National Gallery Singapore recently announced an inaugural collaboration with five award-winning Southeast Asian film directors to commemorate Southeast Asian artworks. Titled ‘Art Through Our Eyes’, the directors will be producing five-minute short films inspired by artworks from the museum’s collection.
The films are being produced with the support of the Singapore Film Commission. Currently in various stages of production, the films are intended to form an omnibus that will premiere at the end of this year. The Gallery is keen to premiere the films in conjunction with the Singapore International Film Festival, to be held in November and is currently in talks with the Festival.
Eric Khoo, Singapore’s veteran film director behind iconic films such as Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys, initiated the project. He also roped in fellow directors Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), Brillante Mendoza (Philippines), Ho Yuhang (Malaysia) and Joko Anwar (Indonesia).
Khoo handpicked recent Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Mia Tee’s Portable Cinema, a 1977 painting featuring an old fashioned roving trishaw from which people can watch short films. Other selected artworks include Merapi, Eruption By Day (1865) and Merapi, Eruption by Night (1865) by Raden Saleh, Marketplace during the Occupation (1942) by Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, Aku (1958) by Latiff Mohidin and Wounded Lion (c. 1839) by Raden Saleh.
Through these short films, the museum aims to raise awareness and appreciation regarding these works and their potential to inspire further creative impulses. The directors were given free rein to pick the art works and interpret them according to their own experiences and responses. Khoo, for example, greatly admires Chua Mia Tee’s works and ‘would put him up there with Edward Hopper’. Through his film, he hopes to ‘encourage a greater audience to view them (Chua’s paintings) at the National Gallery Singapore.’
Following the success of the Gallery’s My Masterpiece series where 12 well-known Singapore personalities shared their take on different paintings in the gallery, the National Gallery Singapore appears to be flexible and open to using different art forms to encourage stronger appreciation of Southeast Asian modern art.
Moreover, through such initiatives, the Gallery is making a concerted effort to establish connections with a wider regional audience, defining its role as a modern art institution in Southeast Asia. “Art transcends nationalities and we hope this project can spark cross-border dialogues about Southeast Asian art. We want to create a sense of curiosity when audiences view the films and encourage them to form their own connections with and interpretations of the artworks when they visit the Gallery,” said Dr Eugene Tan, Director, National Gallery Singapore.
Reena Devi is a freelance writer and editor. She has written essays for art exhibition catalogues and social commentary pieces for TODAY. She has previously worked at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and Singapore Contemporary Young Artists (SCYA).