Future-ready changemakers: Nafa graduates showcase their breakthroughs in creative expressions

The pandemic has become a source of inspiration for graduating students from Singapore’s premier arts institution

For her final-year project Feel The Presence, Fine Art graduate Farisah Binte Shafiee explores wax as a medium for therapy in tough times. PHOTO: FARISAH BINTE SHAFIEE

Fine Art graduate Farisah Binte Shafiee, 21, sees art as a way to mitigate the psychological impact of an ongoing pandemic.

The fledgling artist wants to help others to express and process complex emotions - and destress - through the sensory experience of carving, peeling, breaking or bending wax.

"Communication with the outside world is reduced and some people may feel suffocated or trapped at home with the effects of past and/or present trauma, as well as an increase in feelings of stress and anxiety," she says.

"I may not be a professional psychotherapist, but my work aims to remind everyone of all ages and gender that there are simple ways to relieve your stress."

That inspired her final-year project Feel The Presence, an interactive mixed media art installation featured in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts' (Nafa) The Grad Expectations showcase, an annual graduation show for graduates from the School of Art & Design (SOAD). SOAD offers diploma and degree courses in four programmes: Fine Art, 3D Design, Design & Media, and Fashion Studies.

Along with Feel The Presence, close to 700 original works will be presented by around 650 SOAD students at The Grad Expectations 2021.

The showcase will kick off with a virtual launch this evening (June 10, 7pm), giving viewers a first-hand look at the diverse works of its graduates, including a virtual fashion show for SOAD's Fashion Studies students to feature their unique creations.

This year's theme Breaking Through highlights the graduates' talents as future-ready changemakers poised to identify and seize opportunities even in challenging times. Their works embody persistence, creativity and versatility - traits highly valued and sought after by hirers during times of great uncertainty and volatility.

Ms Sabrina Long, dean of SOAD, says: "In the backdrop of Covid-19, our world has grown increasingly complex, with organisations requiring dynamic and versatile workers with a diverse range of skills. As such, it is imperative for our students to be multi-faceted and open-minded to face the diverse demands of their chosen pathways.

"This is something Nafa strongly advocates, as witnessed through our emphasis on transdisciplinary modules - modules taken outside of students' specialisation - to allow them to integrate learning across disciplinary lines and new technology, while inspiring learning and growth through the arts. These skills and attitudes are vital for success, even more so in our post-pandemic world."

Break new ground by pushing boundaries

Ms Farisah's three years of Fine Art training at Nafa taught her to constantly search for ways to challenge her own creativity. "In my graduating year, I've also come to realise that exploring (new art forms) is equivalent to learning a new language in art," she adds.

The Diploma in Fine Art graduate may specialise in oil and ink painting, but she pushes her own boundaries by exploring other mediums such as light and wax. Her light installation work Epoch was even shortlisted for the Singapore Night Festival 2020.

For her final-year project, she hopes her viewers will be able to "feel the presence" by being immersed in her installation, with wax as a medium to reap the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression.

She explains: "Observing the change in forms will act as a form of relaxation to the one controlling it. Through the experience, I hope that people can come to the realisation that while we cannot control the thoughts that come to our minds, we can control how we process them - in this case, with our hands."

Participants of Feel The Presence immerse themselves in sensory experiences such as carving or bending wax. PHOTO: FARISAH BINTE SHAFIEE

Besides developing artistic technical skills, Nafa's modules include training in theory and critical thinking, as well as professional development courses that cover the administrative and logistical aspects of working in the arts industry - from grant applications to crafting project proposals and organising shows and exhibitions.

Ms Farisah's four-month internship with the National Arts Council earlier this year also gave her the opportunity to learn the ropes from industry professionals.

"I worked as part of the Public Art Trust team that was involved in various art events and public showcases at Singapore Art Week 2021, where we dealt with the commissioning and installation of public artworks, and worked with local artists," she says.

Channel powerful emotions into purpose

Art is an outlet for Ms Farisah to cope with these stressful times. Likewise, her fellow schoolmate Eunice Heng turned to art to help her channel her grief at losing her grandfather last year and being unable to attend his funeral in Malaysia due to the circuit breaker.

Recalling a lesson from her Nafa lecturer Nicholas Chu to always explore unique ways to express oneself, the 22-year-old Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Design and Media graduate from SOAD's Design & Media programme came up with a new funeral service brand 白菊舍 (White Space) for her final-year project.

Brochures for Ms Eunice Heng's proposed funeral service brand, which aims to guide and support users on a journey in coping with the death of a loved one. PHOTO: EUNICE HENG

Through a brand experience proposal that includes spatial and web design, as well as marketing and educational materials, to guide funeral planning, she hopes to break the taboo of dying and death among Asian families and to encourage more conversations about death as an inevitable part of life.

Ms Heng explains: "The fear and stigma of death comes from the perception of it being inauspicious or too dark of a subject to talk about. Unfortunately, this often leads to a sense of practical and emotional unpreparedness in those left behind."

To challenge that perception and bring about a healthier way of dealing with loss, she wanted to "change the narrative of the 'final send-off' for our loved ones into one that is centered on healing", using her design and media skills acquired during her time at SOAD.

Exhibitions of loved ones will be featured on the second floor of the funeral parlour, for visitors to walk through their journeys, as a way of rethinking death. PHOTO: EUNICE HENG

White Space aims to not just help families plan the funeral, but also to help them overcome the grief of losing a loved one. For instance, her business concept includes blueprints for a funeral parlour with healing pods and therapy spaces for one-to-one counselling or for family members to spend a quiet moment.

There are five healing pods, each representing a stage of the grieving process such as denial and anger. The fifth pod represents the stage of acceptance, and is placed meaningfully near the exit of the funeral parlour to signify the hope that by the time grieving family members arrive there, they would be closer to the process of moving on.

Working on the project turned out to be a healing journey for Ms Heng as well.

Through working on White Space, Ms Eunice Heng was also able to address her own emotional needs and come to terms with the passing of her grandfather. PHOTO: EUNICE HENG

"At first, I wondered if I could delicately handle such a topic that hits so close to home. But through the research process, I was able to learn about coping with grief, and the importance of preparations before death."

Adapt to fast-changing times

With the pandemic causing unprecedented disruption to the way we live and work, Nafa graduates have shown an ability to adapt to change.

Fashion merchandising and marketing diploma graduate Jhorell Geronimo, 21, and his teammates came up with the concept of transformable clothing that can withstand the test of time.

The "Y2-38" SS '22 Collection by fashion merchandising and marketing team MORPHOSIS uses materials such as snap buttons and drawstrings to convey transformability, one of many aspects of the final-year project. PHOTO: MORPHOSIS

"In fashion, especially, we know that change is inevitable and people's preferences evolve over time. So, we wanted to incorporate the concept of how clothes can go through the test of time, and arrived at the answer of transformable clothing," he explains.

For their final-year project, "Y2-38" SS '22 Collection, the three-member group MORPHOSIS designed clothes that change in look or function, depending on the user's preference. His team mates are Ms Megan Chan, 20, from Singapore, and Ms Zhang Yujing, 21, from China.

Through its ready-to-wear collection, MORPHOSIS wants to tell the story of a dystopian future, and how one can adapt and conquer any challenges at the moment or in the future.

But more than just being equipped with the skill sets needed for a career in fashion merchandising and marketing, the team's time at Nafa has taught them a wider range of expertise needed for the future economy, says Ms Chan.

"We don't just learn 'fashion', but also the process of running a fashion brand, from designing garments to sourcing, manufacturing, marketing and growing our umbrella of job prospects."

From left: Ms Megan Chan, Ms Zhang Yujing and Mr Jhorell Geronimo are the talented team behind MORPHOSIS. PHOTOS: MORPHOSIS

More importantly, Mr Geronimo adds that the trio also picked up a crucial skill in collaborating as a team. "We all have our differences, and finding a way to meet in the middle was the challenge because everyone has a different work ethic, different load on their plate and different time schedules.

"There were a lot of compromises made to find the right combination of working together, bringing out the potential of the project with everyone's capabilities. Overall, it was a challenging and fruitful experience."

Developing a talent pool from all walks of life

While the pandemic has stimulated new creative expressions for Nafa graduates, the crisis has also prompted some mid-career professionals to re-examine their life priorities.

Signing up for the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Spatial Design course at Nafa allowed Mr Hong Weiming to level up his skills and competency to meet the needs of a competitive design industry. PHOTO: HONG WEIMING

Interior designer Hong Weiming, 37, felt that he was stuck in a rut while working from home last year. He drew up a bucket list, one of the items being a university degree.

That led him to sign up for the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Spatial Design course at Nafa, where he found himself among younger peers in their 20s and having to learn how to adapt quickly to a new environment and a different pace of learning.

Mr Hong says: "Nafa has high demands and expectations of the quality of students, so I had to quickly develop or update the necessary skills to raise my competency. This is also in line with the nature of the design industry - as clients are getting more informed and demanding, designers have to up their game to produce better quality work."

Project "Off-Line" reimagines the redevelopment of Dakota Crescent housing estate into one that encourages artisans and the community to socialise through communal spaces. PHOTO: HONG WEIMING

His time at Nafa has culminated in his final-year interior design project, Project "Off-Line", where he got to explore beyond his previous work experiences in the private and commercial spaces.

For Project "Off-Line", a proposed public facility where it plays host to home-based artisans, he reimagines the Dakota Crescent flats as repurposed studios for the community's artisans. This facility not only includes studio and retail spaces, but also communal and collaborative spaces to provide opportunities for the artisans to interact and engage with one another.

Mr Hong says his project shows how spatial design can be used to resolve social issues and the difficulties many face during the new normal.

Proving her potential and passion

At a time where fresh graduates may be facing a challenging start in their job search, Ms Alexandra Tan shows that it's still possible to find a job one loves and excel in it.

The Diploma in Advertising graduate, who turns 21 this year, was interning as a client support executive with Nafa industry partner Open Sesame Marketing early this year. Three months into her internship, she received a full-time job offer with the company.

Ms Tan's team advertising campaign concept My First Twist is a corporate social responsibility campaign for Speedo to raise awareness of accidental drowning. PHOTO: ALEXANDRA TAN

She completed her internship in April and continues to work with the company, where she now sits in the strategic business unit known as branding and positioning.

Ms Tan says: "My role sets me up as the point of contact between the creative team and the client… and involves everything from writing proposals, creative and project briefs and pitching them to clients, to creating branding identity kits, guidelines, workflows and conducting training for clients."

She credits her module lecturer Jacinta Freeman and her Nafa programme with helping her land the job.

"At Nafa, we were taught two elements of advertising: art direction and copywriting. At the time, I had an interest in copywriting and excelled more in it as compared to art directing. I expressed my interest to Jacinta and when she came to me with a spot in Open Sesame as a copywriter, I was elated and took the offer immediately."

Modules such as branding and strategy, and research in effective communication, also helped lay the foundation for her work at Open Sesame, where she flourished.

In her second year at Nafa, Ms Tan developed an experimental campaign for Durex in collaboration with the Singapore Cancer Society for World Cancer Day. PHOTO: ALEXANDRA TAN

Ms Tan's supervisor Kerry Poh even wrote a testimonial for her, noting that Ms Tan has "displayed a high level of professionalism in her attitude and work", and that the internship experience has "exceeded my expectations".

Ms Tan, who looks forward to leading a team in future, says that Nafa's transdisciplinary electives, such as painting and 3D animation, helped broaden her understanding in different aspects of art direction, adding to both technical and non-technical skills that will stand her in good stead in her budding career.

"For instance, I also do illustration work, so even if I'm not with an advertising agency in the future, working with an animation firm wouldn't be too far-fetched to me."

Paving the way for the future

With the upcoming university of the arts - formed by an "alliance" between Nafa and Lasalle College of the Arts - and more recently, the new degree programmes under a partnership between Nafa and the University of the Arts London (UAL), Nafa will be able to build on its existing programmes and expand its offerings.

Ms Farisah was among the first to be accepted into the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Fine Art course under the NAFA-UAL partnership. She aspires to be an art educator for children in schools, or follow the footsteps of her role model Yoko Choi, also a Nafa fine art graduate, to become a professional art therapist.

"Just like Yoko Choi, who has worked with people with special needs and children with cancer, I want to help those in need with my artistic knowledge and experiences, and there is so much more that I want to explore in my studies," she says.

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