Eugene Soh has come to be an established name in Singapore’s contemporary art scene as a young artist known for his tongue-in-cheek works. His most recognized work The Last Kopitiam was created in 2010 as a satirical ‘Singaporeanizing’ of the iconic painting The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Most of his works pay daring homage to famous art pieces through manipulating various forms of digital art. His artistic style has always displayed an edgy confidence in taking on these classics and making it utterly and comprehensibly local.
Soh’s latest solo exhibition at Chan Hampe Galleries is a new photographic series presenting imagined scenarios related to the biblical prophecy of the Second Coming. The prophetic reappearance of Jesus is shown in multiple scenarios within the context of contemporary Singapore. The artist explains, “Although the Bible I grew up reading says that Jesus will return, we were never told when nor where, and this is my take on all possible predictions of him returning to earth in Singapore.”
The aesthetically vibrant visuals rely heavily on the accompanying captions to flesh out the overall narrative and themes. The exhibition text highlights the absurdity and hyperbole behind the mystical event of a prominent spiritual figure resurrecting in Singapore. The Second Coming, ironically the smallest piece in the exhibition, shows Jesus coming to earth through a ray of light from the heavens. The caption tells us the area he lands in is Kembangan – the popular explanation for this landing spot is because Kembangan means ‘expansion’ in Malay, emphasizing his expanding influence.
Works such as Madonna and Child convey the portrayal of Jesus and his earthly mother as Asian, contradicting the common Western depictions of these religious figures. It brings to mind the controversial debate about the identity of Jesus not being a white male, since he was born a Middle Eastern Jew. In dealing with such a larger-than-life figure mired in centuries of debate and contradictions, the exhibition runs the risk of attempting to address too many issues all at once, lessening the intended tongue-in-cheek impact.
We witness the messianic figure celebrating his birthday, giving a lunchtime sermon surrounded by curious listeners and devoted followers, cooking, talking on his mobile phone and praying to himself. Nonetheless, the awkwardness and absurdity of Jesus in such local settings would have come across more effectively if he was placed in less insulated situations. Public scenarios such as Jesus taking the MRT or even coming across a table ‘chopped’ by tissue packets at a hawker center would have created a more brazen impression.
Soh’s latest works do bring back memories of his previous parodies, especially the scene where Jesus celebrates his birthday seated at a rectangular table lined with his local followers. The Last Christmas is intended to convey the awkwardness of these Singaporeans grappling with the oncoming apocalypse while attempting to give Jesus a festive birthday celebration. However, the overall effect of discomfort from these visuals is subtle. Given the artist’s usually confident style, perhaps this is due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and its overwhelming familiarity in mainstream culture.
Chan Hampe Galleries is located at:
328 North Bridge Road, #01-21
Raffles Hotel Arcade
tel: +65 6338 1962
Open Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11am to 7pm
Closed Mondays and Public Holidays
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).