NICOLE TUNG, “Umbrella Movement,” 2014, still from digital slideshow. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore. 

Women in Film & Photography: Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase

Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film

Since 2003, Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film has been instrumental in nurturing Singapore’s contemporary photographic arts scene through its innovative exhibitions, residencies and workshops. Objectifs recently relocated from the charming but tight quarters of Singapore’s Arab Street to a historic 19th-century chapel in the heart of the city’s museum district. Here at its aptly named Chapel Gallery space, Objectifs is currently presenting “Women in Film & Photography,” a lively month-long showcase that comprises two exhibitions: the fourth edition of the Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase (AWPS), and Objectifs’ inaugural “Women in Film” program. “Women in Film” features over 20 works by four established and emerging Asian filmmakers, including Naoko Ogigami from Japan and Thailand’s Pimpaka Towira. The event, however, revolves strongly around the AWPS, which is a group show of photography by over 20 artists who were selected via an international open-call process.

The nascent AWPS is a platform to promote emerging female photographers across Asia. It debuted in 2010 at the Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap, and has since been spearheaded by prominent Japanese independent curator Yumi Goto, who, with Objectifs co-founder Emmeline Yong, jointly conducted this year’s open call, which elicited over 100 submissions from throughout the region. The AWPS was previously part of the 2013 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival, and also appeared at last year’s Obscura Photo Festival in Penang. 

The 2015 AWPS features a handful of conceptual work, but many of its participants are photojournalists who document conflict and social issues. One of them is freelance photojournalist Nicole Tung (Hong Kong), who is currently based in Istanbul. Her series “The Umbrella Movement” (2014) examines Hong Kong’s recent pro-democracy protests that overtook the city last year; most compelling are her rain-blurred images of police grappling with protesters on the street. In “A Room of One’s Own” (2015), Indian photojournalist Shuchi Kapoor confronts social stigma in her lustrous and compassionate black-and-white portraits of India’s mentally ill. Similar insight is seen in the more subjective narrative of “Re/Introspection” (2015) by Singaporean Bernice Wong. Throughout the series, comprising portraits of a former gang member, Wong superimposes the images with the man’s anguished handwritten “confessions,” which hover like a dreamy libretto around his shadowy form. Dina Oganova (Georgia) contemplates the cityscape of Tbilisi in “I Am Georgia” (2010), which features a surreal mélange of odd patterns and self-absorbed strangers. In an oblique blend of self-portraiture and documentation, Lebanese photographer Lara Tabet chronicles “women who have lost their men” living in a run-down Beirut neighborhood slated for redevelopment. Entitled “Penelopes” (2013), the work carries a performative element, as it portrays the artist herself sipping coffee with these elderly women who live alone amidst decay.

SHUCHI KAPOOR, “Room of One’s Own,” 2015, still from digital slideshow. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore. 

BERNICE WONG, “Re/Introspection,” 2015, still from digital slideshow. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore. 

DINA OGANOVA, “I am Georgia,” 2010, still from digital slideshow. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore. 

LARA TABET, “Penelopes,” 2013, digital fine-art print, 48 × 72 cm. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore.   

GERALDINE KANG, “In the Raw,” 2010, still from digital slideshow. Courtesy Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore.   

Other more conceptually-oriented artists round out this multifaceted showcase at Objectifs. They include emerging Chinese photographer Wen Feiyi’s gentle, half-glimpses of the prosaic—a quiet silhouette,
a tarp-covered boat—from her series “In a Manner of Speaking” (2015), which is ambiguous and unsettling. In another series by Liu Ying (Singapore), “It Can Be Better” (2015), the rigid control of obsessive-compulsive disorder is recast as absurdity. Comprising a household formed by “living habits that seek perfection,” Liu’s stylized tableaux of deranged systematization include methodical rows of hundreds of clothespins and a vase of lilies wrapped in plastic. Fellow Singaporean Geraldine Kang takes unexpected risks by staging her family members in fictional, uneasy scenarios “loosely based” on shared memory. Her series, “In the Raw” (2010–11) imagines encounters of physical intimacy—with food and with each of the family members—that border on the voyeuristic. This concept of fantasy-cum-intimacy is reiterated in Thai photography student Prarunya Prapasai’s “Portraits with Men” (2015), where the artist “imagines what it would be like” to have a boyfriend, and assigns herself eclectic personas—biker, punk, skateboarder—each accompanied by a complementary male figure. In all of her guises, the artist’s assertive stance and inscrutable gaze conjure up the defiance of feminism.

Issues of love, intimacy, social ills, memory, history, culture and identity are all well represented in this show. What is notable is the absence of critical narrative—no slyly disruptive political, feminist or religious agendas, for example. Objectifs has indicated that it plans to hold AWPS again next year, and as this women’s photography showcase continues to grow and evolve, it will certainly serve to inspire regional artists to take greater risk in their work, while embracing its many artful possibilities.

“Women in Film & Photography: Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase” is on view at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore, until November 29, 2015. For a comprehensive list of the participants and other details of the exhibit, click here.