Jennifer lim artist

DRAFT INTERVIEW: for booklet as part of Peranakan culture play run by Gunong Sayang Association.

1. Can you introduce yourself?

I’m an Australian artist with Hokkien and Peranakan heritage. After many years of working in Japan, I relocated to Singapore six years ago in the hope of learning more about my father’s background. It’s been a rare chance for me and my family to connect to Singapore, and I’ve found many wonderful sources of inspiration for my artwork. My visual research into Peranakan culture has led to numerous opportunities to work with the Asian Civilisations Museum, National Library Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’ve also been honoured to share my love of Peranakan culture as a volunteer guide at the Peranakan Museum.

2. What is your favourite thing about the Peranakan culture?

It’s the warm-heartedness of the Peranakans and their ability to mingle with others in Malay, Chinese dialects and English. Peranakans appear to be comfortable being who they are - people who are ambassadors for multicultural harmony and understanding. And in their material culture, I love how Peranakans have successfully fused elements from multiple cultures in a beautiful harmony.

3. How does Peranakan culture influence your art practice? (or….How does being Peranakan influence your art practice?)

It’s well-known in my family that my creative genes are from my father. In fact, my earliest childhood memories consist of his cooking and undertaking craft projects with him. He was always very particular about how we dressed and I later realised that his fastidious nature may have been influenced by his own Nyonya mother. In my artwork, I also tend to be quite detail-oriented. Learning about Peranakan culture has also made me realise that we are the sum of so many influences, and that has made me more comfortable in layering my own artwork with multiple meanings.

4. How was it like working on the Singapore Heritage Tile collection? (or...Could you tell us more about your Singapore Heritage Tile Collection?

Like many newcomers to Singapore, I was amazed to see the lovely decorative tiles on many shophouses and colonial architecture around Singapore. I became even more excited when I realised that some of these tiles were manufactured in Japan at the turn of the century. On a personal level, I was happy to find a link between my two favourite countries. As began researching my family tree, I discovered similar tiles on my great-grandfather’s shophouse on Club Street, my ancestral Hokkien clan temple and at family graves at Bukit Brown Cemetery. These discoveries inspired me to create the Singapore Heritage Tile Collection, which is a cultural tapestry of the old and the new with works including ‘Tropical Jalan’, ‘Kaki Lima Five Foot Way’ and ‘Three Stars’.

5. How do you hold close to your roots while growing up in Australia? Has that changed since you moved to Singapore?

The main reason for my family’s move to Singapore in 2012 was to learn more about my Singapore ‘side’. Although my father brought me to visit his extended family every few years, I didn’t feel a strong bond with this country. Another barrier was the fact that I didn’t learn Malay, Hokkien or Mandarin from my father. I grew up in an era in Australia where it was almost embarrassing if your parents were migrants. But since moving to Singapore, I’ve been helped by so many relatives and friends to learn about customs and practices here. I’ve uncovered most of my family tree, and now feel much more comfortable about being multiracial. In fact, I was delighted to participate in the recent Peranakan Genome Project in Singapore.

6. Is there a figure you look out to in the Peranakan community?

Because there are so many active and inspiring members of the Peranakan community, it’s hard to name just one. Whether is be through writing, performances or retail of Peranakan good, it’s wonderful to see their dedication and passion for the culture. I’m grateful to the Singapore Peranakan community for being so welcoming towards me and my interests.

7. What is your advice to young artists of Peranakan heritage?

I can only speak for myself, but to simply even call yourself Peranakan is a lovely way to acknowledge that some part of you comes from a unique culture that is in need of attention! Whether is be directly through their artwork, or just simply through an understanding of the history of the Peranakan people, young artists can be inspired by the hybrid beauty of their roots. Since the Chinese Peranakans and others tend to be in the minority, even mentioning their heritage can only help to shine a light on this culture.

8. One last question: What’s your favourite Peranakan food?

Prune kueh lapis. I like the European style of this delicate and decadent cake. Harum manis is also a favourite. My daughter prefers lapis sagu now that she knows it means she can playfully peel each layer off! And I definitely need my regular intake of Ikan bilis goreng dengan kacang, which I have to now share with my ‘localised’ kids.