Causes Week 2021: Connecting about mental health through art

Causes Week, which is into its 10th iteration, runs this year from Dec 21 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community, for children and youth, in sports and arts, among others.

Mr Hun Ming Kwang founded ThisConnect.today, a community platform for experiential art and conversations. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - In 2019, artist Hun Ming Kwang was in Malaysia when he received a phone call notifying him that his friend had committed suicide.

Mr Hun, a life coach, decided that he needed to make concrete the plans he had long had for raising mental health awareness and suicide prevention. "I took it as a sign that something more needs to be done."

The 28-year-old founded ThisConnect.today, a community platform for experiential art and conversations.

"It is my intention to create spaces and experiential art that awaken people to connect to their deepest truths and most authentic selves at a higher consciousness," says Mr Hun, adding that the rat race has turned people into "zombies".

In September last year, the platform held its preview exhibition at the former art space Deck at 120A Prinsep Street. It drew 825 people over two weeks.

The full exhibition, ThisConnect: Threading Worlds, between December last year and January this year, had 5,000 attendees across four locations in Singapore, including Temasek Shophouse and library@ orchard.

The exhibition sought to create a safe space and to document works of performative, instructional and participatory art.

ThisConnect.today volunteer Megan Lye, 23, said she was greatly moved by works like I Feel You, a participatory piece in which pairs of strangers hold each other's hands and have a heartfelt conversation for 10 minutes.

"I listened to every person's story and was struck by just how much people would be able to open up about their vulnerabilities, if only they were given the safe space to just be and express whatever they wanted to say," she says.

The stress and isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a greater awareness of issues surrounding mental health in Singapore. In September this year, 76 per cent of respondents in an online survey of 1,000 reported feeling sad or depressed, while 65 per cent felt lonely.

That same month, the platform opened its third exhibition, ThisConnect: What Am I, If I Am Not, which ran till October.

It included a public installation of Masks Of Singapore, a community engagement project that ran from February to September this year.

Masks of Singapore (left), and an upcoming book, Threading Worlds. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Participants took part in a three-hour mask-making workshop that encouraged creative expression, after which they had portraits taken of themselves in their masks. These were published in a photo book and exhibited at ThisConnect: What Am I, If I Am Not.

ThisConnect.Today is now curating a book of Mr Hun's conversations with 72 people, including doctors, psychotherapists, social workers, politicians and people seeking mental health support.

Titled Threading Worlds: Conversations On Mental Health, it is slated for publication in the middle of next year.

The book is designed such that every reader is free to interpret it according to their own experiences, says Mr Hun. "It is similar to how a person would engage with pieces of display art in an exhibition."

For more information, go to thisconnect.today.

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