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Graduates from South-east Asia's premier arts institution create new meanings for our new normal

At Nafa’s annual graduate showcase, students draw inspiration from their experiences during the pandemic to carve their own niches, pushing the boundaries of courage, creativity and diversity

The theme for Nafa's annual graduate showcase this year is Create Your Space, which stems from the students' reflections on the past two years of the pandemic, using these new perspectives to carve out a niche for themselves as progressive and future-ready changemakers. PHOTOS (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT): NGUYEN DANH LINH, NUR HIDAYAH BINTE RUZMAN, ARINA KHAHARRUDDIN, PALMER TAN, SUFI BIN SUHAIMI, JOE KEAN

Fashion Design graduate Joe Kean was enjoying his usual evening stroll along Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade, when he noticed the ever-changing reflections on the water surface. 

His observations gave him food for thought, and eventually led to the inspiration behind his final-year project entitled Reflections and Perspectives

Mr Kean, 23, says: “The changing patterns on the water made me think of the interesting silhouettes that can flow and move around the human form.

From there, he collated the different details to create new shapes and silhouettes for his collection, which he hopes will inspire others to slow down and reflect on life in the context of the pandemic. 

Fashion design graduate Joe Kean’s final-year project, Reflections and Perspectives, inspired by the reflections of his environment. PHOTO: JOE KEAN

“Our pace of life has gotten faster, and for many, the pandemic has made it worse. We often miss out on the little things in life. I hope that my collection, which draws inspiration from what is familiar, will prompt us to pause and appreciate the small details,” he adds.

Mr Kean is one of 485 graduates from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ (Nafa) Fashion Studies, Fine Art, 3D Design, and Design & Media programmes who will be showcasing their final-year projects at the annual graduate showcase The Grad Expectations 2022. It will feature 104 works created by 120 students for the Physical Showcase, with the Online Showcase comprising 477 pieces of work created by 477 students.

The theme for this year’s exhibit is Create Your Space, through which students depart from the throes of the pandemic and carve out a niche for themselves in the new normal. Their artworks will offer a reflection on the past two years, as they develop into progressive and future-ready changemakers.

Ms Sabrina Long, dean of Nafa’s School of Art & Design, says: “As our students pave their way forward in times of the pandemic, agility, and resilience are essential qualities to possess in the changing world.

“It is the Nafa spirit of creativity, exploration and resilience that will prepare our graduating talents to be creative problem-solvers who will push the boundaries of what is possible and drive future economies.”

Mr Joe Kean is one of 485 graduates who will be showcasing their work at Nafa’s The Grad Expectations 2022 annual graduate showcase. PHOTO: JOE KEAN

For Mr Kean, this is most exemplified when his lecturers encouraged him to get out of his comfort zone for his final-year collection. He experimented with bolder and richer hues instead of his go-to neutral colours. Taking the risk paid off, and helped “boost my confidence to be more adventurous in my future work as a designer”, he shares.

As he works towards his dream of creating a fashion label of his own and working for an overseas fashion house one day, Mr Kean believes the soft skills such as time management, critical thinking and communication skills which he picked up during his time at Nafa will stand him in good stead.

Everyday life through the eyes of dementia

Using the pandemic as a time of introspection as well, Fine Art graduate Palmer Tan recalled his encounter with dementia patients while volunteering at hospices. There, he participated in art therapy sessions that enabled patients to express themselves in a non-verbal manner by evoking memories through art. 

“During the circuit breaker, I came across an article discussing the view of art as a social science. I immediately thought about how the pandemic would be an especially trying time for the elderly and those with disabilities,” he says.

Fine Art graduate Palmer Tan, observing the presentation of his final-year project Household Ordinary Wakes. PHOTO: GAN KWANG CHUEN

Around the same time, a controversial poll conducted among Singaporeans revealed that many people consider artists to be the least essential workers. As such, the 21-year-old resolved to use his art as a tool of discourse, and to highlight social issues to the public.

Entitled Household Ordinary Wakes, Mr Tan’s project is a visually stark series of common objects manipulated into challenging configurations that nudge viewers to reflect on their relationships with everyday items. His goal is to invoke empathy with the difficulties dementia patients and their caregivers face.

He explains: “When you acronym the title of the project, it becomes H.O.W the most commonly asked question by dementia patients. Now, in turn, it makes viewers ask that too, prompting them to reflect on the relationships they have with the domestic items in their lives.

“By placing new narratives on these objects, I hope the audience can come to have fresh insights as well,” he adds. 

From left: Don’t Talk To Me Till I Have My Kopi and Like Father Like Daughter, two of the visually arresting pieces in Mr Palmer Tan’s showcase. PHOTOS: PALMER TAN

In the research phase of his project, he explored electrolysis art and even printed circuit boards to discover how best to shape his thoughts. He explains: “I tried to limit myself to a certain set of rules within the art-making process initially as a challenge to myself. But halfway through, I discovered the value of resilience through my journey of failures to eventual success.”

As student lead for the In-House Art Studio Assessments of his cohort, Mr Tan often tells younger artists to try and learn new things to boost their confidence and their creativity – sound advice from an aspiring educator, who hopes to one day see his own students bring their inspiring ideas to life. 

Turning urban sounds into visual art

For Ms Arina Binte Khaharruddin, the possibility of turning urban sounds into a tangible, unique artform led her down previously unexplored terrain. 

Curious to find out if people would be more mindful if only they could “see” an auditory soundscape, Ms Khaharruddin embarked on her final-year project entitled Noisescape, with the aim of spreading awareness of how noise affects those with hearing sensitivity.

Ms Arina Binte Khaharruddin was intrigued by the idea of representing noise in a visual manner, and exploring the boundaries between sound and silence. PHOTO: ARINA KHAHARRUDDIN

“In a fast-paced city like Singapore, we are constantly exposed to different auditory experiences. Slowly, we become accustomed to loud ambient sounds around us, including the rise in noise levels,” says the 19-year-old Diploma in Art Teaching graduate.

“I realised that this prolonged exposure has made us stop actively listening and engaging with our environment, causing us to neglect the detrimental effects of noise pollution. Through my project, I hope more people will ponder the impact of sounds on our daily lives.”

To help audiences view noise, Ms Khaharruddin converted spectrograms, which are visual representations of sound frequencies, into motion graphics. She first recorded ambient sounds that can be commonly heard throughout Singapore, such as traffic noises and construction works, as well as nature sounds such as bird calls. 

Hoping to combine the idea of contemporary artwork with digital technology such as computer graphics, she later utilised software such as Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to synthesise images of the spectrograms into 3D digitised forms.

From left: Chirps of a Javan myna as well as the urban sounds of a highway, motorcycle engine, wind and the ambience represented in vivid colours in Ms Khaharruddin’s Noisescape series. PHOTO: ARINA KHAHARRUDDIN

Crediting her lecturers at Nafa for helping her to bring her artwork to its true potential, Ms Khaharruddin adds: “They taught me to appreciate the many layers of meaning art can have for people, to think critically about the broader implications on the community and the world, and how we can communicate these insights to others.”

More importantly, she says, getting the opportunity to dabble in digital softwares despite being more accustomed to working with paint and other traditional materials allowed her to become a more diverse artist, one who can thrive in an increasingly advanced world. 

Post-graduation, she wants to enrol in the Diploma in Art Education programme at the National Institute of Education and to become a primary school art teacher, where she can continue broadening young minds and perspectives along with her own. 

A hot date with HIIT

As social distancing rules ease in Singapore, people are returning to their gyms and fitness studios to lose the lockdown kilos. Perennial favourite exercise class high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular way not only to keep fit, but also to meet people. 

In a tongue-in-cheek nod to that, Mr Sufi Bin Suhaimi and Ms Nur Hidayah Binte Ruzman’s final-year project The Date is a digital campaign for Barry’s Bootcamp, a real fitness brand with unique offerings such as an in-house protein shake bar.

Out on a “date” with Barry’s Bootcamp. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM THE DATE

The Design & Media (Diploma in Advertising) graduates were inspired by a YouTube video where a vlogger spent a day at the stylish Barry’s Bootcamp and joked that one could go on a “date” with the gym itself. The campaign comprises poster ads, a radio ad, and a television commercial.

“Before this, I’d never filmed a full video for a project. My expertise at the time was in photography, so I’m grateful to have been able to learn the ropes as a videographer and hone my skills in software such as Premiere Pro and After Effects,” says Mr Sufi, 22.  

According to Mr Sufi, design grads like himself must be versatile “like a Swiss Army knife”, in order to succeed in today’s evolving digital world. With this notion in mind, he picked up motion illustration as an elective module in his second year. 

As his skills expanded, he capitalised on social media platforms as a thriving playground for him to inject his animation learnings. To his surprise and gratification, these videos have since amassed millions of views, making it a great point of differentiation as he pursues his dream of becoming a creative director one day.

For Ms Hidayah, 23, working on The Date sharpened her awareness of the latest trends in advertising as well as her understanding of mediums that audiences resonate with the most. “I studied the patterns of social media to learn the issues that our generation felt passionate about and observed how they expressed their emotions through memes and other forms of communication,” she says.

Mr Sufi Bin Suhaimi and Ms Nur Hidayah Binte Ruzman chose to challenge themselves with an ambitious digital campaign for their final-year project, The Date. PHOTO: SUFI BIN SUHAIMI, NUR HIDAYAH BINTE RUZMAN

Doing so enabled her to develop critical thinking skills, which she applied to her findings to gain a deeper insight into consumer needs something she knows is crucial in order to build effective and compelling advertising campaigns in the future. 

Ms Hidayah, who will pursue a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Design Practice at Nafa and wants to become a copywriter, adds: “​​One of my biggest lessons is how to be resourceful and resilient. I struggled initially while picking up digital software, but after getting the hang of it, I’m glad it will help enhance my design portfolio.”

The duo’s efforts paid off when The Date clinched a finalist spot in the 2020 Crowbar Awards, a prestigious competition that recognises talented emerging young creatives.

Elevating the customer experience with interior design

Now that the pandemic has changed the shopping habits of many Singaporeans, how can businesses attract shoppers back to the brick-and-mortar stores? Mr Nguyen Danh Linh’s final-year project hopes to be the solution to that. 

Mr Nguyen Danh Linh’s design philosophy is to marry the functional with the futuristic. PHOTO: NGUYEN DANH LINH

The 24-year-old Diploma in 3D Design (Furniture and Spatial) graduate wants to leverage innovative interior design to draw the crowds back into stores and promote a more pleasant shopping experience. 

His interior design concept for a women’s shoe boutique, UOON, features an “open design”, decked out in soothing shades of pastel pink and green, thoughtfully placed to create divisions among the different product displays. It also uses clean lines for a sleek, futuristic look, with interlocking furniture for easy and modular set-up.

To keep up with the latest trends, he also made use of novel materials in his design, such as acrylic and metal – both of which he had never worked with before.

“I love the creation of shapes that are functional and futuristic, which are key themes in most of my designs,” says Mr Nguyen, who studied architecture before embarking on his journey with Nafa.

Mr Nguyen’s final-year interior design project involved giving a local shoe boutique a sleek and fresh revamp. PHOTO: NGUYEN DANH LINH

When designing furniture and spaces, there are also challenges such as rules governing safety that he needed to consider while adapting stylistically and functionally to the needs of the brands. 

Having mastered key 3D design software such as AutoCAD and SketchUp during his time at Nafa, he is able to turn his ideas into winning results.

“These are all new programmes to me, and it’s important to become familiar with them in order to help me become better at what I do,” says Mr Nguyen.  

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