Disenfranchised Singaporeans tell stories for Human Archive Project

Human Archive Project grew from artist Nicola Anthony's interaction with prison inmates

Clockwork Moons by Singapore-based British artist Nicola Anthony.
Clockwork Moons by Singapore-based British artist Nicola Anthony. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Pain. Adversity. Memory. Hope. Time.

Drawn from the life stories of struggling individuals, these words and more form the basis of the latest emotive kinetic artworks by Singapore-based British artist Nicola Anthony, 33.

Human Archive Project, her first solo exhibition with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), will open to the public at SAM at 8Q on Friday.

The exhibition's two-part presentation comprises Clockwork Moons, which features incense-burnt drawings on Korean paper that are suspended within embroidery hoops; and Human Archive Project, which features eight text-based sculptures made of poly-carbonate and gold-plated paint.

Various media are used, but everything serves to point towards Anthony's singular vision: telling the stories of the disenfranchised in Singapore.

The artworks in the exhibition are a result of Anthony's conversations and interactions with prison inmates, migrant and domestic workers, families dealing with trauma, the elderly, and individuals fighting addictions and chronic illnesses.

  • VIEW IT 




  • WHERE: SAM (Singapore Art Museum) at 8Q, 8 Queen Street

    WHEN: Human Archive Project by Nicola Anthony, Friday to Oct 29; Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition 2017, Saturday to Oct 22; Saturdays to Thursdays, 10am to 7pm; Fridays, 10am to 9pm


The genesis of these works can be traced to early this year, when SAM invited her to be an artist-mentor to almost 20 inmates at Changi Women's Prison.

Over three months, she taught them various art skills and techniques, from colour mixing to manipulating paper in different ways, so they could create their own art pieces.

Their works will be showcased as part of the 10th edition of the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition, For Better Endings And New Beginnings, which will open at SAM at 8Q on Saturday.

As the mentorship programme drew to a close, Anthony and fellow artist-mentor Barry Yeow were commissioned to create a work for the Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition.

It resulted in The Flow Of Time, a large, suspended hourglass comprising broken and discarded materials.

Says Anthony: "This work is about time. Things can be broken and fragmented, but there is beauty in all of this. It's okay to be broken. Pick up the pieces, be positive and move on."

Following this, Anthony was approached by SAM to do a solo exhibition and Human Archive Project was born.

To collect the stories for her works featured in this exhibition, she started a website in June and invited members of the public to contribute stories there anonymously. She also reached out to organisations and institutions including Changi Women's Prison, hospitals and charities.

Upon their recommendations, she was able to speak to individuals, both young and old, who entrusted their innermost thoughts and emotions to her.

The results are Clockwork Moons and Human Archive Project.

Clockwork Moons, like The Flow Of Time, is concerned with the theme of time - as experienced by Anthony's interviewees.

This series' eight artworks are linked by a repeated cog motif and the sense that time is currently not a friend to the people featured.

For instance, at first glance, the artwork Clockwork Moon (suspended time) shows a pair of hands reaching out from prison bars. But as the artwork rotates and light illumines it, the hands are shown to also be cradling a flourishing young plant.

Says Anthony of this artwork: "I've spoken to inmates who are literally doing time. They see their lives now as being on pause, so they don't want to talk about the now. Instead, they are waiting for the future."

But juxtaposed against these inmates' hopes are other artworks that feature individuals with chronic illnesses, for whom the future is uncertain. Still others have experienced trauma in their lives and have difficulty remembering the past.

Her other series of eight text-based artworks, Human Archive Project, features words that are strung up and sometimes bunched together.

They are not clearly or immediately readable, which is part of Anthony's intent.

"Some parts (of the text) are hidden, just as how we as people do not reveal all of our personalities to everyone. Even over the course of one day, different people get to see different sides of us," she says.

She hopes visitors will engage with the artworks in this series by going up close and attempting to read the words.

"I want them to be curious about these people's lives. I want them to ask questions and not live in their bubbles. They are not meant to read the whole story, but what's important is that they engage, just as how we need to work hard with human beings - taking time and patience to read beneath the surface."

Seen as a whole, Anthony's exhibition seeks to convey to visitors that human life is chaotic and complex, and all the more so for the people she features.

"I hope the artworks will spark viewers to have compassion, as they put themselves in the shoes of these disenfranchised individuals," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Telling stories of the disenfranchised'. Subscribe