Opening tomorrow at the Visual Arts Centre is Inwards vs Outwards, a two-woman show featuring works by Michella Ma and Nicole Fabry. Both artists have taken on the theme of portraiture for this show, creating a dialogue between their differing artistic concerns.
Michelle’s practice reflects her biography as well as the larger story of women from modern China. Growing up, she was acutely aware of her ‘failing’ as the only child in a Chinese family. She is not able to carry on the family name, which is a matter of familial importance and pride to most Chinese families, even today. In her older adulthood and significantly different cultural context of Singapore, however, Michelle has risen above this baggage and learnt to embrace her womanhood. This svelte Chinese woman is now married with two small children and a successful portrait artist to boot. Her works hang in homes around the world and has been collected by Shell Corporation in Singapore.
Michelle’s works in this show celebrate that personal growth. Taking on the tropes of second wave feminism, she asserts her identity as a woman through the valorization of notable females in history. Unlike the theatrical photographs of Cindy Sherman, where Sherman dressed up to assume societal roles of a woman, Michelle is not producing self-portraits. Instead, she lovingly describes figures like Zhen Fei, one of the favoured concubines of Qing dynasty emperor Guang Xu. A film of red tints the whole canvas, a nod toward Zhen Fei’s vivacity. Concubine Zhen’s short 24-year-life was full of drama, jealousy and intrigue, and it almost seems like her story comes out of an episode of Scarlet Heart (步步惊心). Rough patches of blue and orange, applied with a palette knife, ruptures her porcelain skin, Michelle’s meditation on the tribulations of Zhen Fei’s life.
Nicole’s practice similarly reflects upon the triumph of the individual. Her empathy toward others comes from real experiences living around the globe. From her interactions with people from all walks of life, she has come to believe that we are all different and with our own unique stories. As she explains, “nothing is strictly black and white.” While she did not go through a sustained art school programme, Nicole has been at the Dupage Art League in Chicago, a Habitué at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and a student the Ateliers Beaux-Arts in Paris. She is currently an active member of My Art Space.
Included in this show are Nicole’s portraits of the people around her and those that she has met over the years working and living around the world. To Nicole, a portrait is more than just a likeness but a window into the subject’s world, an evocative snippet of their story, hopes and dreams. Like the Cheerful Sisters, whose toothy smiles express childhood innocence. Their dark hair and sun-kissed skin indicate that they are probably from tropical Southeast Asia. An uncertain light is beginning to grow brighter in the eyes of the older sister, who is on the left, as she sees more of the strange world that we all live in. The streaks of grey that lance through her hair may be the result of a reflection of light, but it also suggests the process of aging and the disillusionment which happens when a child grows up.
This very short 4-day exhibition brings together different kinds of stories and expresses the different ways that these two artists are interacting with the world. Both already privately successful, this exhibition is not just a way for them to reach out to a larger audience but also their way of giving back. 10 percent of any sales made during the exhibition will be donated to Red Pencil, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping children, adults and families through arts therapy. For both artists, art had given them a chance to connect with others, and they hope that their exhibition and the sale of their work can help others to find the same kind of relationship with art.
Inwards vs Outwards
Nicole Fabry & Michelle Ma
29 September – 3 October 2017
Visual Arts Centre Singapore
10 Penang Road, #01-02
Dhoby Ghaut Green
Open daily, 11am-8pm