'Is Anyone Home?' exhibition aims to empower children through the arts

An installation by Rinn Chan, five, which features a bed and slide and more than 100 drawings of a character called Emma, is one of the artworks at the "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition.
An installation by Rinn Chan, five, which features a bed and slide and more than 100 drawings of a character called Emma, is one of the artworks at the "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Every day after pre-school, Rinn, who has autism, would do up five to 15 drawings of Emma doing things such as baking or attending a party.
Every day after pre-school, Rinn, who has autism, would do up five to 15 drawings of Emma doing things such as baking or attending a party.PHOTO: COURTESY OF RINN CHAN
When asked why Emma has a huge head and a tiny body, Rinn replied simply: "Because she's Emma and she's like that."
When asked why Emma has a huge head and a tiny body, Rinn replied simply: "Because she's Emma and she's like that."PHOTO: COURTESY OF RINN CHAN
More drawings of Emma by Rinn.
More drawings of Emma by Rinn.PHOTO: COURTESY OF RINN CHAN
The "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition also carries the artwork of five other children.
The "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition also carries the artwork of five other children.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Alfred Goh often has nightmares about passers-by staring at him.

For the main door of the two-room Lengkok Bahru flat where the nine-year-old lives with his mother and two sisters is usually left open for ventilation.

To set the boy at ease, the family put up a brown cloth over their door grilles for privacy, but poked holes in it to allow some air through.

The door set-up in Alfred's home, complete with the cloth, door frame and even unit number, has been replicated and is on show at the National Museum as part of an art exhibition that gets less privileged or special needs children to interpret their childhood.

It is the first time the museum is displaying artwork from children with special needs.

Ms Jean Loo, 33, co-founder of Superhero Me, a community arts movement behind the exhibition, said while most children here are cushioned from poverty and strife, some are affected by issues such as single parenthood, family violence and the struggle of non-citizen parents to integrate.

The movement aims to give children from such backgrounds access to the arts through its programmes.

"Through the arts, we hope these children are empowered to self-advocate, embark on a journey of self-discovery and build resilience," said Ms Loo.

Alfred's main artwork is, however, not the door frame, but a series of photos documenting his two homes here and in China.


Alfred Goh's older sister who sleeps in the living room at their Lengkok Bahru two-room rental flat. PHOTO: ALFRED GOH

Alfred would return to his other home in Guangdong, China, two to three times a year, during the school holidays. He was born in China and struggles with English in school.

His mother is from China and is divorced from his Singaporean father. She works long hours as a beautician to support her four children, including her youngest three-year-old son who lives with her sister.


Inside Alfred Goh's home in Guangdong, China. PHOTO: ALFRED GOH

Superhero Me paired Alfred with former Lianhe Zaobao photojournalist Bob Lee and they visited Alfred's home in China last month to capture images of his life there. Mr Lee could relate to the boy as he too had two homes - he grew up in Johor Baru but lives in Singapore  now.

Alfred's Guangdong home is an electrical substation built into the slope of an obscure hill and right beside an expressway. His aunt and uncle are the substation's caretakers and their living quarters are next to a generator.


In Guangdong, Alfred Goh stays with his relatives in an obscure electrical substation embedded in a hill in the middle of the expressway. PHOTO: ALFRED GOH

There, Mr Lee taught photography techniques to Alfred, who initially took photos of his home perfunctorily and shied away from being in the frame.


Alfred Goh learnt photography skills from veteran photographer and some of his photos are now being shown at the "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Mr Lee persevered and taught him how to do light painting in the pitch black darkness outside the substation. Long exposure shots were set up to capture light as Alfred waved a mobile phone about to draw the letters of his name.

The boy was so intrigued he wrote his name in the air, over and over again, in the freezing cold outdoors.


Alfred Goh learns light painting and uses light from a mobile phone to draw his name in the air outside his home in China. PHOTO: ALFRED GOH

Back in Singapore, Mr Lee broke through Alfred's hesitation in photographing his flat by showing him the visual effects he can create by capturing himself in the mirror or swivelling the camera to present the living room in a circular orb.

Alfred said he has learnt how photography can enable one to see things differently.

"At first, I thought things were not nice, and very normal. But after I took the photos, I realise that they are very nice from different angles," he said shyly. His photos are displayed on yellow window frames in the museum, a replica of the windows found in his home in China.


Alfred Goh capturing a reflection of himself in a mirror in the kitchen of his Lengkok Bahru flat. PHOTO: ALFRED GOH

Alfred has grown more confident and is also prouder of his home here. Last Wednesday, he "supervised" the setting up of the exhibition, correcting the wrong placement of the door unit number.

The exhibition also carries the artwork of five other children, including an installation by Rinn Chan, five, which features a bed and slide and more than 100 drawings of a character called Emma.

Every day after pre-school, Rinn, who has autism, would do up five to 15 drawings of Emma doing things such as baking or attending a party.

When asked why Emma has a huge head and a tiny body, Rinn replied simply: "Because she's Emma and she's like that."


Drawings of a character called Emma by Rinn Chan, five, who has autism. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Ms Loo hopes that the artworks from children like Alfred and Rinn can change mindsets and encourage more people to accept and interact with them.

She said: "The children have so much potential, but they often don't have as many opportunities as typically developing peers or those with financial means."

The "Is Anyone Home?" exhibition is part of Singapore Art Week 2018 and will run till the end of January at the National Museum.