If I missed my self-imposed deadline to publish a post (Sundays) it’s because I just got back from a business trip to Singapore. Like many visitors to the city state I’m always in awe of its orderliness and, given the building construction that takes place wherever one looks, the crispness that new and gleaming condos or office buildings lend to its environs, much like newly-minted banknotes. To be honest my impressions are gleaned mostly from taxi rides from whatever hotel I’m staying in to whatever meeting venue I have to go to or on trips to and from Orchard Road (I particularly like Takashimaya to visit Kinokuniya, which has to be the best bookstore in Asia). When time permits I venture out to Little India to eat at any of the family-owned restaurants that can be found there and then pass by Mustafa where, within its expansive but crowded confines, one can buy everything from camera batteries to intricate gold jewelry (and gold bars).
Singapore is a little ecosystem that, on the surface at least, strives to provide a little bit of everything to everyone, from the moneyed professional class that seems to be dominated by Chinese, to expat white-collar workers assigned to the many regional headquarters and banks that comprise this international financial center, to the huge pool of foreign labor that serve as nannies, construction workers, and sales and wait staff. Notwithstanding the diversity that all these people bring Singapore can easily be segmented into two distinct groups: those who can truly call it their home and those who are merely passing through.
This balance of the permanent and the temporary, not to mention the affluence of many of its residents and the international money flowing through its commercial veins, combine to make Singapore a natural pan-Asian center of the arts. Singapore authorities have worked hard to project Singapore’s multi-racial makeup onto the arts scene and, taking their cue from this, private galleries have mushroomed that sell the works of young and talented artists from all over Asia. Talented Filipino artists have reaped the benefits of the Singapore market and have found a much wider and wealthier audience than their predecessors, so much so that when a gallery owner in the Philippines tells me that this or that artist will soon be holding an exhibit in Singapore I feel that what they’re really saying is, “buy now or you won’t be able to afford his/her work in the future”. They could be right.
Ronald Ventura and Geraldine Javier are two Filipino artists who successfully embody young artists’ aspirations for international acknowledgment. Ventura’s Grayground, for instance, sold at USD 1.1 million dollars in a Sotheby’s auction in 2011 and, thus far, is the highest recorded bid for a Southeast Asian work. Prior to this, in 2010, Javier’s tribute to Frida Kahlo Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, And She is Well Loved) fetched more than USD 150,000.00 at auction. This latter work now is part of the collection of the Singapore Art Museum.
I’ll be headed to Singapore soon enough and have already made arrangements to meet up with a young Filipino artist named Raffy Napa who will be on residency there for a month. Raffy won the 2013 Ateneo Art Awards with an original collection of visual works, employing thread and fabric in lieu of paint. I’m especially interested to see how his exposure to a cosmopolitan market, a bigger stage as it were, and among artists from other countries will influence his art.