I was honoured to be recently invited to represent Singapore in The World Triennial of Prints and Original Engravings in France. As one of four artists holding up the flag for the ‘red dot’, it’s been a great chance to make some new work. According to DHL, the prints arrive tonight in Chamalieres, a region famous for paper mills and printmaking! Some 400 artists will join from various nations with prizes for the winning participants. These prints will be available shortly for purchase.
Connecting to different cultures is definitely of my passions. I live in the ‘heartland’ area of Toa Payoh, which is one of the oldest public housing estates in the country. The best part about living here is the large local market. A gathering point for much of the community, it's a fabulous experience that I try to share with others. When I lived in Japan, I loved exploring my local neighbourhood, and I'm now enjoy doing the same in Singapore.
Complete with a 'wet' area for fresh fish and meat, it also has small shops selling anything from clothing, joss papers, mobile phones and shoes. Freshly made kueh and char siew roast pork can also be found. Come durian season, you'll immediately know it too! My background in Japanese means I can read nearly everything, and understand nearly nothing...ahaha!
I teach some of my art workshops at my home studio. I didn't plan it this way, but students have recently remarked on the insight into local culture they get when they visit. After finding their way to my ‘point block’ in the corner of Toa Payoh (former opposition territory and now undergoing a terrific upgrading program), they start to get a feel for the peculiarities of this some 40-year-old spot of Singapore.
Nearly every element of my workshops involves a local business. At 'kueh' time, I bring out freshly-made snacks from my market shop. The uncle who runs this shop has his midday snooze by 11am, so I always hurry over early in the morning to buy the day's treats.
I sometimes focus on Peranakan tiles for my workshops. As such tiles are normally found on old shophouses around Singapore and Malaysia, I have to spread my wings a little further for those....like Tanjong Pagar! My great-grandfather helped establish a clan temple there that has many fabulous tiles. Otherwise, you'll find me trekking around Club Street or Joo Chiat area on the hunt for those elusive heritage tiles.
I also buy a lot of my equipment from the local market, and by now most shop keepers vaguely understand what I do. Or at least pretend to! The dried good shop is run by Mr. Ah Leh - my lunchtime buddy since I nearly always sit near his shop. He's also a substitute grandfather for my children, who will scamper off and investigate his amazing array of products.
I also pride myself on being reasonably ‘eco-friendly’ since I wash and re-use most of plastic plates and tools for printing. Students usually giggle when I wrap their finished works in a certain waxy brown paper - you may know what I mean if you eat chicken rice! Works perfectly to protect the fabric from any damp paint spots.
After class, my students and I often head down to the market for lunch. We sometimes go and see Malaysian seamstress Mrs. Ng if she doesn’t look too busy, and show her the fabulous creations that the students have made. I think she gets a lot of pride at seeing how her hard work is appreciated by others.
Feeling rather hungry by now, we'll go to the cooked food section for a well-deserved feed! Yummy 'char siew' roast pork and dumpling noodles are my favourite, and made by a handsome chap and his Peranakan mother. I've rarely seen roast pork or dumplings made on the premises and it really does taste different. I hope he gets on Makan bus tour lineup soon! But then I'll have to wait in line...:)
I feel a great sense of joy when I see students from countries such as Japan, Australia and the UK creating a ‘handmade’ connection to Singapore. Hopefully, their experience with heartland culture will stay with them, and somehow help contribute to better understanding of different people and places.
Gorgeous Peranakan Inspired Artwork by Artist With Strong Ties To Japan
Active Women in Singapore series
Jennifer Lim is an Australian artist residing in Singapore with a surprisingly deep connection to Japan. In the fourth part of our series on Active Women in Singapore, I'd like to introduce Jennifer and delve into her interesting background.
Although she was born in Sydney, Jennifer’s father is Singaporean and her mother is Australian. As an artist, Jennifer’s work is rich with originality and creativity through her fusing of cultures and her experience of various countries and regions. Her long-time ties to Japan can be felt upon seeing her art and glancing at her resume. Jennifer is also a fluent speaker and reader of Japanese.
When Jennifer was six years old, she moved from Australia to Japan after her mother took up a year-long position as a visiting lecturer at the University of Tokyo. At that time, her mother’s love for art, and ukiyoe prints in particular, had a huge impact on Jennifer, which she says influenced her career choice immensely.
When she was in high school, she visited Japan again as an exchange student. She attended a public high school in Nagoya, where she wore a ‘sailor’ style uniform while clutching a dictionary in her hand. After returning to Australia, she was accepted into the Australian National University. In her third year of university, she joined a year-long exchange student program at Kyoto Seika University.
It was during this period that Jennifer became increasingly interested in Kyoto’s unique culture and frequently visited antique stores and flea markets. She began collecting kimono and now owns a sizeable collection. She sometimes even wears them when she goes out to events.
Even after becoming an adult, her ties with Japan continued to grow. Her first job brought her to Okinawa, which she chose because of its unique indigenous culture and historic connection to China. She began working for the international relations section at the Okinawa Prefectural Government. During this time, her interest further grew in Okinawa’s colorful and unique culture. She later moved to Tokyo and continued working as a translator and interpreter at a city bank and various embassies.
Amid her busy life, Jennifer was suddenly forced to deal with a near-death of a close family member. This experience became the reason for shift back to the world of art. She moved to Singapore and started to embark on her true passion.
Since having two children, Jennifer has managed her time so that she can share her love of art with others. She has taught at LASALLE College of the Arts and regularly hosts workshops at her studio and externally. She is active in the art world and participates in art festivals and art exhibitions.
I recently attended a workshop by Jennifer and learnt to print using the Japanese woodblock technique. I found her teaching style to be very open and relaxed. Many of her art workshops focus on Peranakan culture due to Jennifer's interest in her heritage. Her artwork is also unique and frequently contains references to her background. She uses linocut printing, and traditional Japanese woodblock printing as the result of her student days in Kyoto.
Inspired by a heritage tile I spotted at my great-grandfather's ancestral temple on Cantonment Road. Seven blocks are needed for this technically challenging print - and lots of chocolate to keep me going!