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By Trinity Sun October 29, 2021 • 5 min read

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Striking blue walls welcome curious passersby into Dalam Southeast Asia, National Gallery Singapore’s first-ever project space spotlighting fresh narratives around under-represented artists and their contributions towards Southeast Asian art. 

tailors and the mannequins chen cheng mei and you khin
Entrance to the exhibition | © Natalie Teo

Marking a shift from the museum’s Between Declarations and Dreams galleries’ linear art history, Dalam Southeast Asia delves into the lives and works of lesser-known Southeast Asian artists and provides depth into the subject matter, with The Tailors and the Mannequins: Chen Cheng Mei and You Khin as its debut show. 

It's also the first time an e-catalogue of a National Gallery Singapore exhibition (such as an essay) is available for visitors to access, making art in the Dalam Southeast Asia Gallery easily accessible wherever you are in the world.

The exhibition features works by Singapore-born artist Chen Cheng Mei, and Cambodian artist Yow Khin, which explores the theme of how far-flung regions such as Africa and the Middle East were represented in Southeast Asian Art. 

There are stark contrasts between the works of Chen Cheng Mei, an affluent artist who took dozens of study trips to Asia and Africa which inspired her collection, and You Khin, a migrant from Cambodia who was abroad in France during the Khmer Rouge years. Yet the exhibition brings their works together, exploring what connects two seemingly unconnected artists in a complementary light. 

“The artist is an outsider, a lingering wanderer who is an observer to happenings in a foreign country,” says the exhibition’s curator on Chen Cheng Mei and You Khin’s works in the exhibition.

chen cheng mei paintings
Works by Chen Cheng Mei | © Natalie Teo

In both artists’ paintings, the subjects of their artworks rarely look into the frame, paying no heed to the artist. You Khin’s titular piece, The Tailors and the Mannequins, depicts faceless tailors who are engrossed in their trade and do not look up at the viewer. On the other hand, Chen Cheng Mei’s Market Scene depicts ambiguous figures carrying baskets. 

The experience of encountering new cultures and being in a foreign country is something Chen Cheng Mei and You Khin find commonality in, which are showcased in their works, despite being born two decades apart. 

The exhibition is divided into two halves, with You Khin’s works spanning the left wall, and Chen Cheng Mei’s works taking up space on the right wall.

exhibition tailors and the mannequins
The centerpiece of the exhibition | © Natalie Teo

In the middle of the exhibition floor stands a raised white rack, with You Khin’s People Awaiting Cargo Ship on one side, and Chen Cheng Mei’s Trading Room on the other. Both artists explore the idea of global commerce, through goods (People Awaiting Cargo Ship) and money (Trading Room) in a global and local context. 

sketches from you khin
Sketches from You Khin's notes |  © Natalie Teo

Also on display are sketches and records both artists kept when they were abroad, giving visitors a glimpse into curatorial research and exploring more about their lives. The exhibition invites visitors to form their own perspectives and interpretations on the unfolding Southeast Asian Art story, and focus their attention to lesser-known artists in the archipelago. 

The Tailors and The Mannequins: Cheng Chen Mei and You Khin is the first of four rotating small-format exhibitions to debut in the Dalam Southeast Asia Gallery, with other under-represented Southeast Asian Artists’ works to be showcased every six months. 

sustainable museum display
A new way of looking at museum display | © Natalie Teo

Conversations on sustainable museum display and exhibits as a form of research are also explored in the Dalam Southeast Asia Gallery itself, which rejects the idea of following art history’s established narrative and proposes a novel way of looking at art research through display. The ever-changing nature of the Dalam Southeast Asia Gallery highlights the ongoing critique and revision to this new art narrative and gives its visitors a glimpse into the fascinating curatorial process of art research. 

The Tailors and The Mannequins: Cheng Chen Mei and You Khin will run from 29 November 2021 to 10 April 2022. 

Address: National Gallery Singapore, Level 3 Supreme Court Wing, 1 St Andrew’s Road #01–01, Singapore 178957

Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday from 10am-7pm 

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Written By

Trinity Sun


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