SINGAPORE - Comic artist Rachel Pang does not shy away from tough topics while creating art. The 25-year-old makes comic strips about current affairs as well as various social issues such as racism and sexual assault.
The artist researches on some topics before drawing, but tries not to overload the comic strips with facts.
"I read up on topics to have enough information, but when I create comics, I always anchor them in my own perspective and emotions because that's how we experience the world," says Pang, whose Instagram page (@rachelpangcomics) has amassed about 13,000 followers since it was started in August 2018.
The artist, who has an administrative job, says: "To learn to listen to one another and to have meaningful discussions - that's a thing Singapore is still building up slowly. I don't create comics hoping they will change people's minds, but I'm happy when the art helps them to consider other perspectives."
Pang is among a growing number of young, self-taught artists who are using their craft to coax discussion about social issues and raise funds to help those in need.
They are also tapping social media, especially Instagram, to share their art.
One topic some have highlighted is racism, which was widely discussed after African-American George Floyd died in May while in police custody.
Undergraduate Zannatun Noor, 22, who posts her illustrations and creations such as earrings and postcards on her Instagram account (@col.b_), has also used the platform to speak out against racism.
She felt that while there was much talk about the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide, there was still a lack of discussion and awareness of racism in Singapore.
"It didn't make sense that some people are open to understanding racism in another country, but oblivious to racism here, even though it's not as extreme as it is in the United States," says Zannatun, who is studying chemistry at Nanyang Technological University.
She has also collated quotes that reflect her and her friends' struggles as members of a minority race and published these on her Instagram account.
One quote reads: "I spent so many years refusing to wear henna because my teachers and classmates would say it was unprofessional or smelly, but now, it is considered a cool trend by those same people."
To her surprise, her June 4 post with those quotes garnered more than 29,000 likes.
Some people acknowledged they had made similar racist remarks unwittingly in the past and apologised for them.
But there were those who left hateful comments, despite her efforts to phrase her post in as neutral a way as possible, she notes.
RAISING FUNDS THROUGH ART
Besides advocacy, some artists have been using their skills to raise funds for those in need.
Twenty-year-old Dorcas Tang champions the conservation of natural areas and biodiversity, which she became interested in while studying sustainable urban design and engineering at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
She hopes to study architecture in university next.
"Singapore prides itself on preserving nature and being a garden city. But when we need more space, we are often okay with taking away the homes of other creatures to fulfil our own needs. Eventually, the destruction of natural areas also adds to climate change."
She adds that art helps to make messages more digestible. "You don't need to know jargon. You just need to have a single artwork for people to share and this is also the starting point for them to research deeper on their own."
She has used art on her Instagram account (@earthtodorcas) to raise funds for wildlife and rescue efforts in the wake of the Australia bushfire crisis earlier this year, among other causes.
Meanwhile, Kiera See, 20, donates up to 20 per cent of her earnings from art sales. Her Instagram account (@sunline_____) is peppered with photos of artworks inspired by Japanese elements and characters from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. The funds go to the Singapore Red Cross and Covid-19 relief efforts such as The Courage Fund.
She also raised $1,700 in June for organisations related to the Black Lives Matter movement, by creating artworks for clients who each donated at least $35 to charities of their choice.
See, who will study nursing at the Singapore Institute of Technology next month, says: "I felt helpless at first because my voice was so small and the situation was happening so far away. I wanted to do something more impactful than just being a small voice, so I researched and suggested organisations that clients could donate to."
Besides individual efforts, there are also groups of artists who have banded together to contribute to causes.
A group of four artists raised about $390 in May for migrant workers here. The funds were donated to Project Providence, which supports the needs of foreigners such as migrant workers living outside dormitories, and the Covid-19 Migrant Support Coalition.
Founded by graphic designer Jean Kuah (@mochibuddies), the group raised funds by selling stickers and art products depicting characters carrying out tasks done by migrant workers.
Kuah, 26, also started a similar group in February with fellow artist Regine Yap, 24, to show their support for healthcare workers. The collective of 15 artists raised more than $1,500 for ground-up initiative HeartForSG, which delivers care packages to healthcare workers.
Kuah says: "People tend to keep stickers and will remember that these are ongoing social issues. Art also helps to keep them interested and engaged and encourages them to have a greater awareness of these issues."