I had the honour of participating in “Intervene! Interrupt! Rethinking Art as Social Practice”, a symposium held in 2008 hosted by University of California Santa Cruz. The grand finale of the event was a green wedding ceremony held in the woods with a simple stage that was just simply beautiful in the context of the whole idea in itself. It was the wonderful wedding of three female what shall i call them “entities” for now. Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle were tying the knot with their lover, Mother Earth! After the great turnout of friends and well-wishers giving their blessings by way of performances on a stage at the edge of the campus forest. It was certainly an unforgettable event that was so bizarre that I felt as if I had walked into a dream. I was still reeling from the the buzz of attending the performance, a ceremonial celebration that not only spoke up for the individual rights to be different but also at the same time extended into an eco-consciousness by also marrying Mother Earth. As we were moving on to the reception and getting into queue for our food, I got distracted by seeing that a small crowd was surrounding Annie Sprinkle to congratulate her personally and was debating with myself whether to do it too as I’m a fan of her too. Instead I bumped into Elizabeth Stephens, and I felt it was equally “alright!” to congratulate her on behalf of the newly weds. I added the comment that I was from Singapore and I cannot imagine such a manifestation can ever happen knowing how conservative we are. Elizabeth gave me a smile of confidence and with professorial tone of voice said to me: “you have to fight for your rights!”. I was dumbfounded as in my heart I was thinking to myself “Man you don’t how tough it is over there” as I ran through an internal flashback on those years of funding proscription against performance, and the licensing headaches we are subjected to and various battles against censorship we have been doing.
I have been making a series of what I call “romantic self-portraits”. I started drawing them as a response to my erased self-portraits in my solo exhibition “Lucid Dreams in the Reverie of the Real”. The erased self portraits at the same time re-visits the erasure of Willem de Kooning’s drawing by Robert Rauschenberg, were somewhat a tongue in cheek commentary of our society’s tendency to suppress individuality in order to prioritize behavior as a social group.
When I was approached to submit a work for the “Modern Love”, I was toying with the idea of a self-portrait as a rickshaw man. It was based on a charming old photograph image that a friend sent to me. We have been dreaming of doing a video project together of a day in the life of a rickshaw or trishaw man. And he has been sending me images of rickshaw and trishaw from time to time. So the romance of drawing my own self-portrait as a strong man with strong legs pushing the rickshaw of a gay couple dressed as if they were newly weds provided my chance to convey a message that there are still various issues in our society to be addressed.
As we face next year to be the 50th year as an independent nation state there is anticipation for celebration. In contrast to the triumphant mood of celebration the “Altar for Changes” reminds us of the yet to be addressed outstanding issues in our society today that we should consider calling out for change.