Art What! Arts Singapore

Art What!: An Interview with healer and artist Hun Ming Kwang on mental health and art therapy

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For a nation that’s touted as being so developed, Singapore has often fallen short when it comes to the proper care of mental health, be it in the ever-increasing levels of stress across the nation, or the lack of initiatives or even awareness of the problems arising from poor mental health. How then can we bridge this gap, and heal the country?

Social artist duo Hunny and Lummy seem to have a solution, or at least, a means of starting the conversation, with their exhibition ThisConnect: Threading Worlds. The multi-disciplinary art exhibition examines different dimensions of the human connection, reflecting upon the subtle dynamics and invisible forces that cause a rift between our internal worlds and external expression. While it’s been exhibited for a while now, they most recently toured to the Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre, where Hunny & Lummy were conducting a “Masks of Singapore” workshop, and the centre itself, in support of the cause, has set up a friendly counselling space, where they would also be sharing mental health knowledge.

Photo Credit: Hun Ming Kwang

The opening ceremony was graced by Nee Soon GRC MP Ms Carrie Tan, who voiced her support of the cause. “Everything starts with us having a connection within ourselves to help us become better connected with others, and enable us to become better people in our daily lives,” she said. “As a politician, I need to be true to myself, and it’s tremendously important how art therapy like these can help us reacquaint ourselves with that. I hope it goes beyond just being an art exhibition, and becomes a mainstream movement to equip us all to learn how to be healthy, and share this safe space with one another, and become a more helpful and caring society through compassion.”

This idea to spread more positivity and resilience throughout society was a sentiment shared by most of Tzu Chi’s volunteers, some of whom had embarked on their journey out of having faced mental health issues themselves, and wanting to pay it forward. We spoke to artist Hunny (aka Hun Ming Kwang), and found out more about how exactly he came to be a ‘social artist’, and what that entails.

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Hun Ming Kwang

“I’ve been doing coaching since I was 18, these days, I run a lot of humanitarian campaigns on the ground at the national level, primarily about reconnecting people to what matters to them,” explains Hunny, on his involvement in social campaigns. “For this particular project, we started conceptualising it in 2019 after we learnt a close friend committed suicide. That led to us thinking about how we could help and who we could collaborate with. While some pulled out after the COVID-19 lockdown, we eventually roped in Temasek Trust’s oscar@sg fund, the Singapore Kindness Movement and more and made the project happen.”

Photo Credit: Hun Ming Kwang

“The ‘social artist’ is literally an artist creating art that deals with social causes, and for myself, I’ve always had the aim of bridging these people that seemed so different and segregated from our own lives,” Hunny adds. “I think nobody really cares enough about mental health; did you know that hospitals only dedicate 2% of their budget to mental health? And if you die from suicide, it won’t show on your death certificate, and that makes it so difficult to gauge how much mental health is having a devastating effect on our lives because we don’t have the numbers. Threading Worlds was really about bringing all these perspectives and lived realities together and make people aware, to re-examine the true self and take off the mask we’ve been wearing our whole life, and think about what it means to be human, and how we can listen actively and hold spaces for one another.”

Hunny is also a self-proclaimed life coach, healer and shaman, facets which have informed his practice. “My goal has always been to raise awareness, and use integrative action to link the individual to become part of a collective, who can then lobby for change and affect policymakers,” he explains. “We want to destigmatise and shed light and clarity on mental health, and tell people it’s ok to ask for help.”

As for why art therapy and exhibitions in particular, Hunny believes in using it as a means to make the usually inaccessible, accessible. “Anyone can understand what art has to offer, and it’s about making people aware of what they need from outside their comfort zone,” he says. “COVID-19 has led more people to talk about mental health, but what we really need is for people to cut through the fluff and get to the root of things. This exhibition is aimed at everyone from all walks of life, and whether you’re a politician or student or housewife, you’ll be able to engage with it in your own way. We saw over 4000 people attend last year, and it is from this that we can coax them to go on to attend the mental health webinars and other public engagement projects to promote emotional wellness.”

Photo Credit: Hun Ming Kwang

As for the future of the project, Hunny says that this is essentially the final leg of Threading Worlds, before he embarks on a new project to further his goals. “Currently I’m in the midst of writing a book with doctors, psychotherapists and policymakers that’s all about mental health, and we’re aiming to launch it this September during Suicide Prevention Month, with the aim for it to eventually be in every library around the world,” he says. “Our mask workshops, they’re our attempt to raising awareness, and to encourage people to take ownership of their own lives, get in touch with their true selves, and realise what they need to progress and evolve.”

Find out more about ThisConnect here

The Masks of Singapore workshops are held twice a week on Tuesdays (7pm – 9.30pm) and Sundays (2pm – 5pm) from now to 6th June. Find out more about Tzu Chi here and here

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