BY SAMANTHA NEUBRONNER
Finding Chan Hampe Gallery was definitely a challenge. With my sore feet and multiple blisters reminding me of the misguided walk, I embraced the solo exhibition by Safaruddin Abdul Hamid (Dyn) gratefully. There is something therapeutic and alluring about white walls punctuated by canvases. Stepping into the small but spacious loft, I was calmed by the paintings that hung on the wall, depicting playgrounds of the 90’s.
Painted to look like silkscreen prints, these scenes from Dyn’s childhood (as well as mine) are a rare sight in Singapore now. Dyn’s solo exhibition, entitled “All that has gone to sleep” captures his memories of his childhood. He recollects the omnipresence of playgrounds in the 90’s, (ones that are by today’s’ standards are highly dangerous and unhygienic.) and paints them in remembrance of their significance in his life.
According to Mr. Justin Zhuan, a journalist from the ‘newpaper’, there are only two of such playgrounds left, with the majority being replaced with exercise equipment or new modern installations. Hence, walking past these frames of childhood jolts me back to memories of my younger days.
I remember craving to play at one of those playgrounds. My grandmother used to bring me to a modern playground with the plastic slides and monkey bars, but I yearned to play with the damp sand and ubiquitous millipede. Dusting the layer of dust off those forsaken memories, I immerse myself into the sights and sounds of when I was five years old, piecing them together with the canvases of the exhibition.
The Singaporean artist, referred to as Dyn for short, observed the growth and evolution of our landscape. This has left him with a sense of longing for the past. He attributes this to the discontinuity of the past and our reality, according to his artist statement on his website, in terms of our surroundings and environment. As such, Dyn expresses his disorientation through this exhibition
Dyn paints the majestic dragon that always stood at the heart of the play area and towered over everything else. Equipped with a slide, it was everyone’s favorite. We all wanted a go at it. Hence, we clawed at it, shoving and nudging to have a turn on the slide. While everyone squeezed into the confined passageway leading to the slide, I remember my sister’s protective arm around me, making sure that I was safe.
Dyn paints the tires that we used to shun. Though covered with vibrant colours, I remember avoiding the water clogged rings that were easily infested with algae and grime. There, my grandmother and her friends would sit and gossip while hyper active children played. They graciously waited and watched out for us from afar.
Dyn paints to remember the past and in doing so reminds us of the past. He believes that “By displacing personally chosen object onto the canvas, I hope it would be able to evoke a certain reaction from the audience among which a sense of nostalgia or longing of something that is hard to find in the present time.” We are tossed into the sea of memories and longing for the scenes of our childhood.
These images of the playground have become portraits of the past, working as more than simply an image, but becoming an icon or symbol of childhood.
Stylistically, Dyn emphasizes his concept robustly. Using bright flat colours that absorb the artistic aesthetics of five year olds while establishing his own ability to paint and play with colours. This adult version of a kid’s application of colour reels me further into his artworks, and calls to mind the ‘engravings’ of my own that I left upon the walls when I was little.
Moreover, these vibrant blocks exude a certain paper ‘cut-out’ quality with clean, crisp lines. The defined outline of the shape in the painting gives me the impression that, like a sticker, it could be torn out of the picture and relocated. Coupled with the void of activity and the eerie stillness that the painting has, Dyn hopes to “bring across the idea of displacement” and enhance the sense of longing for the past.
Of all the artwork in Dyn’s exhibition, my favorite has to be a piece entitled ‘Dave’. This painting of the iconic lion looking slide was the first to be found along memory lane. The ambiguity of the title ‘Dave’ attracts and provokes me. Could this refer to a childhood friend? Could this be the name that the artist used to call this particular playground? How easily do we forget the poignant friendships that we made growing up! Once in a while, I do dream of a friend I had when I was in primary school. Her image engraved in my mind, yet I have no name or any recollection of who she really is., ‘Dave’ is a symbol of a period when friendships can be made through a game of catch.
As I grow up, I often dwell on past experiences, both good and bad. These memories of the past have shaped me to become who I am today, defining what I believe and the values I stand for. Hence, revisiting them through this exhibition deepened my appreciation of my childhood and heritage, reminding me of my identity.
Yet, it is not often that we are reminded of that. Singapore has progressed so rapidly that the environment we live in now hardly resembles one of the past. From bus interchanges to markets to housing, Singapore has evolved into the country that is most worth investing in the world (according to BERI Report 2011-II (August 2011).)
The thought of being disconnected our past is frightening. It is like living with amnesia, orphaned by memories, or abandoned by the reasons for one’s individuality.
This fear is explored by other artists like Herman Chong who pessimistically depicts the future of Singapore in ‘Calendars’ (2012).
For instance, Herman Chong’s photo-installation piece, ‘Calendars’ presents a dystopia where our surroundings are hostile and alien. In this artwork, photographs engulf the entire basement of the NUS museum, from wall to wall, from the door to the innermost corner. The subject matter of the pictures varies from staircases to shop houses, yet, all the images are linked together by the desolate and haunting emptiness of the locations. This emptiness intrigues, and makes us ask ourselves “where is this place, and what has happened here?” leaving one with a sense of disorientation and hopelessness.
Calendar seems to be a continuation of Dyn’s artwork, giving us a preview of the consequence of the rapid evolution Singapore. Herman Chong’s work leaves one to wonder if Singapore has held on too tightly to progress and has forgotten the past that Dyn reminisces about. It is as though the neglect of former years will inevitably lead to a sense of void and dislocation of identity.
In a recent animation conference held in Nanyang technological University, a guest speaker, Mr Hassan Muthalib, emphasized the importance of paying homage to those who have shaped us to be who we are. He spoke of his experiences that brought him through various situations and molded his identity. In the same way, our past and identity is vital in directing us, and should not be allowed to fade behind desired progress.
That is not to say that we as individuals should indulge in history. But let us be cautious. As Dyn attempts to recollect and search for himself through his paintings, one is reminded of the need for heritage; heritage that is often neglected and under-valued.