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  • Writer's pictureOw Yeong Wai Kit

Launch of Love and Life at the Gallery

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Our new anthology of poetry, entitled Love and Life at the Gallery was launched at The Arts House on 30 August 2020, as a sequel to Love at the Gallery, previously published in 2017.

My co-editor and I were inspired by the masterpieces of the National Gallery Singapore, which houses the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian art. We aimed to extend, enrich, and honour the long-standing tradition of ekphrasis—that is, literary description and commentary on artworks. In this anthology, over 30 Singapore poets explore areas of untapped potential, especially in Southeast Asian histories and landscapes as depicted in lesser-known artistic treasures. By reframing paintings, chiselling new lines about sculptures, and exposing the unseen, these poets reveal a vision of life that is expansive and progressive, even as it recognises its roots in the traditions, cultures, and environments of the region.

This anthology showcases the rich imaginative possibilities that emerge when art and poetry are paired. Thus in this anthology, we have an art installation by Thai artist Montien Boonma transmuted into a reflection on life cycles by Prof Edwin Thumboo, and the Indonesian activist Hendra Gunawan’s revolutionary painting of War and Peace rewritten as a tale of change and immigration by Theophilus Kwek, as well as many other interpretative pairings between art and poetry that can change the way readers and audiences look at love, life, and how it all intertwines.

One key aim of this anthology is to foster a deeper conversation between the various linguistic traditions of Singapore, as well as between art and poetry. It was vital not to categorise the poems mechanically into linguistic silos; instead they are woven into a sequence of their own, as part of a multilingual, multigenerational and multicultural exploration of the dimensions of love and life. Hence, one artist—the distinguished Singapore pioneer-painter Lim Cheng Hoe—has inspired poems in all four of Singapore’s official languages, by poets like Kamaria Buang, Tan Chee Lay, Swetha Senthilkumar, and Heng Siok Tian. Also, we invited many of the poets featured in the anthology to video-record themselves reciting their poems (in English or their mother tongues or both), and these videos have been shared on social media, offering a valuable auditory dimension to readers' experiences.

In troubled times, it’s tempting to assume that poetry and art are mere luxuries, but what this pandemic has shown is that we need both art and poetry more than ever before. They illuminate what it means to be human. As Prof Thumboo commented, these works “offer a timely reminder about the miracle of being alive”. We need art and poetry as poignant reminders for us to treasure our everyday miracles. Stunning images of love and life can be found in lines of verse, or in incandescent, infinitesimal brushstrokes, no matter how subtle. As our language becomes more attuned to new possibilities of living, poetry and the arts can play a powerful role in transforming our attitudes towards life itself.

Love and Life at the Gallery is available at Kinokuniya here.

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