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Art What!: Rooting For Change – Artistic Responses to Climate Change and Sustainability by The National Museum of Singapore and the Maybank Foundation

How is climate change affecting Singapore and the region and how can our societies build a more sustainable future? Commemorating Earth Day in April, the National Museum of Singapore and the Maybank Foundation launched three original video artworks on 20 April, selected from an Open Call commissioning series held between April to May 2021.

The series serves to showcase creative and contemporary responses to the National Museum’s collection, making it more accessible to the public while engaging them on contemporary issues. This two-part Open Call commissioning series is part of a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between both organisations in 2019 to promote the arts, culture and heritage of Southeast Asia, while responding to the current issues of today and making a positive impact on the community. 

Titled Rooting for Change: Artistic Responses to Climate Change and Sustainability, the first series comprises three video artworks that will be showcased on the National Museum’s LED Wall. The artworks address the theme of climate change and sustainability in a mix of artistic styles, originality and innovativeness, by artists and creatives with different artistic practices.

Indefinite Waters

Indefinite Waters by artist collective DASSAD, features telecommunication and technological devices inspired by Singapore’s National Collection, Indefinite Waters collapses the past, present and future onto a dystopian landscape of consumer products. It is an experimental video reflecting on the paradoxical relationship that humans have with the urgency of our climate futures. The futility of measuring an ever-changing shoreline in a world threatened by rising sea levels parallels the unceasing human need to define and quantise an immeasurable and inevitable change in our daily lives.

Second Chance

An overlooked feature of Singapore’s landscape, secondary forests are forests that have sprung up over previously developed plots of land. They make up the bulk of Singapore’s spontaneous vegetation, which covers more than half of its existing greenery. However, they are often undervalued ecologically, despite research on new ways in which secondary forests can help with climate change and biodiversity loss.

Juxtaposing past images of the Singapore landscape with current day footage, Second Chance by Robert Zhao is a poetic meditation on the historical and environmental richness of these forests. The work also features footage of secondary forests (on sites of abandoned plantations and kampongs) as well as wildlife captured by motion-sensitive cameras placed in these areas. In a time of climate exigencies, the work is a clarion call to greater conservation of these flourishing parcels of land, from which we can deserve models of resilience, compromise and co-existence with other species.

Choosing Today for our Tomorrows

Climate change and sustainability are two key issues that today’s generation is grappling with. While it does feel overwhelming at times, we should take heart that every decision we make, no matter how small, will make a difference for our environment. We can learn from our past, but it is our choices today that will impact our future. The animation you see is inspired by cartoons from the 1990s that used transitions between illustrations, known as “picture-mation”, which is different from frame-by-frame animation. This style is itself inspired by audiobooks. To differentiate the themes in this animation, the artist took a leaf from the art style of risograph printed storybooks she read as a child, in which the artwork is in hues of the same colour.

Chung May Khuen, Director of the National Museum of Singapore, said, “Climate change and sustainability are pressing global concerns, which the National Museum has presented and discussed in previous exhibitions and programmes, and we will continue creating opportunities to encourage these important conversations with our visitors. Through this meaningful collaboration with the Maybank Foundation, we were able to engage with our local artists and creatives to continue exploring these topics and co-create with them works that offer fresh perspectives on the environmental issues of today, while drawing inspiration from our museum’s collection.”

In culturally-rich Southeast Asia, where modernity and urbanisation intersect in complex ways with tradition and heritage, the National Museum and the Maybank Foundation hope to continue encouraging active contributions and co-creation with artists and creatives, to explore new and exciting ways in presenting the history and heritage of Singapore and the region, while drawing connections to the National Museum’s collection.

“Our collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore allows us the opportunity to bring the arts, culture and heritage of Singapore and Southeast Asia into focus, while supporting artists from this region. The artworks featured in Rooting for Change present thought-provoking perspectives, and we are excited to launch the second Open Call, to encourage more artists to step forward and create meaningful works that can ignite discussions on the issues that matter most to us.” Said Mr. Khairudin bin Abdul Rahman, CEO of Maybank Foundation.

Rooting for Change will be on display until 31st July 2022 at The National Museum. The National Museum and the Maybank Foundation are conducting the second Open Call exercise from 19th April 2022 to 18th May 2022 that is themed around Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). The newly commissioned works are expected to be showcased in end 2022. Applications to the open call can be made here.

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