From SG to the US

Successful Singaporeans abroad: 'I want to tell stories about Singapore' says Peggy Sparks

Ms Peggy Sparks at her gallery in Georgetown, Washington, DC. She says that "educating the public about Asian art and Singapore artists is a big focus because there is a great story there".
Ms Peggy Sparks at her gallery in Georgetown, Washington, DC. She says that "educating the public about Asian art and Singapore artists is a big focus because there is a great story there".ST PHOTO: MELISSA SIM

The image of bankers, lawyers and accountants working in multinationals is what normally comes to mind when most people think about the Singaporean community in the United States. Yet, of late, more Singaporeans are taking the path less travelled. From selling ayam goreng and writing plays to crafting pots, Singaporeans are finding novel ways to make it in America. The Straits Times US Correspondent Melissa Sim talks to five of them about how they got started and the challenges they faced in their chosen fields.

Whichever way you look, the walls of Artist's Proof, an art gallery in Georgetown, Washington, DC, are filled with works with a Singapore connection - that is exactly how its owner Peggy Sparks likes it. 

"Singapore is not a bland culture, there is so much underlying nuance that we don't talk about. That's why we need to show these artists," said the 34-year-old Singaporean, who has lived in the United States for the past four years. "It opens another window into Singapore."

When she started out in the industry, her job was to put together artist biographies for galleries. She later worked in galleries and consultancies in various cities including Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore before she settled down in the US and started her own gallery in Boulder, Colorado, in the winter of 2011.

 
 
 
 

She admits that during that first bitter winter, she occasionally had doubts about trying to sell Chinese ink paintings to Americans.

But with her first sale - a piece by Singaporean artist Quek Kiat Sing to an American couple - she felt that her choice was validated.

HIDDEN DEPTHS

Singapore is not a bland culture, there is so much underlying nuance that we don't talk about.

MS PEGGY SPARKS

"It showed that people want to see what the world has to offer and travel the world through painting," said the National University of Singapore linguistics graduate, who moved her gallery to Washington, DC in 2013, where she now lives with her husband. 

She has continued to push the envelope, representing artists from China, France, Indonesia and Vietnam, whose styles may not be as familiar to American art collectors, but she is clear on her mission.

"I want to tell stories," she said. "If I had a whole bunch of Warhol prints, I might sell a lot more. But my job is not just to sell paintings."

This year, she organised a series of exhibitions featuring artists - Jean-François Debongnie, Fred Bergercardi and Quek Kiat Sing - who either lived in Singapore or are Singaporean. Through the works, she tells guests about developments in Asia and the evolving styles that have emerged. She also organises events that allow the artists to interact with collectors and show them how their work is made.

"Educating the public about Asian art and Singapore artists is a big focus because there is a great story there," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline ''I want to tell stories about S'pore''. Print Edition | Subscribe