Tan Siuli: Singapore’s  Indonesian-art expert

Tan Siuli: Singapore’s Indonesian-art expert

Date
Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Media Type
The Jakarta Post (Online)

For Singaporean curator Tan Siuli, Indonesia’s contemporary art scene has a very special place, both in her heart and at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) where she works.

Siuli has been overseeing the Indonesian collection at SAM for five years, and doesn’t hesitate to say that the Indonesian art scene has become the most dynamic in Southeast Asia.

“It’s always changing and so diverse. I enjoy the diversity of creative expression across Indonesia; there’s a city like Jakarta, and something unique like in Yogyakarta, Bandung and Bali; they all offer different types of art practices,” she said.

Siuli’s relationship with Indonesian art began when she was asked to choose between two vacant curating position for two platforms — Thailand and Indonesia. At SAM, each curator focuses on one Southeast Asian country.

She originally wanted to choose Thailand because of her family background, but chose Indonesia instead, as her colleague wanted to explore more about Buddhism in Thailand.

“But over the years, as I got to know the Indonesian art scene and the artists, I’ve really grown to love this country and its art scene — absolutely no regrets,” Siuli said.

She visited the country for research trips and went to the country’s main art centers — Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Bali and Bandung — as well as peripheral areas, staying a few weeks at a time to build up connections with Indonesian artists and to learn the context of contemporary Indonesian art.

“The working culture is different, at first I was frustrated but slowly I understood it and started to adjust,” she said.

SAM’s Indonesian collection currently accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the 1,000 artworks exhibited at the museum.

Siuli said that Indonesian art was among vistors’ favorites, featuring rich visual language that lent it a certain power.

“During public tours, a lot of visitors show great interest in Indonesian arts; they always have a lot of questions, and they often make trips to Indonesia themselves after the lecture because they want to meet the artists in person,” Siuli said.


Siuli has been exposed to the arts since a tender age. Growing up in Malaysia, she was greatly influenced by Malaysian comic artist Lat, before she started drawing everywhere, including on the wall of her house.

Noticing the talent, her parents took her to participate in a drawing contest where she won the silver prize, encouraging her to develop her interest.

She moved to Singapore to study at a school that had a special program aiming to identify and train young students with artistic talent.

“They didn’t teach us how to paint, but they gave us a lot of time to explore our own technique and develop our own visual vocabulary,” She said. “They were also very keen to expose us to art, like taking us to visit the Venice Biennale.”

Siuli followed up her growing interest by taking advanced degrees in art. She holds a postgraduate diploma in education from the National Institute of Education in Singapore, a Bachelor’s degree in literature and art history from the University of Nottingham in the UK and a Master’s in history of art from University College London. 

Upon her return to Singapore, she taught art history in schools before starting her career at SAM in 2008 as a curator.

Now in her 30s, Siuli said that working as an artist and a curator were both very rewarding in different ways.

Curating was more collaborative as she dealt with space, her own idea and vision, which was combined with other people’s, while making art was more solitary, she said.

“Making art is like me-time, I can be with myself and explore my thoughts. Although I have shifted my focus to curating, I still find drawing very therapeutic; I draw all the time during meetings,” she said, laughing.

Her past exhibitions with SAM include Unearthed; Chimera (The Collectors Show: Asian Contemporary Art from Private Collections); Classic Contemporary: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art from the Singapore Art Museum Collection; and FX Harsono: Testimonies.

Siuli was also a member of the advisory committee to the Indonesian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2013, and a juror for the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards.

Having been engaged with Indonesian art for years, Siuli said the Indonesian art scene had substantially slowed down in recent years, with artists producing much less than before.

“When I first took the portfolio, the market here was booming, there was tremendous artistic production and output. Now things have slowed down, but I think that’s a good thing because this down-time is valuable for artists as they have time and space to think.”

© 2015 PT. Niskala Media Tenggara

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Source: The Jakarta Post (Online)