Appetite’s art programme brings the experience of an art gallery to a more informal and relational space. Every three months the team curates new exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists alike, many of whose works have never been shown in Singapore before.

Appetite’s art programme brings the experience of an art gallery to a more informal and relational space. Every three months the team curates new exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists alike, many of whose works have never been shown in Singapore before.

Our exhibitions are rooted in Appetite’s research into material and visual culture over the last two years.

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As a founder of Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru, or the “New Art Movement,” Harsono has been a staple in the Indonesian contemporary art scene for almost half a century. He pioneered a wave of hyper-political art under a regime that forcefully depoliticised art. Physically, Harsono’s early work also distinguished itself from the traditional bounds of Indonesian art; he and the other Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru artists utilized everyday objects in their work, channeling the “ready-made” branch of art, made famous by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century. Works like Harsono’s Paling Top ‘75 (1975), which featured a toy gun in a wooden crate, overtly tackled the breaches of freedom that Indonesians faced every day.


Rising political tensions led Harsono to larger and more performative works like Destruction (1997), in which the artist publicly burned and destroyed the masks of the three legal political parties.  The work called attention to the fraudulent electoral system and the long-time abuse of political power.


In the late 1950s, martial law was declared in Indonesia. Anti-communist politician Sukarno became president, and was succeeded by army-officer Suharto. The autocratic nature of Suharto’s presidency, called the New Order, came with great economic prosperity, but severe abuses of freedom. His rule was characterized by widespread propaganda, corruption, and human rights violations. Chinese Indonesians, or Tionghoa, were forced to assimilate: they were required to adopt Indonesian names, abandon their traditions, and were banned from speaking Mandarin or practicing their religion.


The fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, while a turn toward a more democratic government, was accompanied by extreme cultural strife. Rioting and violence ensued, especially that which was directed at minority groups. Chinese Indonesians, in particular, were brutally victimized and killed.


With this transition, Harsono — who is himself Chinese Indonesian — has allowed his work to take a turn toward the introspective. For two decades now, his art has been reflecting on the lost lives and traditions of his historically marginalized community.


While Harsono’s work addresses the Chinese Indonesian experience, the issue of diaspora resonates with a global audience — not only in the present, but in the decades and centuries leading up to now. In our research we came across other  artists whose work exhibits similar formal qualities, as well as cultural and art historical significance. In considering the integration of language in art, for example, one might come to think of Moroccan contemporary artist Lalla Essaydi. In her photographs, Essaydi engulfs Muslim women with Arabic calligraphy using henna. Like Harsono’s traditional Chinese characters, Essaydi’s all-consuming text carries symbolic and cultural weights. The juxtaposition between the traditionally female art of henna and the male practice of calligraphy reminds us of the pervasive gender norms in Iranian society, yet subverts them in allowing the women to “speak.”

A similar use of language appears in the work of Shirin Neshat, an exiled Iranian artist who works primarily in photography and video. In the series Women of Allah (1994), she wears a chador (the traditional Islamic veil) and covers all of her exposed skin with Iranian poetry. Here, language implies depth: the intricacy and meaning of the poem implies inner dialogue and self-actualization. Neshat presents the Women of Allah as complex individuals, as more than the surface-level assumptions that may be made about them.


Neshat, like Harsono, utilizes video as a medium. Rapture (1999) presents a world in which landscape is separate from architecture, representing the cultural divide between Iranian men and women. The women cross a desert to the sea where they board small boats, while the men are stuck in a fortress, wrestling. Neshat comments on the reality of exile and the fantasy of freedom, particularly for women. Critic Eleanor Heartney describes how Neshat “makes art through her identities as an Iranian and as a woman, but reshapes them to speak to larger issues of freedom, individuality, societal oppression, the pain of exile, and the power of the erotic.”


Essaydi, Neshat, and Harsono all use language as a means of communication, but also as an emblem of cultural identity. Harsono makes us question: what components of culture — like language, an article of clothing, a recipe — connect us to our heritage? In addressing and speaking to political strife, tensions, and persecution, how might we reimagine our pasts and shared identities? Writing in the Rain confronts the realities of diaspora, and raises an issue that exists across time and humanity: how do we honor our pasts and still survive the pressures of the present?