I am, but also

Anna Chan, Dipali Gupta, Fazleen Karlan, Maisarah Kamal

  • Sat, Sep 14 - Fri, Sep 27 2019
    Closed on weekends
  • 11:00am - 7:00pm
  • I am, but also Opening Reception
    Fri, Sep 13, 7:30pm till late
  • Free entrance

To make sense of the world, we label and are labelled. To connect with others and form bonds, we live within the labels that are given to us, be it by ourselves or by others. A cycle forms where our perceived identities informs others of who we are, and their reaction to us, informs the self. It begs the question then: do we create our own identity, or is it created upon the experiences we have?

People’s perception of us becomes a check by which we enact upon how we would like to be seen. In these categorisations of ourselves, there are those that drown in the attempt to convince the world who they are supposed to be. Their refusal to be reduced to singular terms is an insistent demand to be recognised for their multiplicity.

Yet, in identifying with labels, there is empowerment in language for many whom for so long lack the words to speak for themselves. It is an endless journey of discovery, answering to baggage of histories that come with such terminologies.

What happens then when we dare to go beyond these labels? Do our identities fall apart? Is it not possible to simply exist or are we too tied up by the descriptions that they inevitably inform our identities?

I am, but also follows four women as they explore beyond the labels they inhabit, overcoming the ways they have been restricted and seeking ways of empowerment through their identities.

Conversations with the Artist
17th September 2019, Tuesday, 7.30pm till 9.30pm

USN Free School: Marla Bendini’s Magic Marker Party
24th September 2019, Tuesday, 7.30pm till 9.30pm


Notes on the exhibition

The conversations that occur on the journey
By Nelly Tan

It will be disingenuous to say that this show has been a year in the making. This show is filled with years of conversations between the women we are surrounded by and us. Our encounters with every other women guides and gives us the words we need to make our voices heard. This show is not an answer that we have to the questions that have emerged. It is only a marker on this continuous journey of interacting with other women. We are often told that we can find empowerment in the collective, but my search for both empowerment and collectivity is one that has been intimidating and difficult. The structures of patriarchy have made my initial sojourn into womanhood toxic. Being a woman meant being forced into competition with other women. I remember countless incidents where girls bring each other down in order to look good. This has been ingrained in me: there are many spaces for men at the top, but only one for women. To reach that glorified top, I would have to conform and contort into an idealised vision of what it meant to be a female, a woman.

I do not recall the exact moment I realised that I needed to undo this, that I can undo this. Perhaps it was when I was working with a group of women in another commercial art space, where we held conversations of how useless men are when they complained about how heavy our materials were, after having moved these materials on our own daily. Their amusement while advising me to “test drive the machine first before you decide to marry him”.

It was funny then, when I met Dipali and her pleasure-seeking ways. “Marriage,” she warned me once, “does not solve anything. You sometimes end up fighting against yourself more.” She has travelled a long way – leaving behind a successful career in the world’s biggest advertising firms for her daughter’s sake, following her husband through Africa, Singapore, and Malaysia, to undertaking another Bachelor’s (where our paths intersected). I see her past journey as one that could have been mine. I see the possibilities of her future, as much as it is uncertain, opening up possibilities for her daughter and the daughters who will come after. I see my own possibilities. “She will make her own fate,” Dipali said, when she told us of her daughter’s birth and how a male fortune-teller tried to hold it off because “it would be good if your daughter was born on the same day as the Lord Krishna”.

However, fate-making can be quiet. It need not be made through explosive advancements. Surrounded by instructional voices and noises, Fazleen stands still. “First it was a wedding, now they ask me about kids,” she laughed wryly, “But I’ve only just started!” Like water held in a kendi[1], her stillness allows dust to settle, crystallising a quiet confidence in herself and her path. Still, she greets the wisdom and experiences of those who came before her with open arms. Unearthing forgotten and erased histories, she sheds new light on age-old practices, and brings them forward. She roots herself in her heritage. Gracefully, she navigates dissenting voices of the community, through the community, and embraces their practices. Our histories enrich us; they ground and give us guidance when the chaos of the world tries to shake us off the roads we have chosen for ourselves.

There are moments where these histories become a baggage to bear instead. When our understanding of our heritage is superficial at best, our demand and insistence to take pride in that heritage risks detracting us from the possibility of a fulfilling process. Yet, to undo the conditionings that we have internalised may take far too much time, when the world continues to spin madly on.

“Where is home, Nells?” Anna always laughs at me, for no one knows with a sharper clarity than she does of rootlessness. Home for her family has never been Singapore, where she was born and raised. Home has always been a small village back in China. Weighed by practices brought from her parents’ village, the confusion and loss of not belonging occurs when these practices juts out sharply in a Singapore that is fast-paced. Yet Anna, so unshakable, confronts this mad expectation of compartmentalising herself by ripping up the very same expectations and norms. She re-arranges them as she pleases, acting with a cold rationality that only she knows. It is a subversive move: using the very same structures imposed on her against themselves, in a logic that only makes sense to us. New roads open, beyond what is known, and we need only to answer to ourselves – who we would like to be and where we want to belong.

In the navigation of unchartered waters, we have no wisdom of the past to guide us. I have Maisarah’s words echoing in my head: “It is bad enough that I am female, but I am also Malay Muslim. I keep fighting against these structures, when will it be enough?” These doubts and insecurities are all too familiar to me, having undergone many moments of such uncertainty. Still, we both try. Through the attempts to breaking out of systems, she dismantles what is feminine and masculine. Maisarah reaches for more than the world for herself; at the time of this writing, she has dropped off her artworks with me, graduated from university, and got married in a span of two days, kept up with both her teaching job and her fashion line, Ozel. I desperately want to tell her that it is more than enough, but I know that our journey still has a long way to go. Perhaps, someday, we can be more certain of our own value independent of what others determine it to be. Surely, then, we will stop drowning out our own voices.

As I said, this is not a conclusion of a journey, neither is it an arrival to a definite answer. This is a marker for all of us in the show, to celebrate our achievements on the journey we have taken, and to rest before continuing. We fight battles on multiple fronts – against the structures we have been placed into, undoing and healing from the traumas we have received, re-learning and re-orientating ourselves for the journey forward. There is empowerment in the collective; as we chart the roads opened up by the women that have come before us, may we also illuminate the possibilities for those who will come after us.


[1] Kendi in the Malayan culture is a water jug that serves two functions, both communal. It is either used to store drinking water, by first filling it up and leaving it to stand for a few days to allow sediments to settle before, leaving behind the purified water is obtained, or for hand washing before and after meals. In both, the kendi is shared among the people gathered.

Anna Chan

In this series of 9 works, Chan builds her drawings upon digitally edited photos of buildings taken on phone. These images of daily experiences and becomes the foundation where, through mark-making, a spatial “landscape” is made. In the process of forming another structure, Chan deconstructs various economical, societal labels inhabited by women. By cutting and re-arranging, she abstracts memories and experiences into fragments, questioning Man’s futile attempt to make sense of what the term ‘I’ can represent and offer.

In the disparity of working between the digital and physical of her collages, Chan parallels the close spatial navigation of device and flesh in daily life. It also imagines how, if nothing ever happened to us— without a vivid rooted memory— how we may navigate the world in orders without a sense of belonging.

About the Artist

A visual artist who translates her thoughts and movements through the immediacy of drawings and object-making. Chan moves through two- and three-dimensional worlds, playing with the ambiguities of visual and mental perspectives, between flat and sculptural drawings. She recently had her first solo at Peninsular, an artist-run space in Singapore and has been part of various group exhibitions such as Tomorrow is an Island by Jason Wee at NTU CCA Residency Studios.

Dipali Gupta

Inspired by the book Kama Sutra 365 (2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited), Gupta’s Kama Sutra Vibrator Drawings, explores the ancient Indian text on sexuality, pleasure, love and eroticism. In this series, the various sex positions referenced from different erotic literature (Indian, Arabic and Chinese) have been abstracted and created using sex toys. The contemporary bedroom is no longer a binary playing field – the inclusion of pleasure enhancing gadgets overtakes intimacy in the act of sex.

In her Light Box series, Gupta mimics the movements of the vibrator on the human body. These drawings performed on coloured acrylic sheets and framed in a light box are reminiscent of the psychedelic sex shops that sell and circulate such pleasure devices.

About the Artist

Based in Singapore and Malaysia, Gupta re-appropriates less significant genres to comment on historically male-dominated artistic practices. In her practice, she ruptures signifiers of female sexuality through the absence of the female body, traditionally sexualized and objectified for the male gaze. Gupta’s works has been showcased in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New Dehli and Portugal. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Chan Davies Art Prize and has been shortlisted for the Young Master’s Art Prize 2019 in London this year.

Fazleen Karlan

In her series Vessel, Karlan explores the organic shape of the kendi that is reminiscent of a female figure. Its versatility in its uses, in both sacred rituals and ordinary daily functions, fascinates her with her uncertainty in the Javanese heritage that she owns. As her pencil traces the kendi, she attempts to trace her ancestry to places she has never been and words that she’s never used.

Driven by the loss of her own heritage that she struggles to reclaim, Karlan commodifies and elevates everyday objects used today in ofthefuture. Driven by a futuristic nostalgia, she offers a way to return to a rosy past by adopting visual cues from old advertising collaterals. As posters, she elevates objects into collectibles, essentially artefacts of the future.

The Library of Physical Impossibilities is an exercise in futility. In her want to trace the lost sites of her heritage, Karlan collects soil and urban debris samples. The soil samples gives no information about what has been lost underneath the ground. Yet she longs to salvage and document what is left on the surface. It is in the attempt of accumulation, a repository of these lost places is formed.

About the Artist

Drawn to expressing the landscape around her, Karlan navigates through fragments of history within Singapore’s context. By bringing these fragments to the present, she reassembles material culture from different periods, thereby constructing personal and cultural realities. In her recent work, she replicates broken artefacts that are overlooked due to their unassuming appearance. Through its replication, it prolongs the traces of histories yet understood, long after the excavation ends. Karlan has participated in group exhibitions such as The Lasalle Show 2019 and Potluck: A Conversation About Intimacy.

Maisarah Kamal

Identifying as “gold”, Kamal sees herself as a conundrum – strong and hard at times, but in different circumstances, malleable and soft. Gold, for her, forms a familial tradition – a purchase made when prices were low, sold off when prices increase. This casual acquisition and disposal of gold in her family, reminds her of the struggle of justifying her value to the world, where it is determined by factors other than herself. In her works, she dresses the space to engage viewers’ gaze. To trace the gold lines, is to trace the fluctuation and objectification of a woman’s body and value. Reminiscent of active cells, growing and consuming in silence, she is waiting for an opportune moment to shine.

About the Artist

Kamal enjoys working with materials that she finds in industrial areas and in nature. Her works aim to trigger self-reflection as she constantly melds the distant, cold, sombre feel of metal with organic materials found in nature. Her body of work is varied and includes drawings, paintings, sculptures and kinetic installations. Through her works, she expounds on existential ideas which she often ponder on, of time, rhythm, movement and space. Mai has previously exhibited for Coda Culture, ION Art and Singapore National Museum.