S.E.A. Fo­cus, the world’s only bou­tique art fair ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to South-East Asian art, de­buts this Jan­uary dur­ing Sin­ga­pore Art Week. Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle sits down with the or­gan­is­ers

Prestige (Malaysia) - - INSIGHT -

Be­fore Art Basel Hong Kong in March and the first edi­tion of Art SG – to be launched by the co-founders of Art HK, Tim Etchells and An­gus Mont­gomery Arts – in No­vem­ber, art lovers in Sin­ga­pore and the re­gion will get their first taste of the brand-new S.E.A. Fo­cus when the city-state plays host to the only bou­tique art fair fo­cused en­tirely on South-East Asian mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art, tak­ing place from Jan­uary 23 to 27.

Ini­ti­ated by Sin­ga­pore’s STPI – Creative Work­shop & Gallery, and or­gan­ised by its Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Emi Eu and Au­drey Yeo, founder of Yeo Work­shop, this re­gional art fair held at the Gill­man Bar­racks visual arts en­clave will act as a guide to de­ci­pher­ing the South-East Asian art world, un­der­stand­ing its di­ver­sity, trans­for­ma­tion and po­ten­tial for de­vel­op­ment, and dis­cov­er­ing its es­tab­lished and ris­ing stars. It feeds into Sin­ga­pore’s arts hub am­bi­tions and the be­lief that there is un­tapped de­mand for South-East Asian art in Asia. Sin­ga­pore’s unique geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion al­lows ease of ac­cess for South-East Asian col­lec­tors, and art­work prices will be sit­u­ated be­tween those of the Af­ford­able Art Fair and Art Stage Sin­ga­pore – from US$2,000 to US$200,000.

Ur­sula Sul­li­van of Syd­ney-based gallery Sul­li­van + Strumpf, which has a Gill­man Bar­racks out­post, dis­closes: “South-East Asia is an im­por­tant art re­gion and there is no other fair re­ally giv­ing it the at­ten­tion it de­serves. With­out ques­tion, we want to be in­volved. We’ll be show­ing some great works by Jeremy Sharma, Dawn Ng and Kan­chana Gupta at the fair, and will also have Aus­tralian artist, Lindy Lee, in our gallery.”

Pear­a­mon Tulavard­hana, Pro­ject Co­or­di­na­tor at Gallery ver, which will present Thai artists Udom­sak, Wan­ta­nee and Nut­tapon, echoes the sen­ti­ment, stat­ing: “As a Bangkok gallery that rep­re­sents many lo­cal artists, we hope to en­cour­age South-East Asian artists. We’ve heard from friends – artists, cu­ra­tors, gal­lerists – that most art fairs in this zone are run by for­eign­ers or out­siders. Although there’s noth­ing wrong with that, we still be­lieve that lo­cals have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of art around South­East Asia. Once we heard that S.E.A. Fo­cus is a gath­er­ing of lo­cals, we wanted to give our sup­port to it and push for­ward South-East Asian art.”

More than 54 artists from Sin­ga­pore, In­done­sia, Malaysia, Philip­pines, Thai­land, Myan­mar, Viet­nam, Laos, Hong Kong, Tai­wan, In­dia and the US will be ex­hib­ited by 26 lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional gal­leries such as Art­in­for­mal, Art Sea­sons, Com­mon­wealth & Coun­cil, Ga­lerie Quynh, Richard Koh Fine Art, Ruci Art Space, The Columns Gallery, Tomio Koyama Gallery and 47 Canal.

Sin­ga­pore’s Cheong Soo Pieng and Chua Ek Kay, Malaysia’s Lat­iff Mo­hidin and Viet­nam’s Nguyen Trung are among the blue-chip vet­eran artists, while con­tem­po­rary masters Jane Lee, Kamin Lertchaiprasert and Agus Suwage, as well as emerg­ing artists Ju­lian “Togar” Abra­ham, Brisa Amir, Amy Lien and Enzo Ca­ma­cho, are among those to look out for.

Yeo cites two artists to watch: Handi­wirman Sa­pu­tra of Jakartabased Nadi Gallery, be­cause he is one of In­done­sia’s lead­ing con­cep­tual artists who cre­ates ele­gant but sur­pris­ing forms of sculp­ture and paint­ing, and Manuel Ocampo of The Draw­ing Room, who rep­re­sented the Philip­pines at the Venice Bi­en­nale. Eu ex­plains the fair’s ap­proach­able na­ture: “We didn’t want to make it so large that peo­ple would be in­tim­i­dated. Of­ten, when peo­ple visit a fair, it takes for­ever to go around, but this will be quite in­ti­mate and easy to nav­i­gate. It’s the right size for peo­ple to start on some­thing.” High­lights will in­clude col­lec­tor home vis­its, spe­cial mu­seum tours and a talk se­ries dis­cussing art fairs, artists’ cul­tural val­ues, and in­vest­ing in and col­lect­ing art.

While the Asia Con­tem­po­rary Art Show may have pulled out of Sin­ga­pore last year and the Af­ford­able Art Fair, re­duced its two edi­tions to one, S.E.A. Fo­cus has a good chance of suc­ceed­ing be­cause it is gallery-ori­ented and gallery-led, with the or­gan­is­ers be­ing gal­lerists them­selves and aware of the needs of gal­leries in the re­gion. Mem­bers of the Art Gal­leries As­so­ci­a­tion, the lead­ing na­tional body rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests of gallery own­ers and op­er­a­tors in Sin­ga­pore, had been dis­cussing such a pro­ject for years, although prepa­ra­tions for this edi­tion only started in March 2018, af­ter ob­tain­ing a grant from the Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board, the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Board and the Na­tional Arts Coun­cil, Sin­ga­pore.

“Col­lec­tors can go to in­ter­na­tional art fairs and see in­ter­na­tional artists, but it’s at a re­gional-type pro­ject that they’ll dis­cover some­thing new,” says Eu. “S.E.A. Fo­cus re­ally of­fers an in-depth pre­sen­ta­tion of what’s go­ing on in our re­gion.”

Pham Phuong Cuc, Di­rec­tor of Hanoi-based CUC Gallery, shares that the rea­son the gallery chose to par­tic­i­pate was be­cause the fo­cus was on South-East Asian art, and also be­cause “Sin­ga­pore, as a new art and cul­tural hub, will be even more crit­i­cal com­pared to the past. Viet­nam re­cently has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing many changes and de­vel­op­ments in terms of the econ­omy and cul­tural shifts. We can see the dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween South-East Asian coun­tries through art. So we hope that through this art fair, for the first time, peo­ple can re­ally see and un­der­stand where we stand and what we rep­re­sent.”

“Some­times, South-East Asian art can be ex­oti­cised,” Yeo says. “But young con­tem­po­rary artists to­day are cre­at­ing univer­sal works, so re­gional fairs are a chance for peo­ple to up­date their knowl­edge on cer­tain re­gions. We’ve been de­vel­op­ing our own scene at home with the gal­leries; In­done­sia and the Philip­pines, too, have been de­vel­op­ing their own gallery scenes, so it’s re­ally nice to have a plat­form like S.E.A. Fo­cus, where every­one can get to­gether. It’s about net­work­ing, and up­dat­ing tastes and aes­thet­ics, so it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to be part of some­thing that’s very cur­rent and to have our fin­ger on the pulse of that.”

Pic­tured: Brisa Amir,Un­cer­tain Slopes, 2017 Op­po­site page: Yeo Kaa,Alone but Not Lonely, 2018

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