhibition has all been thanks to the hard work of the team, along with AVS Printing, who stayed on as sponsors despite most others pulling out (which also explains the need for an entrance fee, owing to the $63,000 SIPF has foot in venue rental fees alone). It’s been a long journey and an immense effort to get it off the ground, but still, they’ve managed to open their doors and get the biennial festival off the ground.

Kathy Anne Lim’s White Noise

On the media tour, led by curator Liana Yang, we viewed the open call showcase, with eleven out of the thirty one works at Emerald Hill. In thinking about the abstract theme of ‘Departing and Arriving’, the artists came up with a wide range of interpretations. Take for example Kathy Anne Lim’s White Noise (at Rochor), which reflects on the fumigation taking place during the lockdown to curb the spread of dengue. The fumigation transforms a familiar space into a transitory one with the temporal white cloud, and becomes a symbol of impermanence, something Kathy sought to capture through her photography. Calvin Chow’s The Blindness of the Sea (at Newton) depicts images of a sea wall north of Jakarta, and reflects on the rising sea levels in Singapore, and how the choices we make would come to haunt us again in future.

Spanish photographer Isidro Ramirez’s JAKARTA, Modest Interventions and Minor Improvisations focuses on the landscapes of Indonesia, with atypical photos bringing to life his photographic commentary on locals overcoming the shortcomings in their daily lives, with a different perspective of seeing things, with Jakartans constantly producing creative improvised strategies to temporarily solve the problems of the city, much as the project itself was improvised and transient, rather than a finished, completely polished product. 

Bob Lee’s Memory Blocks captures images of HDB homes in Singapore, where every photo offers a glimpse into another person’s lives. With how the flats are sometimes referred to as shoebox houses, Memory Blocks, photographed primarily at dusk over the last ten years or so, showcases a range of Singaporean families home from work and school, forming a time capsule of memories and moments of communal solidarity.

In Kevin WY Lee’s Hundred Daughters Hundred Patience Hundred Meals, the photographer pays tribute to his late father and his home village in Kaiping, China. Originally known as Pak Nui (Hundred Daughters), the artist’s father then changed his name to Pak Noi (Hundred Patience) when he moved to Fiji, opening his own Chinese restaurant there, Poon’s Restaurant. Photographer Kevin recalls being the son of a restauranteur, someone who is distanced from the affairs of the kitchen and more involved with financial and administrative matters instead, while using his photography skills to capture images of 100 dishes he himself makes in memory of his father.

In Holycrap’s Flesh and Bloody Weaknesses, the family collective documents their shared artistry and almost ten year history of artmaking. From award-winning family magazine Rubbish Famzine (an affectionate in-joke) to the continued attempt to preserve time itself through photography, it’s evident how much effort has gone into this project, and the ties that bind them as a family littered throughout the exhibit.

In addition to the main exhibitions that will be held at physical spaces, the festival has a slew of virtual programmes lined up for participants as well. Curious how the process of ideation leads to creation? Sign up for Asia Meet seminars and join the panel in understanding their take and influences that shape their craft. Stuck at home and looking to re-explore our nation? Sign up for a “Walk with Photographer” tour where 5 photographers bring participants on a live interactive tour of places and subjects in Singapore that have informed and inspired their photographic works. Already a budding photographer and keen to amp up your skills? Virtual masterclasses are also available for serious photography enthusiasts looking to grow their skills.

“Despite the challenges of this year, we are hoping to continue our role as the region’s leading platform to discover, nurture and propel Southeast Asian photographers onto the international stage. The festival aims to introduce the art of photography to the layperson and professionals alike. This year’s theme of Departing and Arriving takes on a reflective approach to push the audience into exploring their identity, and in turn understanding their sense of belonging within themselves and the confines of their society. At the core of SIPF is a firm belief that photography can be enjoyed by all despite our differences,” said Gwen Lee.

The 7th Singapore International Photography Festival runs from 5th November 2020 to 30th January 2021 across 37 Emerald Hill, DECK, ArtScience Museum, Esplanade Tunnel, Downtown Line MRT Stations (Beauty World, Rochor, Chinatown Newton, Little India, Bugis, Bencoolen). More information available here

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