Bring all your woke friends so they stay woke

While an art history lesson won’t be necessary prior to your visit to Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s, an exhibition as salient as this does require some brain power. From Jun 14-Sep 15, take the chance to visit this new showcase at the National Gallery Singapore, which chronicles 30 important years of art history in the region.

Its three main sections, namely “Questioning Structures”, “Artists and the City” and “New solidarities”, double as overarching themes for this collection of artworks on display. It's structured so that you visit each section in order, but if you wish to deviate from the norm, that won’t mar your experience either. Here are some of the highlights from Awakenings that you won't want to miss.

Eceng Gondok Berbunga Emas (Water Hyacinth with Golden Roses)

Before you head up to the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery after purchasing your tickets, be sure to begin at the ground level of the National Gallery, where this art piece is located. Siti Adiyati’s Eceng Gondok Berbunga Emas (Water Hyacinth with Golden Roses) encapsulates all the main themes of the art collection; fitting, for a welcome piece on the museum’s first floor. The installation signifies the shift from traditional art to a more experimental concept. With a pool of real water hyacinths floating alongside gold-coated plastic roses, this coexistance of life and art is a reflection of the vast consumerism that afflicted Indonesia, under its previous New Order regime.


At “Questioning Structures”, the act and concept of destroying traditional art is apparent. Many young artists at the time began challenging the ideologies and norms of art, producing unconventional works. One such piece is Relatum by Lee Ufan. It is difficult to miss with its seemingly soft and fluffy exterior, due to the thick borders of cotton framing the cube. But don’t be fooled by the illusion of weightlessness; the cotton actually frames steel plates, which initiates some thought about the relationship between space and objects.


Re-created exclusively for Awakenings’ showing in Singapore, Huang Yong Ping’s Reptiles was previously presented in Paris, in early 1989. Deconstructed French newspaper pulps form giant turtle-shaped Chinese tombs, symbolising the cultural connections and conflicts between the East and the West. It is almost unnerving to know that the subject of an art piece made during the late ‘80s still remains relevant, with today’s aggressive trade disputes troubling economic policies. Reptiles is an attestation of the persistent issues and conflicts that concerns our present world.

Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road

A significant piece located in the “Artists and the City” section is Safely Maneuvering Across Lin He Road by Lin Yilin. It's a video of a site-specific performance, in which the artist built a wall of concrete blocks on one side of a road in central Guangzhou, disrupting traffic. One at a time, blocks are removed from one end of the wall, then piled up at the opposite end. It not only represents the breaking down of barriers between real life and artistic expressions, but is also an act of reclaiming public spaces during a time when the Chinese city was undergoing massive urbanisation, resulting in the bustling Guangzhou we know today.

What Would You Do If These Crackers Were Real Pistols?

“New Solidarities” delves into heavy topics such as social movements, political rebellion, women, media and the female body, among other things. And this finale piece, What Would You Do If These Crackers Were Real Pistols? by F.X. Harsono that closes off the entire exhibition, is an apt one. Appropriately placed, the art installation seeks to activate the passive viewer by posing a question almost as a dare. In fact, you are encouraged to leave your answer to the title of the artwork in a notebook, found on the desk beside the exhibit, before your departure.

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s runs from Jun 14-Sep 15 at National Gallery Singapore’s Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery. Entry fee is $15 for Singaporeans and permanent residents, and $25 for non-Singaporeans.