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Defenders Of The Lost Arts: 6 Singapore Artists On The Beauty Of Kicking It Old School

From a whimsical sculptor who works with found objects to a visual artist redefining embroidery art, these six Singapore contemporary artists working with "old-school" mediums reflect on the beauty of going analogue. Keng Yang Shuen reports.

Khairullah Rahim

One man’s rubbish is another’s man’s treasure. This “pick-up” artist (he literally trawls the beach, parks, and even swimming pools for days in search for potential materials) uncannily transforms everyday items like brooms, towels and road signs into surrealistic, pastel-hued assemblages that both delight and confound with their colours and tactile textures. Though his art evokes a joyful facade, the 31-year-old points out that they are “ultimately concerned with narratives of loss and longing”, while representing issues faced by marginalised communities. It might explain his penchant for collecting and working with found objects. “When collected in their raw state, I feel that the specificity of these objects and materials add a greater depth to the work,” he says. Ironically, they’ve indeed brought him “gold” – at press time, pieces from his most recent solo show “The Incredible Frolic”, staged at Yavuz Gallery, had largely sold out.

Charmaine Chen

There can’t be a better name for this industrial design-trained, 30-year-old’s company. Started in 2014, Old World Charm specialises in sign painting the traditional way. First she sketches (technology has helped ease this process and she’d be silly not to use it, she admits), then transfers the design onto its destined surface, before painting or applying gold-leaf onto every stroke by hand. The latter process is particularly delicate since she’s working with pure gold that’s been hammered into thin slivers. Depending on the base material, intricacy of the work and even weather, a sign can take as long as months for her to complete.

“(Different) layers, textures and the beauty of imperfection are all elements I relish to establish depth and character,” she says of her MO, which has resulted in elegant yet quirky signage, murals and windows that look as if they’re from decades past. The digital age can be “a tad monotonous” she says, and her craft is her way of “stirring up nostalgia and reminding people that old is gold”. Evidently, many creatives agree — clients have included vaunted sneaker artist Mark Ong of SBTG and, as recent as last October, branding agency Goodstuph and The Substation.

Nature Shankar

For her craft, this 22-year-old visual artist spends eight to 10 hours a day sewing – she’s even sprained her elbow once while at it. The result of her efforts, however, is anything but your usual piece of embroidery art. Exhibited at the likes of Gajah Gallery in Yogyakarta and, soon, various Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, they range from a bulging, Dadaist collage of fabric, oil painting and handmade paper (Out Of Bounds, 2018) to a conceptual installation that includes two large embroidered portraits with their loose threads strung onto an armchair (Somewhere Along The Line(s), 2017).

Exploring the “dynamics of identity, race, cultural heritage, internal bias, truth and human existence”, her work often involves using fabrics personal to her — saris gifted by her paternal grandmother, for example — as a base, and always her putting needle to cloth by hand. “Hand embroidery is much more time and labour intensive, which plays heavily into its organic process and the intimacy it captures,” she explains. “(It’s) much more personal than machine sewing.”

This story first appeared in Female’s January 2019 issue.