Dan Wong, artist and il­lus­tra­tor at A Good Cit­i­zen

Esquire (Singapore) - - Feature -

Wong’s dual role as a com­mer­cial artist and provoca­tive il­lus­tra­tor gives him an edge to re­flect the con­tro­ver­sial realms of pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and gen­der is­sues through so­cial art and satire.

When I was young, I en­joyed doo­dling and ‘van­dal­is­ing’ my text­books to kill bore­dom. My par­ents were un­happy with me as we had a cul­ture of treat­ing books with re­spect. Au­thor­ity was huge in school back then and I re­acted to that by draw­ing vul­gar pic­tures. Af­ter (GCE) O level, I re­alised that I could carve a ca­reer by draw­ing and tap­ping into my artis­tic side so I went on to take a de­sign course at Nanyang Polytech­nic. I am for­tu­nate to ac­quire prac­ti­cal skills as an il­lus­tra­tor. In the day, I ap­ply my trade as a com­mer­cial il­lus­tra­tor. My day-to-day hum­drum has noth­ing to do with A Good Cit­i­zen. I cre­ate them at night in­stead. My bosses were en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ive when it comes to me do­ing works for A Good Cit­i­zen.

My goal is to get a snig­ger and a chuckle from my au­di­ence. I’ve dis­cov­ered that I like to en­ter­tain peo­ple—telling sto­ries, in­duc­ing laugh­ter and pulling at their heart­strings. For A Good Cit­i­zen, it’s all about pok­ing fun at in­sti­tu­tions and pub­lic fig­ures in power. So­cial hi­er­ar­chies and struc­tures are in­cluded too. I love it when the au­di­ence iden­ti­fies with my work and re­sponds with laugh­ter. The worst ex­pe­ri­ence to have as an artist is when you draw a pic­ture full of de­tails and place it in a mu­seum, but the au­di­ence takes a brief glance and walks away. If it evokes a huge emo­tional re­sponse, be it pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive, they are in­vested enough to de­bate and en­gage. I hope my illustrations will res­onate with peo­ple on that level.

I did an art­work ti­tled ‘Em­mo­hee’. I am fond of us­ing acronyms and I spell out the ac­tual acro­nym. In this series, there are ‘Haytchdee­bii’, ‘Peeayh­pee’ and ‘Em­mar­tee’. I was proud of this as I was able to il­lus­trate the most of my child­hood in this piece. As men­tioned, the ex­pe­ri­ence of au­thor­ity in school was pow­er­ful to me. My next ex­hi­bi­tion in Chi­na­town will fo­cus on the army. I felt a series of neg­a­tive emo­tions when I ful­filled my army du­ties and I couldn’t show it. I know that ev­ery Sin­ga­porean son feels that way to a sim­i­lar ex­tent. As I’ve served my dues and ben posted to the MINDEF Re­serve, I wanted to have clo­sure by hav­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion and team­ing up with a few il­lus­tra­tors who have strong feel­ings about Na­tional Ser­vice.

My hopes for the in­dus­try don’t fall much on the prac­ti­tion­ers, but are more to­wards the gen­eral pub­lic in­stead. From my trav­els, I’ve re­alised that ed­u­ca­tion plays a part in shap­ing a frame­work or lenses to view art. In France, go­ing to a mu­seum is a fam­ily af­fair. But in Sin­ga­pore, it’s prob­a­bly not as com­mon. The aware­ness of the arts and cul­ture sphere is in­trin­sic to their lives. I would like some­thing sim­i­lar to oc­cur in Sin­ga­pore. As long as the pub­lic can en­gage and cri­tique them, our sen­si­bil­ity and tastes will in­crease.

Right, from top: ‘Em­mo­hee’; ‘Haytchdee­bii’; Dan Wong.

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