Since its establishment ten years ago, the Singapore Biennale has continuously drawn a rising number of visitors to its premises. Organised by the Singapore Art Museum, the Singapore Biennale 2016 (SB2016) was officially opened on October 27 and will run through the end of February at different venues throughout the city.

Singapore Biennale 2016 An Atlas of Mirrors

SB2016 also initiates projects with several art communities in Singapore, that are closely connected to the Biennale’s curatorial themes.

The title of this edition of the Singapore Biennale is quite an intriguing and poetic one,” co-curator Tan Siuli explains when asked about this year’s theme “An Atlas of Mirrors”. “Atlas and mirrors are metaphors that evoke ways of seeing as well as geographies and journeys – a multiplicity of perspectives and ways of mapping the world.”

In their write-up for the SB2016, the curators pose the following questions: From where we are, how do we picture the world – and ourselves? The participating artists reflect on these questions in their works, creating a colourful kaleidoscope of possible answers.

“Like the previous edition of the Singapore Biennale, Southeast Asia is our focus, and from this nodal point the Biennale seeks to explore resonances and dialogues within the region as well as between Southeast Asia and the wider world, in particular Asia, with which this region has had a long and historical relationship,” Siuli says.

With “An Atlas of Mirrors” as general theme, SB2016 introduces nine different sub-themes that engage with notions of mapping space and place; myths, cyclical time and the ahistorical; cultural legacies, beliefs and memory; the mirroring relationship between nature and culture; the contestation of borders; agency, representation and voices of resistance; national and cultural identities; migratory experiences and displacement, and finally, re-imagining histories that have been marginalised.

Over 60 artists, both established figures and emerging talents, take part in SB2016. From Indonesia alone, seven artists have been invited – a relatively high number compared to other countries, which underlines the importance of Indonesian art in Southeast Asia.

“The Indonesian art scene is without a doubt one of the most dynamic in the region, and I think the selection of artists and artworks reflects that,” Siuli explains. “There is a diversity of media and approaches to art-making, and we have a mix of senior, established artists with some younger artists as well. The Indonesian artists also come from various parts of the country – very different environments and contexts for making art, for instance Jakarta versus Bali – and it’s been interesting to observe how they have each responded to the Biennale title.”

Siuli says that she doesn’t have any real favourites among the artworks – it’s like asking a mother which one of her children she loves the most – but nevertheless, there are a few works she considers “must-sees”.

“We have some large-scale, immersive artworks that respond beautifully to their sites, including Deng Guoyuan’s ‘Noah’s Garden II’ in the Chapel of the Singapore Art Museum; Subodh Gupta’s ‘Cooking the World’ and David Chan’s ‘The Great East Indiaman’ at the National Museum of Singapore,” she says, adding Eddy Susanto’s “Journey of Panji” to the list, which looks at Southeast Asia’s shared cultural histories.

“Then, there are some stunning works by emerging and established artists alike: ‘Aftermath’ by Pannaphan Yodmanee; ‘One Has To Wander Through All The Outer Worlds To Reach The Innermost Shrine At The End’ by Qiu Zhijie; ‘Endless Hours At Sea’ by Martha Atienza,” Siuli continues. “But really, these are just a few of the many amazing works we have at this year’s Biennale.”

Siuli recommends to take in the whole SB2016 experience as the artworks are all connected to each other.

“Just as important as individual artworks are the conversations between works that we have tried to create through the curatorial narratives and placement of works, so that the sum of the experience is far more enriching than encountering artworks in isolation,” she says.


Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge is a previous editor of NOW! Jakarta. An experienced writer and avid bookworm.