Two members withdraw from Singapore's team for Venice Biennale

Curator June Yap.
Curator June Yap.PHOTO: ST FILE

Curator June Yap and project manager Neo Kim Seng have withdrawn from the team that will represent Singapore at the Venice Biennale exhibition next May due to differences within the team, which includes artist Zai Kuning.

The artist and curator had been appointed by the National Arts Council in August to represent Singapore at the prestigious art exhibition.

The arts council said it had received a request from the team for Ms Yap and Mr Neo to withdraw from the project.

After meeting with the team, it "acknowledged the differences in operational approaches" within the group and accepted the request, which was "a mutually agreed decision amongst the members of the project team".

In its statement, the council also expressed appreciation to Ms Yap and Mr Neo for their contributions to the project.

While the withdrawal of the two key team members comes just a few months before the show opens, the council said the project remains "on track" and that the overall artistic vision remains consistent with the artist's proposal and practice.

It also said that "everything else, including the planned opening of the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is on schedule".

The council added that it will provide support to augment the project team and work with Zai to continue the production of the works and prepare for the exhibition.

The body of work that he will show in Venice builds on his artistic explorations of the Orang Laut - nomadic communities living on the coastlines and waterways of the Riau archipelago - and the historical figure Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa.

The 7th-century character is widely regarded as the first Maharaja of the kingdom of Srivijaya, which occupied many parts of South-east Asia and lasted until the 14th century.

Zai's research and art on the two subjects probe the history, language and cultural heritage of the region, as well as the transmission of such knowledge.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts-Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology had said in an interview with The Straits Times in August that he hopes his work for the biennale will expand the sense of space and time that Singaporeans have of their history and identity, as well as share these forgotten stories with an international audience.

The 52-year-old artist has been working on the pieces for the show in a studio at the Gillman Barracks art enclave and will open the studio to the public on Jan 13, during Singapore Art Week, an annual round-up of visual arts offering which will take place from Jan 11 to 22.