The world knows Singapore as a vibrant destination and bustling business hub. But let’s not forget what makes this nation tick: our people. Call them “The Originals” – trailblazers in their own fields, guided by their passion. They represent Singapore's soft culture, its "heartware"; Singaporeans who define success on their own terms as they turn their passions into possibilities.
She is: Kelly Lim, Crochet Artist
Her Passion: Making the world a brighter place with yarn
Drawn to crocheting after tagging along with her mother to classes, seven-year-old Kelly Lim was entranced watching her mum and class attendants work with colourful strings of woollen fibre. Since then, she has not stopped crocheting, despite getting teased by classmates for having a “granny hobby”. She soon began experimenting with yarn and later, wearing wool in her hair.
Now 26, the crochet artist recalls: “In the past, people would unapologetically stare me up and down with judgment written all over their faces, trying to snap photos secretly. But I’ve been getting more positive reactions lately. People come up to me randomly, even middle-aged ladies, to tell me that they like my look. I get so surprised I don’t know how to react.”
By the time Kelly graduated from the polytechnic as a fashion design student, she’d already created countless yarnbombing and crochet design installations; though not in any conventional sense. Yarnbombing is a type of street art that involves using crocheted yarn to cover up public property such as trees or lamp posts.
You can’t miss them. Kelly’s creations are at once bright, bold and joyfully bizarre.
One of her first projects was to cover the handlebars of her bicycle in radiant yarn. Then came her commercial debut – covering a Vespa scooter in crocheted moss and plants, which took her three days and called for up to seven balls of yarn.
These days, her multi-hued crochet creations have become her signature. Inspired by Singapore’s ethnic diversity, they were most recently seen at the Indian and Malay Heritage Centres and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.
Although she spent three years away from her art, working in advertising and web design, she could not stay away from yarn.
She finally found the courage to quit and return to her needles, inspired by a passage from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “I remember reading that if the dream is the ‘right’ one, you’ll see signs even way back from your childhood leading you forward. Those words reminded me that I’d always been attracted to textile and craft even when I was very young, and it made me realise this is what I was meant to do.”
Even so, in her early days as a crochet artist, Kelly’s parents preferred she take the traditional route of getting a degree and landing a prestigious job. When she chose to study design at Temasek Polytechnic, they were disappointed and wanted her to change her course. Her mother even stopped talking to her for a few months.
Kelly’s parents now support her in practical ways – offering to deliver food to her studio, or helping to pick up bulky materials when her schedule is packed.
To stay original, Kelly heads outdoors to take in the environment around her. Her imagination takes flight when she watches animals or observes the sounds and movement of life around her, all of which get her hands moving.
“The soul of my work is my soul,” she said. “Each piece is uniquely different, and holds a special place in my heart.
What she most wants now is to show other Singaporeans that art is within their reach; not an inaccessible domain reserved for the few.
He is: Zulkifle Mahmod, Sound-media Artist
His Passion: Creating soundscapes with ordinary noises
It was an unexpected friendship with Dutch sound artist Jurr V. Diggele that sparked Zul Mahmod’s interest in aural architecture. Diggele was Zul’s landlord in 2001, while he was in Norway for four months as an artist-in-residence.
Formally trained in sculpture with a diploma in visual arts, Zul became fascinated with using materials to create sounds and build original sound sculptures. Now, 16 years on, his body of work is a rich spectrum of multiple exhibitions all over the world, with several awards for sound design.
To gain inspiration, Zul explores places like Little India and Sungei Road, intently listening to its ambient noises: conversations, clinking objects, the hum of machinery. He observes how the same sounds can be interpreted in different ways, opening himself to the senses and feelings they evoke in him. He then arranges them as a musician would, using ordinary objects -- metal, paper, glass, ceramic -- to create sounds that come together in a melodious soundscape.
His works are gaining recognition globally in the genre of contemporary art, chiefly for his interdisciplinary approach. Recasting the everyday hubbub as a series of aural sensations, he gets audiences to rethink the beauty of daily sounds.
His sound installations have been exhibited in Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Italy, Moscow, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Norway and Finland; with several notables, among which are an industrial-sound inspired track he created in conjunction with Spanish painter and sculptor, AntoniTàpies, at his exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum.
He was also Singapore’s first sound-media artist with a full-on sound sculpture at the Singapore Pavilion in the 52nd Venice Biennale 2007. Earlier this year, he was also awarded the special inaugural honorary award, Soichiro Fukutake Prize by Benesse Holdings, Inc, for his commissioned piece for the 2016 Singapore Biennale.
The accolades are hard-earned. He remembers a time when few appreciated his work, which was not easily understood. Unlike music, the sounds Zul engineers calls for people to truly listen, and interpret what happens when sounds are broadcast into space.
Like many other pioneering artists, he had to grapple with tight deadlines and meagre budgets. But those obstacles only fuelled his drive. “Struggling gives you a better appreciation of what you have and can ultimately achieve,” says the 42 year old.
Being at the forefront of a generation of sound-media artists here, he has already made much headway. Eventually, Zul wants to be remembered for breaking boundaries, and inspiring others to do the same.
This story was brought to you by Singapore Tourism Board.