For decades, art has been used to highlight political and social matters. Sometimes, they’re mere observations of society and other times, they become the voice of the voiceless. During the period of 1960s to 1990s, Asia was affected by catastrophic events like The Cold War and The Vietnam War, causing societies all over to get caught in a riptide of various political and social changes. With the region in turmoil, artists were compelled to seek for radical change using the platform they know very well.

National Gallery Singapore has gathered their thought-provoking art pieces in an exhibition called Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s. This is in partnership with The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea and the Japan Foundation Asia Center.

Visitors can enjoy viewing the connection between these avant-garde art practices from all over Asia, including Singapore, Indonesia, China and Japan. Awakenings is created with three themes in order of Questioning Structures, Artists and the City, and New Solidarities.

The artworks are mostly unorthodox, often blurring the boundaries between art and daily life. They also tend to use everyday objects as materials in various mediums to express their socio-political message. The common mediums include photographs, videos, performances and installations.

Some artists even went extreme in their experimentation to demonstrate the desperate desire to bring about change in society back then. For example, there’s a recorded performance of Yoko Ono called Cut Piece where she sat alone in her suit with a pair of scissors in front of her and the audience members took turns cutting off small pieces of her clothing.

Another one is the display of the score José Maceda composed for Cassettes 100, a large-scale multimedia event that the notable Filipino composer and artist created in 1971 where 100 participants moved throughout a space with a cassette player playing indigenous Filipino instruments and voices.

It seemed that the more extreme the artwork was, the easier it was to cut through the noise of the turbulence happening in Asia during the time.

Representing our Lion City is contemporary artist and curator Amanda Heng. A video document of her performance of “S/HE” at National Institute of Education is displayed at the exhibition.

In this performance, she looked in the mirror while drawing Chinese radicals and Latin alphabet letters on her face and at the same time, she attempted to recite each one. According to the official description, this intriguing and powerful piece was inspired by Heng’s mother who “found herself increasingly isolated by Singapore’s ‘bilingual’ language policy instituted in 1966”.

The exhibition also provides bonus content about certain artworks on the National Gallery Singapore mobile app. You’ll know which ones when you see the QR barcode displayed on the wall description near the artwork.

Download the app first if you haven’t, then open it and tap on the QR code button on the bottom of the screen (in between the Home and Profile tabs) to scan the barcode. It takes less than a second for the app to open the content page. On it, you can choose to “Listen” or “Read” the bonus content. Best to listen with your earpiece so as not to disturb other visitors.

Awakenings is having its last weekend this week, so be sure to catch it before it ends.

Good news, you can enjoy FREE ADMISSION to the exhibition and all others at National Gallery Singapore this Saturday and Sunday (14-15 September 2019).

For more info, visit the National Gallery website.

Check out the video below to see what you can expect at the Awakenings exhibition: